A New School Year Begins

A New School Year Begins
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Sept 13, 2009

Last week Bill Cosby was in Detroit going door to door with Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools financial manager, urging parents to send their children to our failing public schools. Cosby is on the crusade which he launched five years ago when, to his credit, he shook up the celebrities celebrating the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education by asking “What the hell good is Brown if nobody wants it?”

Since then, Cosby has been making headlines by chiding inner city mothers who buy expensive sneakers for their kids but won’t spend a dime on a phonics book, and also acting as a recruiter for public schools. Yet, in response to a question, the popular comedian with a Ph.D in Education said that if he lived in Detroit, he would send his children to a charter school.

Meanwhile, beneath the radar, ex-convict and current father and freedom fighter Yusef “Bunchy” Shakur* is giving out school supplies to children in his Detroit neighborhood and urging residents to begin a dialog about how to “put the neighbor back into the hood.”

Yusef is pioneering the paradigm shift towards a community approach to education that we urgently need, as it becomes obvious that young people by the tens of thousands are abandoning our pipelines-to-prisons schools, resulting in wholesale school closings, staff layoffs and increasingly unsafe neighborhoods.

Our challenge is two-fold:

  • How do we change our schools so that children want to attend them?
  • How do we put the neighbor back into the hood to create safe neighborhoods?

The solution lies in linking these challenges to rethink Education.

Just imagine how safe and lively our streets and our schools would be, almost overnight, if, as a natural and normal part of the curriculum from K-12, children were taking responsibility for maintaining neighborhood streets, planting community gardens, recycling waste, rehabbing houses, creating healthier school lunches, doing errands for the elderly, organizing neighborhood festivals, painting public murals. The possibilities are endless.

This is the fastest way to motivate all our children to learn and at the same time turn our communities into lively neighborhoods where crime is going down because hope is going up. By giving children a better reason to study than just to get a job, become middle-class or help the U. S. compete on the world market, we will also get their cognitive juices flowing. Learning will come from practice which has always been the best way to learn.

This school year schoolchildren can take a giant step in this direction by leaving their classrooms one day (or one day every week) and spreading out in their communities, e.g to clean up a park or to knock on doors and ask residents to place a “Peace Zone for Life” sign” in their window.

The date for this direct action can be chosen by students in cooperation with community residents. It can be in response to an especially senseless act of violence in the neighborhood or on some date in the school calendar like “Count Day” to show that students count for more than a school budget item.

When black students in Greensboro, N. C. refused to leave a Woolworth lunch counter on February 1, 1960 until they were served a cup of coffee, they helped build the civil right movement which changed this country.

Students in Detroit can play a comparable role in building today’s movement to rebuild our cities by leaving their classrooms for a day to work in the community and then returning to educate themselves by evaluating their experience.

They can get “Peace Zones for Life” window signs from the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality which is encouraging Detroiters to go beyond protesting and begin organizing ourselves to make our neighborhoods safe.

*Window to My Soul by Yusef Shakur ($14.95) can be purchased from his bookstore, Urban Network. 5740 Grand River, Detroit 48208.



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