Reporting Out: Week 8 of the Occupation
By Shea Howell
May 19th, 2013
The Office of the Emergency Manager issued its “Financial and Operating Plan” for the city of Detroit. It is a limited document. As predicted, it said Detroit is in financial trouble. It repeats the concern for the $15 billion in long-term debt and adds that the city was out of money as of April 26, having $64 million in cash but $226 million in obligations. It goes on to tell us that much of the city is “dysfunctional.” Police, fire, water, lighting, transportation, and recreation don’t work. All require an overhaul. All will be studied for plans for improvement. And we have a problem with blight. That will be studied too. And then we can expect quick action.
The New York Times summed up the report as “dire.” The Times explains, “The picture of debt and disarray he paints may be bleaker even than earlier grim portrayals.” The best the Detroit Free Press could come up with was, “It’s hard to imagine how something could be disappointing and illuminating at the same time.” Nancy Kaffer noted it is “not exactly groundbreaking.”
As the Times suggests, the report is likely “to become a new focal point for debate for some in Detroit who have questioned the seriousness of the city’s troubles and the need for state intervention at a level rarely seen for a city of its size.”
But the limitations of the report rest more in the thinking it represents than in accounting.
Here unions are singled out as the major reasons for the problems of city finance. Pension and health care responsibilities are targeted as primary contributors to long-term debt.
There is no mention in this report of the serious, sustained disinvestment in the city by corporations. No mention of ill-conceived tax incentives given over the years to all kinds of development schemes. No mention of the role banks played in the encouragement of suburban over urban development. No mention of the foreclosure crisis and its acceleration of the depopulation of our city. No mention of the hostile state legislature that has done everything from remove residency requirements to renege on revenue sharing promises. No mention of the millions of dollars squandered by foundations.
The solutions the EM seeks will be directed primarily at what he has identified as the sources of the problem—unions, pensions, and healthcare. Moreover, the solutions are seen in isolation from one other.
He continues the worn out strategy of asserting “demolition” of abandoned structures will improve neighborhood life. He makes no mention of the use of “deconstruction” by neighborhood groups, churches and civic organization as a way to increase the economic activity in a community and to harness valuable resources. Instead, the current picture of “demolition” he advocates is one that conjures up destruction, dumping, and dollars leaving the city.
Nor does he talk about the connections between various sectors of public life. We know that increasing recreational facilities and opening public parks decreases criminal activity. Yet this report, in its desire to privatize and punish, talks of these areas as unrelated.
The Emergency Manager got one thing right. He said, “You don’t get the magnitude of neighborhood blight we have overnight.” He went on, “Without a vision for what you want your city to be three, five, 10, 20, 30 years out, the totality of those circumstances drove us here” will continue.
That is the challenge. We need to take every opportunity in our neighborhoods, block clubs, faith and civic organizations to talk with one another not only about how we want our city to look, but what values we want that vision to reflect. That, in the long run, is the only path to a new future.
New Work & Community Production: Eyes on Detroit
By Babara A. Stachowski
May 19th, 2013
Jimmy Boggs (1919-1993) encouraged people to “make a way out of no way.” That is what we have been doing in Detroit as we have been grappling with the economic devastation of the postindustrial era and have had to imagine our lives anew.
A tsunami hit us decades ago when robots began replacing human beings on factory assembly lines. Resilient Detroiters became keenly aware that, to avoid the catastrophe of another tsunami, we had to move to ‘higher ground,” to a new way of life, of work. We call this New Work.
What is New Work and how does it promote New Cultures and New Economies? How is it different from the old culture?
Frithjof Bergmann, the international philosopher activist of New Work, New Culture, explains: “First we must realize that the current jobs system is only about 200 years old and obviously doesn’t work. Everything connected to the jobs economy has been reduced, diminished and made worse. New Work is an effort to turn the whole thing around from the bottom to the top.”
Frithjof warns that in the next relatively few months or years, we will experience a calamity on the level of six or eight tsunamis if we do not find an alternative to the current jobs economy. “These tsunamis are rolling in from the ocean towards us and if we do not do anything very intelligent and imaginative, they will destroy us and we will be drowned.
