The Changing Role of Teachers

The Changing Role of Teachers
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, June 27, 2010

When Will Allen, the urban farmer who is the CEO of Growing Power, was in Detroit recently, we enjoyed a quiet lunch before he started on his busy round of interviews and workshops.

Will is the kind of practical visionary that we need in every community at this very special time on the clock of the world.

From his own experiences growing up in rural Maryland as the son of a South Carolina sharecropper, Will learned that growing your own food is the key both to good health and to the creation of community. Ss after he retired from playing professional basketball in the 1990s, he bought a few acres of land with five greenhouses in northern Milwaukee and founded Growing Power as a small urban farm.

From these humble beginnings Growing Power has triggered a Renaissance in this Rust Belt city. It not only supplies fresh produce to thousands of Milwaukee families and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world to its workshops. It has inspired countless neighborhood gardens, the restoring by residents of old city neighborhoods, and the start-up of other small businesses, including fish farms, bakeries and cafes.

Currently it is involved in organizing Community-School partnerships which provide opportunities for young people to learn the basics of organic agriculture, develop leadership and entrepreneurial skills, work with a diverse group of people, and gain valuable life skills that will apply to future social and work experiences.

In 2008 Will received a MacArthur “genius award.” Last year he was invited by the First Lady to participate in opening her White House garden. In the May 2010 issue of TIME Magazine, he is included among the world’s 100 most influential people.

I was especially interested in Growing Power’s Community-school partnerships. These projects will only work, Will emphasized, if teachers are willing to get their hands dirty in the soil along with the kids. His concern identifies the new challenges teachers face as education is redefined to mean engaging schoolchildren from K-12 in community-building activities.

Fortunately some teachers are accepting the challenge. In their important new book Place and Community-based Education in Schools (Routledge 2010) Gregory Smith and David Sobel describe the special efforts that teachers in different cities are taking to involve their students in addressing local issues.

The fundamentals of the new pedagogy are outlined in two articles. In the Handbook of Social Justice in Schools, edited by William Ayers, Therese Quinn, David Stovall (Routledge 2009).

Julio Cammarito, and Augsutine F. Romero call their approach “Socially Compassionate Intellectualism for Chicano/a students.” It begins with cooperative learning or greater equality in the relationship between teachers and students. Teachers help students realize their potential for changing the conditions in their communities.

Lawrence Tan calls his educational philosophy “Emancipatory Pedagogy: A rehumanizing approach to Teaching and Learning with Inner City Youth.” In this approach the teacher’s role is to help students use the skills they develop inside classrooms to create change outside the classroom. Students study social movements, create documentaries of their communities, and engage in local social actions.

As the schools crisis deepens, hundreds of thousands of teachers face layoffs. They can spend their time lamenting their hardships and struggling to get back their old jobs. OR they can take advantage of this strategic moment to redefine the role of teachers to become full partners with students and parents in the visionary transformation of education so that students have the tools they need to create a more just, democratic, and sustainable world.

The time has come for teaching and learning to contribute to creating democratic, resilient communities within thriving ecosystems.


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