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Re-imagining education

By Julia Pointer Putnam

As the new school year begins, millions of children, parents, teachers and administrators are trying to function in an educational system that has become a pipeline to prison because it was created a hundred years ago to provide a mechanism for separating the “winners” (those privileged by family background) from the “losers” (those destined for robotic jobs on factory assembly lines).

That is why I am happy to share this article by Julia Pointer Putnam on the RE-Imagining Education Conversation hosted in July by the Boggs Educational Collective during the RE-Imagining Revolution gathering in Detroit of activists from around the country.

– Grace Lee Boggs

The creators of a new educational paradigm are the people who refuse to remain victims of the existing paradigm. On July 12 these people — students, teachers and parents — came together in a community conversation hosted by the Boggs Educational Center development team, which is preparing to open a 21st century community place-based school in 2013.

The event was held in a closed public school in the Islandview neighborhood on Detroit’s southeast side That school, formerly Bellevue Elementary, is now the home of the Church of the Messiah Empowerment Center and the future location of the new Boggs Educational Center school.

As part of the process of planning the school, the Boggs Educational Center holds conversations with members of the community to discuss the kind of education most needed in our neighborhoods.

The participants filling the school’s gymnasium on July 12 ranged in age, race and class, from high school students participating in a national leadership program (who traveled by bus from Ypsilanti to attend) to new parents with brand new babies, parents who lived across the street from the school, two young women who had biked from Baltimore to be part of the discussion after having been disillusioned with their experience in Teach for America.

This conversation began by highlighting the transformational work being done in three areas to resist the corporate model of learning.

Bart Eddy and Candyce Sweda, from Detroit Community High School, told us how they are reshaping the Brightmoor neighborhood through place-based projects that beautify the space and how these projects are igniting an entrepreneurial spirit in its young people, even sparking a wood carving business, The Brightmoor Woodworkers.

Danielle Filipiak and Isaac Miller presented the work of young people they taught through Detroit Future Schools, an organization that pairs classroom teachers in Detroit Public Schools with a digital media artist-in-residence to design and implement project-based learning experiences that students need to understand and shape their world.

Isaac also spoke of his work in coordinating the Boggs Educational Center’s summer internship program, which engages the community in planning the school.

Then we asked people to walk around the room with markers and complete the prompt, “What if school were a place where…?”

Despite the heat in the standing room only gymnasium, the buzz of excited conversation kept the energy high. It was clear that a lot of people are ready to re-imagine education because once the space was opened for them to walk around the room, speak to one another and respond to the prompt, the room exploded with practical proposals for what school can become.

During the report-back at the end of the evening, Liz, a young mother who canceled a previous engagement so that she could hear more about the school opening in her neighborhood, shared one hopeful thing she’d gotten out of the evening.

“I just wanted to say that this school that we’re creating, is something we all can feel good about, if we do the work.” Liz’s emphasis on the word “we” was just the kind of investment the idea of community-based education is inspiring.

Schools owned by the community are the future of education. The people are ready.

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