“New Work from the start was conceived as a possible staircase up to a new culture that will be more humane, more intelligent and more cheerful than the one we are leaving beneath and behind us.”
Specifically, New Work makes use of new technologies to become independent and self-reliant, to NOT depend on a boss to get a job.
Bergmann reassures us that, “A quantum leap is now possible, and it is important to understand that this is not just a fantasy, not something that people in some ways just dream about. Detroit is the place where this is becoming more real, more substantial, more graspable, more graphic than maybe any other place in the world.”
This quantum leap has to do with an astounding technological development called miniaturization or micronization. An iPhone is an example of this technology. Like smartphones, miniaturization applies to manufacturing and factories.
“With 3D printers it is now possible to manufacture anything from houses to electricity, to computers, to electric cargo bikes. Almost anything can be produced almost any place.
“In remote villages in Africa, on blighted neighborhoods in Detroit. Community production is what makes possible the quantum leap up to New Culture, a new way of life, a new experience of the spiritual.”
Community production has an enormous advantage over archaic attempts to rebuild an economy of meaningless jobs because it allows people to focus on doing work that they really, really want to do to make things that we really, really need. We can now move into a New Culture that, as Grace Lee Boggs says, concentrates on developing people and growing our souls.
When we do work we really, really want to do, we realize a sense of strength and not exhaustion. We begin to feel that we are living; we begin to feel that our lives have meaning.
As the waters of the economic tsunami continue to recede, leaving behind fertile ground, Detroiters are creating a New Culture based on Community Production. Grassroots community-based centers of work and culture are emerging in the Brightmoor and Birwood neighborhoods, the MakrSpace in the Church of the Messiah, and the Feedom Freedom Growers’ Manistique Garden project.
According to Bergmann,“The fact that Detroit has a tradition that goes over generations makes it plausible that Detroit can become the model for no end of other cities that will come here to study how this is accomplished and what it looks like.”
Barbara Stachowski is now in Germany visiting with Fritzhof Bergmann’s associates.
(note from GLB: President Obama referred to 3D printers in his February State of the Union speech. The May issue of the Smithsonian Magazine features an article on “a factory in every home.” TIME Magazine, April 22, is about the “comeback” of HiTech Manufacturing in the USA).
DETROIT 2013: Making a Way Out of No Way Towards the Next American Revolution
In our quest for humane responses to gentrification, foreclosures, school closures, joblessness, emergency managers, transportation cuts, and police brutality, people are working diligently every day to re-imagine everything from democracy to public safety, education and work. This year, as we commemorate the 50th Anniversaries of Malcolm X’s Message to the Grassroots at the historic King Solomon Church, Dr. King’s march on Woodward in Detroit before over 100,000 people and James Boggs’ epic release of The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook, we invite the world to join us as we come together again this summer to build on the abundant soul growth that we experienced in Detroit last July.
Let us come together for our 2nd annual gathering as we:
lay the groundwork for a national network of “Re-imagining Cities,” each taking on revolution, democracy, education, work, food justice, and public safety in fresh ways which make sense for our respective communities, as we continue our work of restoring the neighbor back to each hood.
create a “think tank” atmosphere to support each visiting delegation, in order to learn about their own history, contradictions, concepts and practice of visionary organizing.
As capitalism continues towards collapse, and as disenfranchisement rises, it is critical that we continue to work together to create a space which nurtures the growing of our souls this summer in Detroit. What inside of yourself would you like to transform? What would you like to make happen in Detroit this summer? In your own community?
Join us: As We Shake the World with a New Dream . . .
June 23 – 30, 2013
SAVE THE DATE: “American Revolutionary:
The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs”
June 29, 2013 at the DIA
Honoring Malcolm in the 21st Century
By Grace Lee Boggs
May 12th, 2013
Over the May 18-19 weekend the Detroit Museum of African American History (MAAH ) will be celebrating the 88th birthday of Malcolm X who was born May 19, 1925 and killed February 21, 1965.
On Saturday the film Make it Plain will be shown, and my old friend University of Massachusetts Professor Bill Strickland will be speaking.
