By Paul Lauter
June 6, 2015 – Much of the debate going on in educational circles today concerns differing ideas about how students can accomplish certain agreed-upon goals. Mainly these consist of the 3 R’s—reading, riting and rithmatic—with a touch perhaps of American history. Some wish to provide teachers with greater scope, better resources, and fewer students in the classroom. Others, the multimillion dollar “reformers,” promote a regime of ceaseless testing, managerial authority, privatization, and “teacher-proof” curricula.
But suppose you conclude, based on observing the thousands of segregated Ferguson’s and Baltimore’s throughout the USA, that the huge number of students in schools of poverty are ill-served by these very goals, that poor, often black and Latino, students, even if they pass every test and climb into community colleges, will never—a few tokens aside—get an even break in 21st-century America. What then?
Can the goals of schooling themselves be transformed? Can schools become sites not of failure and exclusion, but of insurgency and transformation? Can the young people now marginalized, enraged, and trapped in disastrous institutions become agents of creativity and growth—and real learning?
Jay Gillen’s essential book, Educating for Insurgency: The Roles of Young People in Schools of Poverty shifts focus from the adults fighting about schooling to the students themselves as the key actors in their own education. The question Gillen addresses is how might we think about the ways students can, indeed must, organize themselves, those close to them, and the many others with whom they contend for a future.
At the center of Gillen’s treatise is his and his students’ experience with one of the three r’s, rithmatic, in the form of the Algebra Project. The Algebra Project was first devised by Bob Moses, a key figure in the efforts of the young organizers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to challenge and eliminate racial segregation in its most intransigent bastion, Mississippi, in the 1950s and 1960s. The Baltimore version of the Project has been highly successful in providing what Gillen calls a “crawl space” in which students begin to learn how to mobilize the organizational resources necessary to confront the school boards, politicians, and courts that stand in the way of their educational development.
Because educational and political authorities see math as vital to 21st-century schooling, they are willing to provide some funds to those who succeed in teaching it, and they interfere less with the process. Gillen puts it: “Math hides the student insurgency as it learns how to walk.” This approach differs from the admirable Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson, which was banned by Arizona lawmakers despite—or perhaps because of—its success in motivating and educating students to confront injustice.
A project seriously devoted to teaching math is insulated against the charge sometimes registered against radical education projects that they are indifferent to students of poverty learning the basics. Mathematical knowledge is, of course, a goal of the Algebra Project, just as the vote was the goal of SNCC organizing in Mississippi. The brilliant analogy between voter registration and learning algebra in school, which Gillen has derived from Bob Moses’ work, is apt, first, because young people are key to implementation. (Continued)
By Ana Beatriz Cholo
Feb 12, 2015 – Patti Donze, is a California State University, Dominguez Hills sociology lecturer doing everything right to become a tenured college professor. She has advanced degrees from well-respected universities and is teaching a full load of five classes this semester. But her net income is $2,500 a month, just barely enough to buy food and pay rent on a studio apartment in Culver City.
She has $50,000 in school loan debt — not an extreme amount considering the Juris Doctorate and Ph.D. that she has under her belt, but she said it’s not feasible to pay even the minimum monthly payment and is researching loan forgiveness programs.
Besides fast-food workers, there is another face of low-wage workers across the country. For many universities and colleges, both public and private, it’s their most embarrassing secret — paying educated professionals minimum wage salaries with no benefits. Adjuncts are paid much less than tenured and full-time faculty and typically do not have union representation.
For many adjuncts, banding together to speak up is one approach to winning better pay, benefits and some job security, such as longer and more stable contracts. These are the aims of academic unions and the New Faculty Majority, an advocacy organization committed to bringing about income equality for all college faculty in areas where unions are weak.
Adrianna Kezar, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and co-director of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, is an expert on change and leadership in higher education. She believes the unionization movement has been the big catalyst for the recent focus on unfair working conditions for these highly qualified educators.
“Fifty percent of the faculty in our country make what somebody at McDonalds makes,” she said, adding that more and more adjuncts are going on public assistance and needing food stamps to survive.
Last year in California, Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) began an intense campaign to organize adjunct faculty members in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, part of a national Adjunct Action campaign that is taking place in American cities. (Disclosure: Both SEIU 1021 and the California Faculty Association are financial supporters of Capital & Main.) (Continued)