TchLaureate Geneviève Debose Akinnagbe teaches ELA at Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists (BSSWA) in New York City, a secondary school where teachers refer to their students as “Scholar-Activists.” She’s developed a unit on Scholar Activism for her middle school students so they have a better idea of what that title means and the honor it carries.
So far, we’ve explored the following questions:
What, exactly, is “scholar activism,” and why is it important to teach our students about scholar activism in the classroom?
In this post, Geneviève shares what she calls one of the coolest projects she’s ever done with students, when they engaged with a community organization called Citizens Committee for New York City to actively improve their school community in the Bronx.
Let’s learn a little more about the Beauty of the Bronx:
Each year, I’m so impressed with what my students produce as a result of their work learning about civic engagement and the culmination of that work, the Taking Action Project. As I close the Teaching for Civic Engagement series, I’d like to take the time to reflect on the successes of the Taking Action Project, as well as the challenges and possibilities it presents.
Projects that earned some attention this year included a proposal to improve the library at our school, a boycott of products with microbeads, a website to share stories and resources about sexual harassment, and a website to centralize all the counseling and mental health resources available at my school.
Previous projects have included a flyer targeted at helping residents of Chinatown resist gentrification and illegal evictions, a petition to end unfair taxation of products for women, and a zine about eco-feminism. The latter has flourished far beyond the classroom walls into a full publication with a website and a fundraising effort.
These are certainly examples of some of the most impactful learning my students engaged in over the past few years. However, while the Taking Action Project is one of my favorite parts of the year, it also presents a number of challenges.
As I’ve been writing about in this Teaching for Civic Engagement blog series, I’m thinking about civic engagement throughout the school year. However, if you ask the students in my class, “What do you do for civic engagement?” they would probably say the Taking Action Project. The Taking Action Project is the final unit in my history class and it’s the culmination of all the skills and content we’ve been studying throughout the year. A part of the project was documented in this Teaching Channelvideo, and here I want to share a bit more about the nuts and bolts of the larger project.
Identifying and analyzing what makes for effective civic action is pretty murky business. One reason it’s so challenging to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular movement, group, or action step is because definitions of effectiveness vary so much.
There are a number of ways to define an effective action or group. You might choose to focus on the outcome, such as how many people were impacted, the extent to which a demand was met, or the amount of concrete change that’s accomplished. Others might choose to focus more on the process of making change, such as the degree of solidarity and community formed by a group, the style of leadership or core values that are developed, or the extent of internal change or consciousness raising that’s created. The reality is that none of these criteria are wrong — it just depends on your perspective.
For these reasons, instead of giving my students the criteria I think they should use to evaluate past efforts for social change, and then use to plan their own action steps, I allow them to develop and hash out for themselves what they think makes for an effective social justice movement.