Sunday afternoon I will speak briefly about why honoring Malcolm in the 21st century has become so important.
Most people associate Malcolm with violence. But Malcolm’s unique power came not from physical weapons but from his courage and skill in speaking the truths that empower us to go beyond viewing ourselves as victims. He was always challenging us to look in the mirror and accept responsibility for our pain and suffering instead of looking for others to blame.
Thus, after the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963, Malcolm said “The chickens have come home to roost.”
Malcolm’s comment involved only seven words but those seven words were dangerous because they called upon us, the American people, to recognize and take responsibility for the terrorism that people all over the world have been experiencing as a result of our government’s foreign policies.
In fact, Malcolm’s few words were so dangerous that Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad suspended him for uttering them, fearful that they would bring the wrath of the authorities down on the organization.
In the 21st century, since 911, we have been living in fear of terrorists, without acknowledging that (as Noam Chomsky put it recently) the U.S. is the world’s top terrorist state.
Honoring Malcolm in the 21st century is also important because it is in this century that the American Dream has died, challenging us to create a new dream. This challenge was one of Malcolm‘s most important contributions. I can still see people at his meetings squirming with discomfort as he chided us for our continuing dependence on status quo institutions instead of creating our own.
If Malcolm were alive today, I am confident that he would be warning us against trying to discover Muslim connections for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
He would be urging us instead to acknowledge that we are enjoying our comforts and conveniences at the expense of people all over the world and that the chickens have come home to roost.
If we do not listen to Malcolm and keep looking for “others” to blame, we will be creating a nightmare for ourselves, giving up our inalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in defense of a terrorist state.
In Detroit especially I believe Malcolm would be challenging us to go beyond protesting the Emergency Financial Manager and suggesting that we encourage grassroots neighborhood organizations to form a Council to govern the city.
We/they are already beginning to create a new post-industrial society:
Creating community safety by looking out for each other.
Growing our own food.
Using new methods of local, small-scale production (such as 3-D printing) to produce our own clothing, housing, transportation, etc.
Creating community-based schools to educate our children.
Practicing restorative justice with neighborhood offenders.
Forming a Council to govern ourselves is the next step!
Democracy in Detroit?: Week 6 of the Occupation
By Shea Howell
May 5th, 2013
The questions being raised in Detroit are important for the whole country. Over the last few years we have seen an assault on our shared values, conventions, and civic assumptions unlike anything previously experienced in this country. Except for brief, extreme periods of Marshall Law, declared in emergency situations, no citizens of a city have had their basic rights and responsibilities so perversely violated.
These violations have been done in the name of providing financial security for the city. With each new announcement, it is clear the financial security being created is for corporate, powerful elites to profit from the pain of the people.
The assault on democratic values is so clear that even students in a law school far away notice that “democracy is dead” in Detroit. In a recent article in the Free Press, Adrienne N. Young, follows this pronouncement by arguing that democracy died long before the emergency manager was appointed. Her evidence is the low voter turn out rate in the last mayoral election. She further argues that we should turn the “civic engagement” of protest against the EM and company into efforts at voter registration “to make it less likely any of the “undesired” leaders are re-elected at the state and local level.”
She laments the lack of ideas for civic engagement, saying, “Beneath the cries of “shame” and fury, there must be ideas, there must be innovation if Detroit is to recover. Why not get that same group of people together and write a request to be a neighborhood advisory committee for Orr? Why not look to the school system that only just established universal early childhood education and ask how citizen engagement can enable tutoring, fund-raising, coaching and mentoring programs?
These are good ideas. That is why thousands of Detroiters have been doing them for years. Citizen Advisory Councils are operating in communities across the city, as are neighborhood associations, block clubs and a host of civic groups. We have just completed a vibrant, open and often visionary process of publically writing and approving a new City Charter. More than 7000 people participated directly in public meetings with the Detroit Works Project, and thousands upon thousands more have been engaged in school board in exile meetings, rallies, information gathering sessions, and public conversations about serious issues. Something as mundane as the Library Commission attracts overflow crowds. Tutoring, fundraising, coaching and mentoring happen from the most formal levels involving the previous governor, to the most humble games of basketball fashioned out of makeshift hoops.
