Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
When you title a program Youth-Centered Education Reform: How Grantmakers Can Support Community Organizing to Empower Youth, Influence Policy and Drive Student Success , it’s pretty clear you’re going to cover the organizing part of education organizing.
But, in case you missed our recent program on the topic, here are a few high points about the education part as well (with big thanks to our presenters, Jeannie Oakes of the Ford Foundation, Richard Gray of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson of Community Coalition, from whom these nuggets o’ wisdom were taken):
Highpoint #1: Youth-organizing can change education policy. And it can change youth. Because when we cultivate youth to be organizers, we are teaching them things.
There’s a difference between making a point, and making a difference, one of the presenters observed. A lot of the young people we work with can do the first, but they need us to help them understand how to do the second. (Hmmm, that’s a lesson some of adults are still struggling with, perhaps?) Youth organizing teaches kids how to be persuasive, how to strategize to effect change.
Sponsor youth organizers to attend a conference was another suggestion because travel can be life-changing for them. Hard to remember, given how much work travel most of us are juggling, but yes, it really is true that the opportunity to see a new place, hear from different people, and be taken seriously as part of a movement for change is all too rare for many students.
Highpoint#2: Youth aren’t the only ones who can learn from youth-organizing.
To state the obvious: it’s students who are in schools. Which means it’s students who have the greatest knowledge of what’s working, and what’s not, within school systems. We learn from the kids one presenter reminded us about what needs to change–at the local, state and federal policy levels. When we invite students in as organizers, we have a critical opportunity to listen them, using what we hear to sharpen the focus of our own work.
And we need to remember to learn from youth-organizers of the past, as well as the present. At GFE’s recent College Success briefing (which focused on moving the needle from access–getting more people to enroll in college–to successon–improving graduation rates), one participant noted that student activists were a big part of the initial effort to increase college access. But they haven’t been engaged in the critical effort to improve college success. Not yet, anyway. How can we learn both from what succeeded in the past, and from what’s succeeding elsewhere in education organizing,to add youth organizing to the tools we have to transfer postsecondary education?
So the upshot is, youth leaders are learning. And so are the funders who are participating in this work.