Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Excerpts from my journal
PHOTOS (in two parts)
November 25, 2014, Tuesday, on the train east of Cleveland heading home to Cambridge
The main event of yesterday [November 24, 2014], other than my departure from Detroit after 3 weeks (which on the universal scale counts for very little) was photographing the Boggs School, a publicly-funded charter school. Initially the head, Amanda Rosman, seemed nervous about my presence and asked me to estimate how long I’d be in the school. She also cautioned me against photographing the kids of one family whose mother refused blanket permission for photography, a prohibition that baffles me, especially at such a renowned school as the Boggs.
I was deeply impressed with the quality of education. The teachers seemed skilled in handling their subjects and discipline problems (the latter were frequent in one art class I observed, not in others). A main pedagogical principle is place-based education, meaning the students are to learn about where they live and go to school. One group, with the theme of orienteering, went for a walk around the block. When they stepped outside, the teacher, a burly fellow with thick arms teaching gym or physical education, asked them which directions were north, east, etc. I added and he agreed, what direction are the clouds coming from? and he added, and that means the direction of the storm—all central to moment and place.
[Place-based education is] local, and it’s connected to students in a way that they can identify with. It’s either a problem in their community or an event that’s happening, or it could be a geological phenomenon. But it’s something that they’re familiar with….so it means something to them. And then we ask questions about it.
—Cay Graig, Vermont teacher
After the walk —perfect for me because it shows the East-side neighborhood, typically deteriorated—they built something inside that I failed to locate and photograph.
Another teacher dealt with garbage, putting on the board 3 key questions: what happens to our garbage, where does it go, and what does it mean to throw it away? She had them write in their notebooks, and then read from them. Later she showed them an effecting movie about garbage.
The school runs kindergarten thru 5th, in 3 groups, something like kindergarten, 1-2-3, and 4-5. One teacher wears a hijab, about 1/3 the other teachers are black. Amanda, now softened toward me, not overseeing me as she did at our first location, the playground, and apparently assured I will do the school well, is a cofounder. I promised to send her a selection before I post, to make sure no kids whose parents refused permission are included.
Upon entering I noticed immediately two things: pizza for lunch and the policy of choices rather than self-control. The latter came up when a teacher in a contentious situation, rather than preaching self-control, reminded the student that he had choices. This reflected a conversation with my dear friends, Anne and Fred, when Anne advocated the choices approach. A good principle to keep in mind—with one’s self as well as others.
Other observations: the art teacher showed them drawings of Indian language symbols in the context of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. (I wonder what spin they’d put on the traditional Thanksgiving story, probably a more accurate one.) Water bottles with names were in many rooms, presumably an effort to teach conservation. On my second pass at the bottles I photographed them with neighboring houses in the background. Often I used my Canon camera’s pullout viewfinder so I could hold the camera at my waist level, thereby distracting the children so they noticed me less.
Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say ‘no’ to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to crease the world anew.
—Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century
Now the big story of that event, altho minor in the grand picture (too bad that I have no photos), this meant a great deal to me: wind. Gusting to more than 50 mph, swiveling between south and north, it blew me to the school, but ferociously resisted me on my little pedal machine (my folding bicycle) later when I tried to return home from the school. It nearly blew me over when I left the protection of a building and entered an intersection. I shifted down to the lowest gear to make headway against the tumultuous wind. Crackling, snapping, flaring, ripped-by-the-wind power lines forced a detour. I thought I might not make it without the intercession of either a divine being or someone like my neighbor Johnny with his huge truck. One block from the school, it blew over my bike when I stopped to photograph a recently burned house, stepping thru bags of what turned out to be shit to get a position. The wind-induced fall damaged my bike light needed in the dim, dank, afternoon darkness. Riding on the leeward side of buildings, on sidewalks, I achieved my objective: home. Thank god, humdilila. Outside my home I washed the shit off my boots and bike pedals and brought my bike inside.
My bike ride thru the wind might represent the school’s course thru the perils and challenges of troubled but perhaps recovering Detroit.
TO BE CONTINUED
“The Boggs School Oral History Project: Linking Youth and Elders to the Past, Present and Future,” by Laura de Palma, December 2014
“Children’s Voices, Dave Eggers Illustrates Stories by Elementary Schoolers,” by Maria Russo, December 2014
Detroit Walk-In Portrait Studio, a video about a photographic project at the school conducted by Corine Vermeulen, December 2014
“New coalition on Detroit schools unveils its membership,” by Ann Zaniewski, December 2014
“Activist Boggs honored for work toward social justice,” by Amy He, December 2014