The point is not that “democracy is dead in Detroit.” Rather, what is happening in Detroit reveals the inability of representative democracy to preserve and protect the safety, life, liberty and happiness of the majority of the people. The challenge now is to create new forms of public, political relationships.
Ms. Young hints at a core element of this new democracy when she notes that while state intervention in local affairs “feels wrong,” “city-level democracy is not constitutionally guaranteed or protected at the national or state level.” It should be. It is in cities, at the community level, where we make decisions that directly affect our common life.
For nearly 50 years, with the abandonment of Detroit by corporate interests, Detroiters have been experimenting with direct democracy. We have established schools and churches, block clubs, businesses, entertainment centers, museums, innovative educational practices and new institutional relationships.
Now we have the challenge to draw upon this experience to not only resist the assault of the EM and corporate interests, but to establish local self governing councils to create the core of civic life in our neighborhoods. We have much experience to draw upon, not only to restore our own communities, but also to point the way toward new forms of democratic life for everyone.
Once Again, Korea!
By Professor/Baba Charles Simmons
May 5th, 2013
Since most of the world’s population was not around at the beginning of this conflict, it is important for people everywhere to know the history of this 60-year old struggle between the Western Powers led by the U.S. on one hand, and the peoples of Asia on the other. The U.S. invaded Korea in 1950 in an attempt to stop the Chinese Revolution led by Chairman Mao Tse Tung that had kicked out the Western powers in 1949. The West feared a general independence victory against Western Colonialism throughout Asia that was set in motion in the early part of the 20th century. The U.S. was defeated in its objectives in the mid-1950s especially after Mao Tse Tung sent in Chinese troops on the side of the Korean forces. However, the U.S. still succeeded in dividing the nation politically into North and South, with a major force of U.S. troops, naval and air forces remaining in South Korea under a puppet U.S. government. The same pattern would play out a decade later in Vietnam following the freedom fighters defeat of the French colonialist in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu led by the revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, who said that one of his major mentors was Marcus Garvey who Ho Chi Minh had heard in Harlem during WWI.
The North of Korea became the site of the revolutionaries under Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the present leader. There was never an armistice nor an official end of the war between the U.S. and Korea although the U.S. withdrew after 3 years of fighting and declared a victory. But if you talk to any U.S. soldiers who were there on the ground they will tell you a totally different story of major U.S. defeat. Some of the African American soldiers remained in Korea and became citizens to avoid returning to the Segregated U.S.A. There have been minor and major escalations of the conflict since the end of the shooting “War,” and Korea, a poor but proud agricultural nation, has maintained its right to its path of socialist development. The U.S. has surrounded the nation with tens of thousands of troops, a naval fleet, the U.S. Air Force, and nuclear weapons scattered throughout the islands and nations of Asia. Wall street is waiting for an opportunity to return and restore ‘democracy and capitalism.” We have a son stationed in the region at the present moment. Many more thousands of young men and women of the U.S. will be the casualties if Wall Street has its way. But no one or any life form on our embattled planet is safe, and all of humanity –rich and poor–will suffer greatly from the fallout if the nuclear weapons begin to fly.
That is the immediate problem for all of us. It was the hope of the colonial powers and the U.S. that the only countries to have the nuclear weapons would be the white nations, including Western Europe, South Africa under the apartheid government and Israel. However, the Chinese broke that rule in 1960 and others followed including India, Pakistan, and North Korea. So the western objective now is to keep any other country outside of Europe from getting the bomb and thereby maintaining U.S. and European supremacy. The U.S. is the only country to have used them. However, the only way to rid the planet of nuclear danger is to require ALL nations to get rid of the nuclear weapons. No one should have them, and the people of planet Earth must struggle for peace and the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction. An immediate goal of neighborhood, city and county governments throughout the U.S. and the World should pass legislation calling for the end of weapons of mass destruction including mines that are crippling the poor people everywhere. Trade unions, universities and Faith organizations should demand the withdrawal of their money from any bank or investment that finances warfare. We must teach our youth everywhere to support peace. Collectively, these actions will force the national governments to act in favor of the people.
