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
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