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Streetwise for Book Smarts

Streetwise for Book Smarts: Grassroots Organizing and Education Reform in the Bronx

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Streetwise for Book Smarts
    Book Description:

    In Streetwise for Book Smarts, Celina Su examines the efforts of parents and students who sought to improve the quality of education in their local schools by working with grassroots organizations and taking matters into their own hands. In these organizations, everyday citizens pursued not only education reform but also democratic accountability and community empowerment. These groups had similar resources and operated in the same political context, yet their strategies and tactics were very different: while some focused on increasing state and city aid to their schools, others tried to change the way the schools themselves operated. Some coalitions sought accommodation with administrators and legislators; others did not.

    The events Su describes began with a series of stabbings in Bronx high schools during the 2003-2004 school year. After this rash of violence, several grassroots groups cited the need for additional safety patrols. Mothers from one school spoke of how they had previously protested until they got extra officers, a fairly scarce resource in New York public schools, at their local elementary school. Others asserted that not all the safety patrol officers already in place were treating students humanely. Parent organizations and school officials battled over who was to blame for the school violence. Did a police presence solve the problem, or did it exacerbate the schools' violence-prone conditions? Members of different groups proposed and mobilized behind a range of remedies. These divergent responses shed light on the ways in which the choices made by each organization mattered.

    By learning from Su's close observation of four activist groups in the Bronx, including Mothers on the Move and Sistas and Brothas United, we can better understand strategies that may ultimately lead to better and safer schools everywhere and help to revitalize American democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5933-7
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Chapter One A Kaleidoscope of People Power
    (pp. 1-27)

    In the 2003–2004 school year, Bronx, New York, high schools reeled from a series of stabbings and violent attacks. A number of schools were labeled dangerous. In these schools, students waited in long lines to pass through metal detectors each morning, facing quite a few police officers along the way. Several Bronx-based social change organizations (SCOs), grassroots organizations embedded in local communities and working toward systemic social change, contemplated appropriate responses to the situation.¹

    Some SCOs cited the need for additional safety patrols. A group of parents from one school spoke of how they had previously protested until they...

  5. Chapter Two Public Education and Organizing in the Bronx
    (pp. 28-45)

    A look at the social, political, and economic landscape in which the present study takes place helps to explain why the case study organizations have launched campaigns against racial and economic inequalities, for access to decent schooling and basic social services, and for more democratic governance. Further, since the struggles of these organizations are emblematic of those faced by American social change organizations (SCOs) overall, this study provides a magnifying glass for an examination of larger tensions in the country.

    The South Bronx provides a uniquely rich opportunity for a comparative analysis of SCOs. There is a remarkable amount of...

  6. Chapter Three Organizing the Organizations: The Alinskyite Tool Kit
    (pp. 46-75)

    This chapter focuses on the nuts and bolts, or the tool kit, inspired by Saul Alinsky. Contemporary Alinsky-inspired social change organizations, such as the Industrial Areas and Gamaliel (a Chicago-based network of congregation-based community organizing groups) foundations, have developed practices and frameworks quite different from those espoused by Alinsky in the 1950s and 1960s.¹ Further, even when social change organizations agree on what Alinsky principles or “rules of organizing” are, they can implement these principles in varying ways. Still, it remains possible to articulate what an archetypal Alinskyite tool kit looks like. There are also much greater differences between the...

  7. Chapter Four Friends Forever: The Freirean Tool Kit
    (pp. 76-105)

    Everyday activities are often unpredictable for any organizing group. Meetings are canceled at the last minute or simply fail to materialize for inexplicable reasons. At other times, constituents seem to appear out of nowhere, galvanized by a landlord’s misstep or a politician’s sudden announcement. In the context of community organizing, where little activity is predictable on a daily basis, routine activities at the Sistas and Brothas United (SBU) office in the Bronx were surprising. Every day, dozens of teenagers showed up to discuss local education politics, conduct orientation sessions without the supervision of organizers, carry out research, chair meetings, and...

  8. Chapter Five Off the Charts: Tackling Issues of Race in SCOs
    (pp. 106-135)

    In this chapter I examine social change organizations’ untold stories, contradictions, and other factors not easily labeled as activities, organizer-leader relationships, or other key practices. In other words, I analyze patterns in the conspicuous, awkward silences that unfolded in my fieldwork. It so happens that, more often than not, what was not being openly talked about (even though participants later admitted that they all were all thinking about it) dealt with issues of race. Whether and how the social change organizations (SCOs) discussed these issues helped to shape the campaign issues they ultimately chose to tackle.

    SCOs adopting the Freirean...

  9. Chapter Six What These Tools Can Build: Developing Capacities for Policy Making
    (pp. 136-155)

    Social change organizations (SCOs) with similar missions pursue divergent political strategies, even when these organizations face a similar political context and resource constraints, partly because their respective tool kits help to develop different strengths and capacities among leaders and organizers.

    In the present study, more specifically, the Alinskyite tool kit helped the Bronx chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Northwest Bronx Clergy and Community Coalition (NWBCCC) to build large bases of leaders with relatively interchangeable roles, and these leadership bases held the capacity to most influence policy making when proposed policies were about...

  10. Chapter Seven Favorite Hits: Embedded Preferences for Confrontation or Collaboration
    (pp. 156-185)

    Tool kits do more than help social change organizations (SCOs) in deciding on their approaches to issues of race and their capacities to influence different stages of the policy-making process. Their significance is clearest in the SCOs’ embedded preferences for collaboration or confrontation, since the organizations tend to stick to their respective repertoires of political strategies, even after campaign “failures” as well as “successes.” Here, confrontational strategies are those that chiefly pit the SCO in opposition to policy makers and the state, usually represented by a public official or the Department of Education. As in a court case in the...

  11. Chapter Eight Commitment and Commencement
    (pp. 186-206)

    All of the social change organizations (SCOs) in the present study sowed and reaped rewards for their efforts in local education reform, and all of them received media attention for it. Outlets as varied as the New York Post, the New York Times, City Limits, the Christian Science Monitor, and National Public Radio chronicled various campaigns for greater funding, better teacher training, and greater parental voice in school governance. A quick glance at these articles would suggest that the Bronx chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Northwest Bronx Clergy and Community Coalition (NWBCCC), Mothers...

  12. Appendix A. Pounding the Pavement: Research Methods
    (pp. 207-214)
  13. Appendix B. Interview Protocol and List of Interviewees
    (pp. 215-216)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 217-226)
  15. References
    (pp. 227-238)
  16. Index
    (pp. 239-246)