Baba/Professor Charles Simmons is co-Founder of the Hush House Black Community Museum and Leadership Training Institute for Human Rights. email@example.com.
New Public Trust: Week 5 of the Occupation
By Shea Howell
April 28th, 2013
It is past time for the Detroit City Council to rethink its role under occupation. Their most recent vote to approve the no-bid contract for the Jones Day law firm is one more indication that the Council has no moral compass. Even Detroit’s most consistent voice of the business community, Crain’s, acknowledged the conflict of interest inherent in the city hiring the former law firm of the current Emergency Manager.
In a forceful editorial Crain’s said:
“Detroit’s top attorney told the City Council last week that there is no conflict of interest in giving what is surely a multimillion-dollar contract to the Jones Day law firm.
We beg to disagree.
Until last month, Detroit’s new emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, was a Jones Day partner. Yes, technically, he resigned and surrendered his partnership to take the Detroit job.
But awarding the contract will absolutely reinforce a pervasive suspicion in Detroit that rules exist for ‘other people’ — not the well-intentioned power brokers trying to put Detroit back together.”
Instead of wondering how to please their new Manager, the City Council should take a lesson from the Detroit School Board in exile. Often without any formal authority and constantly under attack, the elected Detroit School Board has consistently raised important questions about the protection and development of our children within the public schools. They have turned the spotlight on the dictatorial, short sighted, and detrimental decision making of Roy Roberts and his predecessor Robert Bobb. They have mounted court challenges and held public meetings. They have invited open comment at regular sessions. They have challenged decisions and offered alternatives. They have not worried about their paycheck. As a result, they have been developing a new political space for people to come together and challenge some of the most destructive efforts to turn the education of our children into new profit centers for corporations.
The Detroit City Council should be playing a similar role under this occupation. Instead of casting public comments as disruptions to normal business, the Council needs to take every opportunity for citizens to speak. It needs to encourage and protect a strong public record of resistance to the current decision making powers of the Emergency Manager.
Further, the Council should insist that the new City Charter serve as the covenant governing the actions of all in the city, including the Emergency Manager. It should bring the spirit and letter of the Charter into its deliberations. The Preamble holds that good governance “addresses the needs of all citizens and affirms our commitment to the development and welfare of our youth, our most precious treasure; instituting programs, services and activities addressing the needs of our community; fostering an environment and government structure whereby sound public policy objectives and decisions reflect citizen participation and collective desires; pledging that our officials, elected and appointed, will be held accountable to fulfill the intent of this Charter and hold sacred the public trust.”
For example, section 4-122 of our Charter, entitled Approval of Contracts and Disclosure contains commentary that captures the spirit of the Charter. It notes that the intent of this section is “to provide more transparency and accountability in City contracting. It creates a process for regular public reporting of contract information …and requires that contractors within the City of Detroit disclose information regarding political contributions to and expenditures in support of elected city officials.”
There is much this Council could do to establish a deeper understanding of democracy. But it not likely the majority will do anything other than try to protect their own paychecks.
We, the people, however, can use every gathering of friends, neighbors, faith communities, and service clubs to discuss what our “collective desires” are for our neighborhoods. How do we take up a new “public trust” and bring it to life in our neighobrhoods?
The Future: Part 2
By Grace Lee Boggs
April 28th, 2013
(This article was originally published 20 years ago in The Future: Images for the 21st Century, edited by University of Michigan Professor Bunyan Bryant). Read Part 1 here.
The American family must be redeñned. reinvented, and recreated because today’s nuclear families are caricatures of what families have been and can be. The family is still the best place to prepare the next generation for life. But to fulfill this role, families need to become multi-generational communities of work. This transformation cannot take place separate and apart from the transformation of our communities, our cities, and our schools.
“Communities of Work”
In order for our families to become communities of work, our cities must move towards greater economic self-reliance. That means we must rid ourselves of the myth that there is something sacred about large-scale production for the national and international markets. Actually, our experiences since World War II have been teaching us that production for the national and international markets makes it much easier for multinational corporations to eliminate the jobs of millions of workers and to turn cities like Detroit into wastelands. Moreover, large-scale production promotes consumerism, which is one of the chief causes for the decline in the American family. Because it is based on a huge separation between production and consumption, large-scale production turns both producers and consumers into faceless masses who are alienated from one another and are at the mercy of the market and the mass media.
