Tag Archives: Education

Freedom School Class – Wednesday, 9/16 – Mexican Independence Day – The Zapatistas, the Power of Art & Painting Murals in Utica


Mexican Independence Day – The Zapatistas, the Power of Art & Painting Murals in Utica
Wednesday, September 16 at 7:00pm – 8:30pm 

at the Mohawk Valley Freedom School (500 Plant Street, Utica, NY)

“Build different worlds where many worlds fit” mural of the Zapatista autonomous rebel elementary school in Oventic, Chiapas.

Please join us in celebrating Mexican Independence Day by watching the very short film “Galeano Vive! – Painting a Zapatista Teacher.” This will be followed by a short presentation on the Zapatista village of Oventic in Chiapas, Mexico that educator Brendan Maslauskas Dunn visited this summer, and a discussion of art and murals.

The fast-paced, visually stunning video will teach about the assassinated Mayan rebel Zapatista teacher Galeano while documenting the painting of an astounding mural deep in Zapatista territory. This dramatic artwork was painted by an international team of volunteers from twelve countries earlier this year and now lives on the walls of Galeano’s rebuilt school and clinic in the community of La Realidad, Chiapas, Mexico. Discussion will then focus on murals and art in Utica.

Planning is currently underway to paint a “people’s radical history” mural in Utica that people in the community will design and paint next summer under the guidance of mural artists from New York City.


Anarchism Reading Group Meets! – Saturday, November 22



Anarchism, Revolution & Political Theory Discussion and Reading Group
When: This Saturday, November 22 at 7:00pm
Where: Mohawk Valley Freedom School office – 500 Plant Street in Utica’s Oneida Square                                                     What: We will be discussing the first 30 pages of the book ABC of Anarchism by Alexander Berkman

Why?: Several local activists are forming a new organization in town called Black Rose (Rosa Negra). They have decided to launch a discussion and reading group open to anyone interested which will be centered around the philosophy and theory of anarchism and revolution. Although anarchism and anarchy conjure images of chaos, violence and disorder in the minds of many people, the actual theory and practice of anarchism are the exact opposite. In its most basic form, anarchism is a framework that is critical of all forms of violence, coercion, hierarchy and oppression. As such, it is a rejection of both capitalism and the State. Anarchism envisions a society that is rooted in concepts of liberty, freedom, mutual aid, cooperation, decentralization and collectivism. A society whereby the people democratically control and self-manage society and the economy. There is a long history of anarchism and anarchist social movements in the US and around the world. Come join this reading group if you want to learn more about this philosophy or are interested in discussing political theory.

We will read the following text:

The ABC of Anarchism by Alexander Berkman
– Published in 1929, this is considered a classic text that discusses what, exactly, anarchism is, its theory, history, and practice. Berkman was a well known revolutionary anarchist who was persecuted for his beliefs and activism and eventually deported to Russia by the US government. The book can be found here or picked up in person at the Freedom School: https://libcom.org/files/AlexanderBerkman-ABCofAnarchism.pdf

Freedom School Class – Thursday, November 20



See you at the Freedom School today, Thursday, November 20, for a 6:30pm dinner and 7:00 class. We’ll be continuing the discussion on education, school, knowledge, philosophy, and power. We will also begin formulating our own plan and program to offer as an alternative to the education system (or what we would like to change about it). Students are encouraged to come a talk about different models of education to the table and what can learn from them. Bring yourself, bring a friend and bring some ideas for some great discussion!

Freedom School is Back in Session! – Thursday, October 30 at 7pm



Freedom School is back in session! Come to our first class this Thursday, October 30 at 7:00pm. A free dinner will be served at 6:30pm. We are located at Cornerstone Community Church (500 Plant Street in Utica). The topic for the evening will be “Changing the Education Paradigm” where we will discuss the philosophy of Freedom Schools, education and schooling. We will have a discussion centered around the function of schools in modern society. Are they places that encourage students to question authority? Are they places that encourage regimentation and obedience? Come join us for the first of many exciting classes and discussions. We will meet Thursday every week. Same time, same place.  This is open to people of all ages, backgrounds and “education” levels. See you there!

If you have any questions, please call us at 732-2382 or email us at freedomschoolmv@gmail.com.

Until the Rulers Obey: Voices From Latin American Social Movements – October 3



Until the Rulers Obey: Voices from Latin American Social Movements

A book talk by editors Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein of the new book Until the Rulers Obey.

