Friday, November 9, 2012

Meira Levinson on civic engagement and empowerment

...catching up here. Professor Levinson telling a story regarding her experience teaching at an African-American reopened school in Atlanta. The School Board had brought in uniforms; the students did a social studies project on why. So far as they could tell, from their research into the history, no one had much thought about what they were doing; it's just what was done. The kids took it as an affront: that they were being separated from their neighborhood and they were making it impossible for the kids to go back and intergrate into their community, that they weren't trusted, that they weren't good enough or trustworthy enough, that they had in some way to be changed or fixed.

"we spread to students the message to students that they are these bundles of needs...and turn them into these productive members of society...because if we don't you'll continue to be sucks on the system."

"We tell kids: we don't trust you"

Kids being these deep holes of need where we're throwing in these resources all the time.

"so much of the language is about can be whomever you want to be so long as you leave behind the people you love..."
"capacities to succeed as well as transform the world"
"having capacities to contribute collectively to the society in which they live"

Looking at data on how many young people (18-29) who are citizens voted in 2008: 2/3 of those with college voted, 1/3 with no college voted; 50% more likely to vote if you were African-American than if you were Latino in the 2008 election
Vast differences in the influence on our political life: divided society
"is not, in fact, democratic in some fundamental ways"
Difference in who votes, differences in who is elected, differences in who feels able to come talk to you, differences in who talks to any official elected or appointed, differences in who protests
"if you well-educated and middle-class or wealthy, you are more likely to be involved"
Undemocratic state of affairs

Ultimately, you have to stop blaming the individuals but you have take responsibility institutionally; it can't all be about the individual kid; has to be something that we are doing as a society
"We can't keep on coming up with these explanations that place the responsibilities on the individuals themselves...we will change that you can't predict who is going to be the valedictorian and who is going to be the dropout when the kid is five, based on the family's income"
Commit in the same to reduce and eliminate the civic empowerment gap
We need to have civicly empowered people across our commonwealth, across demographics
"so the next time the uniform project comes around isn't that 'they hate us, they want to change us'"
"if we can actually engage young people with us in facing the challenges facing us in our communities"
also will address academic achievement gap if they are doing something they care about
"they aren't just a drain on the system"

"right now, schools are set up to disempower kids in virtually every single minute of the day in virtually every single thing they do"
walking down the hallway, in classrooms
"we are usually disempowering them"
discussion of more than a single sentence that involves conversation in which the teacher does not respond: three students in row responding to one another
students are trying to give an answer that the teacher can certify as either right or wrong
"lunchrooms...frequently telling kids where to sit, who to socialize with... strictures on their bodies, their time..."
view them as not able to take on these roles that they readily take on outside the school
student government is planning the school dances
What if the sophomores had to review the discipline policy?
What if the juniors selected a department that they were going to review?
...and that's just what they did?
If the ninth graders or the twelfth graders were responsible for school culture...if you were excited to be in fifth grade, because then you got to sit on the committee...that would be huge.
If you had a budget, with spending power, we could give them experience with this sort of thing
programs chosen by adults run by adults implemented on behalf of kids in urban communities
"driving by kids, goals chosen by kids, for kids" in middle-school suburban communities
experiences of leadership, of organizing, of fundraising: phenomenal experiences
"of having your own interest intersect with school"
"that other thing: stop thinking about it!"
"we wouldn't enjoy our work, if we had to put aside what we enjoy in order to do it"
"if we had the option to, we'd quit"
so many kids told what they know, what they care about, is not relevant to school
"through powerful civic education"

infused in other doesn't have to be in a separate classes 'though that is possible (all Boston 8th graders take civics, adding 11/12th grade as elective, may be required)
Taking what kids are concerned about: "and saying to them, 'All right, what are you going to do about it?'"
who are your allies? Why haven't they solved it yet?
How do you propose addressing this problem? The most successful action is always collective.
and then you can evaluate what you've done...maybe you've made incremental change. Others can be inspired and move forward.
What have you learned of power analysis? Who you want to go to? Who you've joined with?
How do you then apply it to the next problem?
"you'd have kids bringing themselves into the school building...and you'd have them solving many human hours out there, tapping their pencils on their desks"
"we have kids with the capacity to make a difference right now"
"let's turn schools into places where they CAN do it"
give kids a chance to practice everything EXCEPT for citizenship
"we know that if you want to practice something, you've got to practice something!"
"we never have kids DO citizenship"
We're not all going to grow up to be mathematicians, or cellists, or baseball players, but we are ALL going to grow up to be citizens (whether or not we are legal citizens).
"you have the obligation to go back and say, 'ok, these kids are going to be running out town in 15 years. What are we doing to get ready for them?'"
Are students on site council and are they respected?
does student government have real power and a real budget?
are there opportunities over time for kids to DO citizenship in several classes over time?
practice every day, "just as they practice math every day and some of them practice baseball every day"

The only means we have of reaching is our academic kids the tools to say "there's something broken in our community" and not only that, but I know HOW to fix it.
Bring your own device: we as adults spend a lot of time trying to figure out young people's use of social media...we're always playing catch-up and we always will
Young people understand and THEY CARE. Young people want an exciting, safe, online world. "You help develop the are part of the committee that's going to engage in an online look." You have a responsibility
Practical implementation: how to change the culture?
examples of success
Need the freedom to fail
learning opportunity for us all
this was not popular with Mayor Menino when he saw the presentations...things are going to get uncomfortable
what does it look like?

  • Every school has student government that makes real decisions, meetings are student directed with the support of the adults in the room
  • mock trial in English classes, debate in science, write a letter regarding something of importance, kids themselves standing up and giving presentations, true discussions that move from kid to kid to kid
  • school newspaper "Student voice" in every school
  • youth contribution in some way in every body in the district: curriculum, facilities committee, budget: automatic thing is "let's find out what our kids think"

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