To increase economic self-reliance, our cities need to move toward import substitution. Instead of importing food and goods, we need to create small local enterprises which produce food, goods, and services for local consumption. Instead of destroying the skills of workers as large-scale industry does, these enterprises would combine craftsmanship with the new technologies that would make possible flexible consumers.
Families can play a critical role in this movement toward local self-reliance by creating community gardens, greenhouses and workshops. They can come together to plant a community garden, to rehabilitate a house for a community center, to produce T-shirts for community organizations and activities, to repair appliances, and to organize community recycling centers and garage and yard sales which can develop into neighborhood stores. By creating a closer relationship between families and the work process, we can involve children in productive activities that develop responsibility and self-esteem.
“Living this Equality”
According to Betty Friedan, the mother of the modern women’s movement, we are now in the second ‘stage of the struggle for equality between men and women.
“The first stage was just having access, breaking through the simple barriers of sex discrimination to get access to training and opportunity in all of the work outside the home. We have done that significantly.” The second stage is “living this equality.”
In this stage there “has to be a profound restructuring of both work and home. In the past, work-the preparation for professions, the lines of advancement, the very hours-was structured in terms of the lives of men who had wives to take care of their other life. And home was structured in terms of the 24-hour service of a full-time housewife-mother. The great majority of women are now working outside the home, as much from sheer necessity as from new opportunity, and they are working for most of their lives. Most women and most families can’t afford to have women go home again, but the implication is that this is your own personal problem, and it’s all because the feminists are giving you ambitions for careers that have gonen you into this predicament.”
Integrating work with the home and community creates a basis for mothers and fathers to “live this equality” by spending more time at home with their children and less time working in factories and offices. Men especially need this involvement with the life process. One of the chief reasons why young Black males are an “endangered species” today is that they have become so removed from the lives of those whom they helped to create.
For this integration of family and work to succeed, work outside the home will also have to be restructured so that men and women can work flex-time and part-time.
More Family, Not Less
The overwhelming majority of Americans who today live in cities and suburbs cannot be expected to go back to the farms where parents, siblings, relatives, and grandparents lived in the same household or nearby. But we do not have to accept the frightening and dangerous isolation of today’s families. Whether we live in the city or the suburbs, we can consciously choose to live close to our parents and friends so that children grow up knowing their grandparents; we can choose to live within walking or biking distance of concerned adults, instead of being dependent upon cars or phones for such contacts. When we rent, buy, or build in a neighborhood, we can consciously choose one with a diversified and intergenerational cross-section of the population, consisting of persons of all ages and at all stages of the life families, larger families with older children, retired and working olderpersons and couples, singles, people with a wide variety of skills, occupations,and life styles-so that children will have many different adult role models.
Together with our neighbors we can organize block parties, youth block clubs, community parks and other projects so that we do not simply live next to one another but are naturally and normally developing a common interest and concern for the children of the neighborhood. To prepare children to become self-governing citizens, we can participate in ongoing struggles and activities to decide policy for our community, our city, and our country.
One of the fears we have inherited from communities of the past is that they will be narrow-minded and parochial. To safeguard against this danger, parents can consciously choose to live in ethnically diverse communities where their children, while learning the richness of their-own cultural heritage, are also exposed to the cultures of other groups. Conscious that their children are growing up in a period of rapid change, parents can welcome neighbors who, like Socrates, do not tell young people what to think or how to live but encourage them to think for themselves. And recognizing that our market economy is producing growing numbers of the homeless and hungry, parents can consciously create ways and means for our children to relate compassionately to those less fortunate so that they are not perceived as “the other.”