Where: Mohawk Valley Freedom School (500 Plant Street in Utica at Cornerstone Community Church)
When: Friday. October 3 at 7:00pm

Sponsored by the Mohawk Valley Freedom School, CNY Citizen Action, and others.

Ross and Rein will give an overview of social movements in Latin America – what they are, their history and current struggles – and dialogue with the audience on the lessons these movements have to offer to people here in the U.S. engaged in working for a better world.

Here is a bit of information about the book itself:

Until the Rulers Obey: Voices From Latin American Social Movements includes interviews with more than 70 organizers, activists and scholars from 15 countries, Mexico to Argentina. The movements they’re part of helped bring new governments to power after decades of austerity and dictatorship. They’ve mobilized on a broad range of issues, fighting against mines and agribusiness and for housing and land; for rights as women, workers, LGBT and indigenous people; for the survival of their communities and our planet. Their organizing runs the gamut of nonviolent social change strategies, from land occupation to electoral participation to creating alternative communities.

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein say, “This is the book we’ve been waiting for. Anyone interested in the explosion of social movements in Latin America—and the complex interplay between those forces and the ‘Pink Tide’ governments—should inhale this book immediately.”

Until the Rulers Obey is a profoundly necessary book. Little has been published about Latin America in the way of an overview from 1989 to the present, even less in the voices of the protagonists themselves. The great experiments of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s failed, but new and in many cases less dogmatic approaches to social justice have taken root in a number of countries south of the border. This book explores those efforts, often in the words of the change-makers themselves. Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein have done us a great service. Read this book for access to what the U.S. corporate media still doesn’t want us to know.”
—Margaret Randall, author of Sandino’s Daughters Revisited, When I Look Into the Mirror and See You, and Che on My Mind
For more information, please call 732-2382 or email maslauskas84@gmail.com

Rally for Increased School Aid – Wednesday, March 26



Attend Rally for Increased School Aid – Wed., March 26, 4 p.m,. Utica NYS Office Builidng

Utica students, teachers, and parents to rally for increased school aid in front of the State Office Building

The Central New York Citizens in Action, Inc. is urging its members and supporters to attend this important rally at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26 to support increased funding for public schools. It will be held on the sidewalk in front of the New York State Office Building in Downtown Utica.

On Wednesday, March 26th, at 4 p.m., the Alliance for Quality Education, students, parents, teachers will be picketing and holding signs in front of the State Office Building to hold Assemblyman Brindisi and Senator Griffo accountable to their promises of increased school aid for Utica schools.

Please remember that the cuts in state aid affect school districts in the entire Central New York region.

WHEN: 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: Sidewalk in front of the Utica State Office Building
207 Genesee Street
Utica, NY 13501

Freedom’s Struggle and Freedom Schools



From left: SNCC workers Stokely Carmichael, Charlie Cobb, and George Greene at a demonstration in Atlanta, Georgia, December 1963.
Photo by Danny Lyon/Magnum. Charles Cobb Jr.

The critical starting point for understanding the freedom schools that were so important a part of the 1964 Mississippi “Freedom Summer” and their relevance today is found almost two hundred years earlier at the birth of this nation, with what I call “the founding contradiction.” Consider this excerpt from what may be the world’s best-known declaration:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote these now legendary words of human rights and human dignity, felt that nothing he achieved was greater.

But Thomas Jefferson was a Virginia slave owner. We are confronted, therefore, with a very large question: How could a man who owned human beings as property—as livestock—and who considered it his right to own or sell them, have penned the words we find in the Declaration of Independence?

This contradiction between ideal and reality is the root of a continuing struggle over what the United States is to be as a nation; whether or not we can grow into “a more perfect union.” Throughout U.S. history, the “truths” Jefferson declared as axiomatic have hardly been evident in the lives of many “Americans,” certainly not in the lives of the two hundred or so slaves Jefferson held on his plantation.

I know the black experience best, but women, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, homosexuals, and, yes, poor whites too, have variously found themselves disqualified for complete citizenship. That they are “endowed with certain inalienable rights” has been resisted in both law and custom. Even now securing these rights for all people in the United States is, as a freedom song we used to sing goes, “a constant struggle.”

