[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #5 in October 2007]
I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what it is that confronts them, and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program; and when the people create a program, you get action.
—Malcom X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz), 1964
As you read every article in this edition of AREA Chicago, it should be understood that many of us in Chicago concerned with education and justice are in a battle for our souls. Education, as the process by which people understand, move, and change the world, should be understood as an issue of life and death. In order to develop strategies by which to win such a struggle, we must be serious about the issues at hand.
What does it mean to educate with the purpose of changing our human condition? As a life-long Chicago resident and new educator, I am confronted daily with the struggle of standing for justice as schools and communities are decimated at the pleasure of the affluent. Disguised under rhetoric of “competition” and the “global marketplace,” public K-12 education in Chicago in many instances could be described as a sorting ground where the underserved are rendered invisible. Mired in the realities of race, class, and gender, we must be honest about the affected as being primarily African-American, Latino/a, women, senior citizens, and poor. As communities are gentrified under the auspices of re-development, populations of neighborhoods are drastically shifting – and the results are a new and more dense concentration of poverty. Chicago takes planning and development cues from global cities like Paris – with its über-concentration of wealth in the central business district while the most marginalized and underserved are regulated to the inner-rim suburbs. As this plan moves forward, progressive community residents in Kenwood-Oakland, Grand Boulevard, Woodlawn, West Haven, Humboldt Park, and Pilsen are in a struggle for their collective existence. Critical to all of these Chicago neighborhoods are schools, which serve as the primary attraction for “new” families to these communities.
Despite the severity of the situation, all is not lost. I only speak with such urgency because of what I’m seeing on the ground as a volunteer social studies teacher at the Lawndale Little Village School for Social Justice. Young people must deal with the intensity of pressures beyond what I knew as a high school graduate seventeen years ago. While many issues are not significantly different from when I was in high school (police brutality, criminalization of youth, substandard education, etc.), young people have to deal with another set of concerns that challenge their existence. Adding contemporary concerns like zero-tolerance discipline policies, harsher drug sentences, and a distorted juvenile justice system to the mix, we encounter systems that continue to designate youth of color as disposable beings. In this climate, I feel that we must be painfully intentional in our interactions with young people and the communities they come from.
By resisting conventional notions of what education should be, the following articles speak to the bold steps forward in making such a world possible. From within and outside the classroom, Chicagoans have made a conscious decision to claim education as a human right. As you read the following pages, remember the commitment of these authors to “create their own programs” in the quest for justice and a better way.