Communities of this diversity and common concern can be created through the conscious choice made by millions of individuals and families as to where to settle and how to live together as neighbors. Those who want to make a deeper commitment can organize cooperatives or intentional communities with common areas (central house, backyards, gardens, workshops, etc.). In the past these intentional communities usually had to be established in remote rural areas. But as more vacant lots and abandoned houses become available for “rehabbing” in cities like Detroit, there are increasing opportunities to organize Urban Cooperative/Enterprise communities or what is known as “Co-Housing.” The important thing is not that communities all be alike but that as we decide where and how to live, we think of our homes and neighborhoods as human settlements rather than as labor reservoirs or markets for industry.
Transforming our Schools
To redefine and reinvent our families we will also have to redefine and re-invent our schools. In the past it was assumed that families had responsibility for raising children, instilling in them common sense and values, while the role of the schools was to provide cognitive or academic skills. Conservatives still argue for this sharp division of roles. On the other hand, as more parents have been forced to work outside the home, they have come to depend upon the schools not only to baby-sit their children, but to teach them “sense.” As a result, there is a growing tension between teachers and parents. Teachers complain that children do not come to school prepared to learn, while parents complain that teachers do not educate their children.
The American school system is structured for the advancement of the upwardly mobile individual, and thus reinforce the individualism that Bronfenbrenner says is one of the chief causes for the decline of the family. As long as American industry was expanding, this system worked pretty well. A small minority went on to college and got the diplomas that enabled them to get good jobs and escape from the community. Those who dropped out of high school got jobs in the plant, which enabled them to marry and raise families. But in today’s de-industriaiized cities there are no decent paying jobs for the more than 40% who drop out of school; so men father children but don’t get married.
And school dropouts take out their frustration and anger in acts of vandalism and violence that create fear and devastation within the community. Thus we urgently need to restructure our schools so that they are no longer institutions to promote individual advancement out of the community. Instead, they should serve the building of the community and the all-around development of the individual. The core of the school curriculum should be the economic and social development of the community, with teachers, administrators, students, and citizens working together to achieve this goal. In this process children will learn through practice, which has always been the best way to learn. While they are absorbing the values of socìal responsibility naturally and normally, they will be stimulated to learn skills and acquire information in order to solve real problems.
Instead of simply being fed information from secondary sources, young people will be involved in solving the problems of their neighborhoods, communities, and cities; solutions that will require value judgments as well as factual knowledge and skills. Working collectively or in groups rather than as individuals competing with one another, they will also discover that multiple answers are possible, and that discovery will reinforce the importance of living in a pluralistic and constantly changing society.
For example, how can we renovate rather than demolish homes to combat the low-cost housing shortage that has created the growing homeless population? How can we grow our food in neighborhood gardens and greenhouses so that it doesn’t have to be adulterated with preservatives as a result of being transported thousands of miles? How can we conserve energy in our homes and school buildings and recycle what we do and do not use in our homes and schools? How can we serve nutritious and environmentally friendly food in the school cafeteria? How can we utilize the natural resources of our region, e.g., the sand which is so abundant in Michigan, to manufacture storm windows, and other glass products for solar heating?
Schools restructured along these lines will require cooperation and mutual respect between teachers who know and are concerned about the community and members of the community who are concerned with the development of children. Children who grapple with such questions in school will be prepared to strengthen their families, their communities, and their cities as “communities of work.”
It is not going to be easy to create a new relationship between our schools and our communities. The old relationship has lasted so long and has been accepted so uncritically that change will require intensive dialogue, time, and experimentation. Fortunately the growing movement toward “Choice” and decentralized administration of schools provides the challenge for local communities to undertake experiments. Change in this direction is especially urgent for schools in the inner city. Unless the community becomes the core of the curriculum of inner-city schools, these schools will continue to be abandoned by those parents most interested in the education of their children.
These “rebeginnings” may appear utopian at this time. However, in the next thirty years-as we are confronted with the continuing erosion of our families, our communities, our schools, and our cities, as permanent unemployment becomes a reality for the tens of millions who are no longer needed by American hi-tech and multinational corporations, as environmental considerations cry out for more conservationist and human-scale lifestyles, and as the bankrupt budgets of city, state and federal governments continue to cut back on social programs-necessity will force more and more Americans to move toward reinventing and redefining our families, our communities, cities, and our schools along these or similar lines.