Barack Obama’s success in gaining the U.S. presidency does not much mitigate the continuing effects of this founding contradiction. These days, for example, we regularly hear irrational justifications and hysterical calls for the denial of full citizenship rights to U.S. citizens of the Muslim faith—Islamophobia, bigotry in the mainstream, not the fringes—coming from religious and political leaders. In Florida where I live, Republican congressman Allen West, a Tea Party favorite who, like President Obama, is an Afro-American integrated into the mainstream political establishment, had this to say while campaigning for the office he now holds: “We…have a 5th column that is already infiltrating into our colleges, into our universities, into our high schools, into our religious aspect, our cultural aspect, our financial, our political systems in this country. And that enemy represents something called Islam and Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology; it is not a religion.”

We have seen this political card played over and over again throughout U.S. history, trumping civil and human rights or, as the young scholar Hasan Kwame Jeffries perceptively calls them, “freedom rights,” in complete contradiction to the expressed ideals of the nation. Think of the detention camps where U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry were forced during the Second World War, or of the anti-Communist furies of the 1950s; and of course, the racism and segregation once justified and imposed by law and enforced with official and unofficial violence. U.S. law designated black people “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” in the words of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in 1857, ruling in the Court’s now-infamous Dred Scott Decision that slave or free, no black person could ever be a U.S. citizen.

For black people especially, this contradiction has been most persistent and destructive in “education.” Going back to the beginning days of the United States, it was illegal to educate slaves. Slavers and their backers correctly recognized that slaves with education would be even more discontented, therefore more dangerous and more rebellious slaves. Following the 1739 Stono River slave revolt, South Carolina adopted the first compulsory ignorance law in America: “And whereas the having of slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences: Be it enacted, that all and every person or persons whatsolver, who shall hereafter teach, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe in any manner of writing whatsoever hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons shall, for each offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds current money.”

In 1831, reacting to the Nat Turner slave rebellion in Virginia, that state’s governor, John Floyd, blamed Turner’s uprising on black preachers who taught reading in Sunday school. He therefore banned black churches.

Not surprisingly, across the antebellum South, education went underground. Indeed, some of the earliest organized black resistance in the United States is found in black people’s efforts to teach, and in their efforts to learn how to read and write. What is now Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia began before the Civil War beneath an oak tree, with a free black woman named Mary Peake secretly teaching slaves to read and write. The tree is still there on the Hampton campus, and is appropriately named Emancipation Oak. You can rightly call this effort and other efforts like it in the slave South, the first “freedom schools.”

During the Reconstruction era that began shortly after the Civil War, the now-emancipated former slaves, recognizing the importance and power of learning, led the way to public education. Before Reconstruction, there were no tax-supported public education systems anywhere in the South. It was the black presence in the Reconstruction legislatures of the South that drove the creation of tax-supported public schools. This post-slavery legislative drive is the second phase of freedom schools or the organized expression of the link between freedom and education. Public schools in the minds of black Reconstruction legislators were necessarily “freedom schools,” an attitude that I think should shape the approach to public schooling today.

Notwithstanding its promising progressive first steps, Reconstruction lasted less than a decade. As the federal government withdrew its protections, white supremacists who had seceded from the Union regained power and instituted what they called “the Redemption,” which was violent and hostile to black empowerment. As blacks in elected office were symbols of the empowerment that came with education, black schools came under constant, vicious assault. The federal government’s superintendant for education in Alabama described a post-Reconstruction atmosphere of “determined hostility” in that state, which included burned black schools and murder.

In Mississippi, Democrats, using fraud and terror, gained control of state government in 1875. Reconstruction governor Adelbert Ames, a former Union army officer, was impeached. “Democrats Standing Manfully by Their Guns!” read the headline of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper after Mississippi’s November elections that year; “Mississippi Redeemed at Last!” And the “redeemed” Confederate government there immediately began reducing the taxes that funded public education. By the end of the century, many of the whites in power were seeking the complete elimination of any kind of education for blacks, even a segregated and inferior education. In a June 30, 1899, editorial, the Greenwood Commonwealth newspaper opposed tax-supported black schools: “Their education,” this Mississippi Delta newspaper editorialized, “only spoils a good field hand and makes a shyster lawyer or a fourth-rate teacher. It is money thrown away.”

But more insidiously than the simple denial of any public education at all, educational content became the ways and means of teaching black students to believe in their own inferiority. As Carter G. Woodson wrote in 1933, “The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile depresses and crushes at the same time the spark or genius of the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples.” In Woodson’s view, “real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.”

Echoing Woodson decades later, author James Baldwin wrote in a 1970 open letter to Angela Davis: “The American triumph—in which the American tragedy has always been implicit—was to make black people despise themselves.” And despite heroic efforts by some teachers in black schools throughout the South, public education became an instrument wielded by the state for doing this deliberately and systematically.

In 1962, when I began working as a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary in Mississippi, one of the things that surprised me was the number of new school buildings in black communities, especially up in the Delta where I was organizing. I soon realized that with poorly stocked libraries, underpaid teachers kept on tight leashes, and the practice of shutting down schools to send black school kids to the fields to pick or chop cotton, these schools I was looking at—new on the outside—continued the old tradition of inferior education for black people, what can be called “sharecropper education.” New public school buildings for blacks were shells established to create the illusion of separate but equal. Allocation of money gives us the clearest picture of the disparity between black and white schools in Mississippi. McComb, Mississippi is not in the Delta, but it is the town where SNCC first began working in the state. In 1964, per capita spending for white students was $30.89; for black students, it was a mere 76 cents. Everywhere, poor black families bore a large part of the cost of maintaining public schools for black children. In Sunflower County, black students paid a fee of from $1 to $6 for winter heating.

In 1949 state researchers found that of 20,473 black young people between the ages of six and twenty-one in Sunflower County, only 7,709 were attending school. And few of these attended school regularly. The “progressive” white position then, and the reason for the research that gives us this information, lies with a short-lived attempt to try for actual separate and at least roughly equal, in order to deflect the NAACP-led legal challenge to school segregation. Of course, Mississippi was too poor even to begin fashioning two separate but equal school systems (nine of Mississippi’s eighty-two counties did not have public high schools for either whites or blacks in 1952). So dialogue about making such an effort quickly ended, not only because the state had no money for separate but equal, but also because of white rage over the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision on school segregation, and the white resistance to the drive for black political enfranchisement that accelerated after the Second World War.

So education—or miseducation—continued to be a basic political tool of white power, designed and used to stem black resistance and struggle for freedom rights (and any real progressive political consciousness in whites). In Mississippi and the South that I knew as a SNCC field secretary, black illiteracy created by deliberate state policy was used as a rationale for denying political rights to the victims of that policy. By 1964 we—mainly SNCC and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), with the encouragement and assistance of local NAACP leaders—had been working at voter registration in Mississippi for over three years. Murder and intimidation aimed at defeating our efforts regularly punctuated our work. The federal government offered no protection, and the country was not paying any attention to the escalating violence in the state. So we decided that in order to focus the country’s attention on our situation we needed to bring the country’s children down to Mississippi to help us, to face the kinds of risks we and the local people we were working with faced. And we did that, organizing about a thousand college students to work with us in what we called a Mississippi Freedom Summer.

Because the connection between education and freedom had become absolutely clear to us in our work, and through the influence of “elders” like Charleston, South Carolina’s Septima Clark, who, with “Citizenship Schools” in the 1950s, began connecting reading-and-writing literacy to political literacy, we decided to organize “freedom schools” as part of freedom summer. As we put it in a proposal: The movement needed “to fill an intellectual and creative vacuum in the lives of young Negro Mississippians, and to get them to articulate their own desires, demands, and questions.” We were talking about more than remedial reading, writing, and arithmetic, although we planned to address those needs too in our freedom schools. And, as a practical matter, using many of the incoming students as freedom school teachers gave us for the first time the human resources to take a significant first step toward tackling the educational plight of young black Mississippians.

Mississippi was dangerous and violent, but what is important to understand is that as terrible as the bombings were, and the beatings and the murders, and all of the other reprisals, illiterate Klan mobs were not driving this; it was the state government and the “respectable” business elite in the private sector, many of them members of the Citizens Councils that publicly decried KKK violence while deliberately creating the climate for it. Mississippi’s power structure recognized, as did state governments all across the South and their slaver forebears, that an educated population, a population raised from unconsciousness to consciousness, is a dangerous population. A whole way of life can become unraveled when people begin thinking for themselves. “Knowledge unfits a child to be a slave,” Frederick Douglass had written one hundred years earlier about his “owner’s” fear of black literacy.

The entire freedom school curriculum is available at the Education and Democracy Web site (http://educationanddemocracy.org), so rather than detail the program in this limited space, I encourage you to check it out. Suffice to say that some forty freedom schools were established, and close to twenty-five hundred students enrolled. Parents and grandparents made their way to these schools as well. For, unlike trying to register to vote at hostile county courthouses, freedom schools existed within the black community and made movement involvement much easier for many adults who were justifiably fearful of potential county courthouse violence or post-courthouse reprisal, to participate directly in the freedom movement. To paraphrase SNCC field secretary Bob Moses’s description of what organizing is: After a while, when you’re bouncing a ball with the kids, the ball rolls beneath the house and you get to meet the parents.

Obviously, in a six-week summer program, we could not fill the enormous void caused by the state’s deficient public education system. But the schools tackled history and civics, encouraged creativity, and made continual successful efforts to get the students to believe in themselves and their ability; to see that the world of possibilities and opportunities was not “for whites only.” In other words, the freedom schools helped prepare them for freedom struggle.

We need this today as much as we needed it in 1964—or 1864— maybe more. And, although I was asked to write about freedom schools, I would be remiss not to ring an alarm bell, demanding freedom struggle.

According to a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. It is the leading cause of death among African Americans in this age group. And among this age group, 84 percent were killed by a firearm. In 2009, in a “representative” sample of young people in grades nine to twelve, 17.5 percent reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife, or club) on one or more days in the thirty-day period preceding the survey. And 5.9 percent of them reported carrying a gun.

There is mental illness here; slave thought that imprisons minds as thoroughly and effectively as chattel servitude imprisons the body. Among boys, 42 percent of high schoolers and 32 percent of middle schoolers believe that it is okay to hit or threaten a person who makes them angry. One in five—20 percent—of the girls agree. These numbers come from the Josephson Institute’s 2006 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth.

In highlighting the failure of our education system, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund has characterized it best, saying the above numbers represent the “cradle to prison pipeline.” And here are more numbers from her organization’s research: Every second during the school year, a public school student is suspended. Every eleven seconds a high school student drops out. Every nineteen seconds a child is arrested. And every three hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm.

The Fund also notes that poor urban schools have the highest numbers of teachers who are inexperienced or do not have degrees in the subjects they teach. Eighty-six percent of black, 83 percent of Latino, and 58 percent of white fourth graders cannot read at grade level. Eighty-nine percent of black, 85 percent of Latino, and 59 percent of white eighth graders cannot do math at grade level. Black students are more likely than any other students to be in special education programs for children with mental retardation or emotional disturbance. Black and Native American children are almost twice as likely as white children to be retained in a grade. The public school suspension rate among black and American Indian students is almost three times that for whites. Black, Latino, and Native American children are more than twice as likely as white children to drop out of school. Only forty-eight thousand black males earn a bachelor’s degree each year, but, reports the Sentencing Project, an estimated one in three black men ages twenty to twenty-nine are under correctional supervision or control.

The expressed commitment to education so often and so loudly proclaimed by local and national public figures is hardly confirmed by the reality one encounters in cities and many rural communities. For the most part, public schools that serve African Americans, other racial “minorities,” and the poor offer a twenty-first-century version of the sharecropper education I encountered in Mississippi forty-eight years ago. These students are no better equipped to function in today’s high-tech society than the sharecroppers we encountered on Mississippi plantations were equipped to function in an industrial society requiring reading and writing. In some ways they are worse off than their twentieth-century counterparts. We see many of today’s sharecroppers behind the lunch counters of fast-food chains and behind prison walls—the new plantations.

Although there seems to be a rough consensus that inner city public schools, in particular, do not educate, there is still no consensus on fixing these schools. And it is difficult to believe that those in official decision-making positions really want to fix them. In fifty-four schools in Florida’s Miami-Dade school district, for example, core subjects are taught in classrooms where computers have completely replaced teachers. The one adult human present is a “facilitator” who deals with “technical problems.” The reason for this is because Florida mandates by law that high school class size can be no larger than twenty-five in core subjects, but won’t expand the number of teachers. There is no limit on class size in these virtual classrooms. This approach therefore saves money, which takes precedence over good education. “The way our state is dealing with class size is nearly criminal,” said one high school teacher.

Hawaii has decided to reduce the number of days in the school year. Even worse, the Detroit school system plans to reduce its deficit by closing half the public schools and expanding class size to sixty students. I’ll wager all of the decision makers who decided this either send their kids to private school or do not have children. Providence, Rhode Island’s school board has sent out certified letters to all of its 1,926 teachers, terminating them at the end of the school year. Teachers who are laid off get certain benefits. Those terminated do not. Of course, most will be rehired if there is to be any public schooling in the fall—but on what terms? The nation seems to be in the midst of an anti-teacher frenzy that does not promise anything positive for public education. And that frenzy, given calls like President Obama’s for out-educating the world in order to “win the future,” seems insane, as do all these other measures driven by budget concerns and a politics that protects the privileged rather than promotes education.

There are many difficult on-the-ground questions to tackle if we are actually to fix public education. For instance—and this is the first order of business—we had better learn how to talk to ordinary, everyday people. In all this debate, we don’t hear very much from parents.

In this regard, another freedom schooling model comes to mind: the Citizenship Schools organized by Septima Clark in 1952. Those schools, reflecting the link between reading and writing literacy and the freedom struggle, began on Johns Island, South Carolina and spread across the South. The program trained thousands of teachers who taught in some two hundred schools. The lesson for us today is that their success as an educational effort depended not on money, but on commitment to communities, and those communities, in turn, finding the purpose of the schools believable. “It is my belief,” Ms. Clark wrote in an article called “Literacy and Liberation,” “that creative leadership exists in any community and only awaits discovery and development.” Show of hands now: Does anybody think this drives public education today? It should.

It is difficult to be optimistic, as the basic class divide between rich and poor deepens in U.S. society, and public schooling, for all the rhetoric of those ruling the country, now becomes increasingly unimportant, except perhaps as a mechanism for control or the supply of servants. Nonetheless, there are some models and efforts that offer glimmers of hope: The freedom school program of the Children’s Defense Fund; the online dialogue and information exchanged in the Education for Liberation group; Bob Moses’s Algebra Project, the Young Peoples Project that has grown out of it; Moses’s current push for quality public education as a constitutional right; and a few other scattered efforts.

The great lesson of the liberating education that defined Mississippi’s freedom schools and Septima Clark’s citizenship schools is that the schools grew out of the political and intellectual ferment of the freedom rights movement, as well as an easily observable need. In Mississippi and the South, long silent voices at the grassroots were raised in a way that could not be ignored. People who were usually spoken for by others began speaking for themselves and demanding rights and knowledge that society said they were not interested in and did not want. And that, in the final analysis, is where the basic support for the schools and what they were trying to do came from.

“Demand” and “citizenship” are the key words of former SNCC field secretary and Algebra Project founder Bob Moses, and they began with struggle against slavery and continued with the struggle for voting rights and access to public accommodations. Moses considers education the fourth phase of this struggle:

I have a vivid memory of people in the Delta complaining, “Why do we have to go to their schools?” When I asked Bayard [Rustin], he said the country was never going to put the resources needed into the “us” schools….but I think we should make the point that the sit-inners, SNCC, illiterate Delta sharecroppers, MFDP were posing a constitutional demand about the meaning of citizenship in the nation for access to public accommodations, political participation and membership in the national party Structures. They put on the constitutional table a demand that the first paragraph of the 14th amendment mean something, that national citizenship is substantive not formal. So the fourth phase of the Civil Rights movement rightly makes explicit a “We the People” demand for the extension of a substantive constitutional dimension to the education of the nation’s children. I think we should raise over and over again the question: When you get a score from a No Child Left Behind motivated test, do you have any idea what your child has achieved other than he or she has gotten a score of such a test? The idea of closing the achievement gap is a smoke screen because nobody knows what their kid has achieved. (from email exchange with Moses and various SNCC veterans)

Today, with public schools in crisis, this seems especially relevant: Make a demand! That’s a community organizing mission for the twenty-first century—encouraging demand. Public schools will get better and actually provide an education for the children who attend them, when, as occurred with the Southern freedom movement, the people at the bottom, those who have been written off as apathetic, too ignorant or hopeless, begin to make demands.

Therefore, with the idea of guaranteeing quality public education to all schoolchildren, we need to embrace the idea of freedom schools—education for liberation if you will. This simply means education that enables young people to function productively and meaningfully in society, or that gives them the tools to change—dare I say revolutionize—society; an education that enables them to possess their own lives instead of living at the mercy of others. And right here, embedded in this idea, examining Mississippi’s freedom movement experience provides clues for how to organize this.

-Charles Cobb, Jr.

Charles Cobb, Jr. (ccobbjr@bellsouth.net), a SNCC veteran, is a journalist and visiting professor at Brown University. His latest book is On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail. This article was originally published in the July-August 2011 issue of Monthly Review and on the publication’s website.