query: graduate degree in organizing
colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Wed Jul 21 17:11:24 CDT 2004
[Doug responds to Bill, also addressing the questions brought up in Al's
July 10 message. Charles also responds to Bill.]
From: DougRHess at aol.com
"Whatâs not been noted is that graduate training, * when done
properly, * with asterisks intended, is valuable for the simple reason
that it improves the work. It makes the work more effective."
I'm surprised Bob said this, since I think several people have made
exactly this point. Maybe this is one of those conversations where people
are all expressing some degree of frustration with misunderstandings they
fear exist, that which are not in fact held as widely as they believe.
"First, and possibly foremost, graduate training exposes the student to a
body of verified principles of how human beings operate, both
individually and in groups. Not theories, not models, but demonstrated
facts of human behavior, based upon multiple empirical investigations. "
I also have to disagree here. I am not aware that academics have
settled many debates in theories of how people develop, grow, are
socialized, act in groups and movements, network, develop political
opinions, etc. A good class (or good readings on your own) can help
you think better about these issues and debunk some myths, and what
not, but there are not always settled answers. Nonetheless, I think
there are many applications from empirical research (which, again, is all
about theories and models) that students can apply to organizing, but
only if they have a teacher helping make that connection or are skilled
enough to do it themselves. Having said that, there are many technical
skills courses now being offered (fundraising, management) that may
appear to be all practically based, but are still often based on practical
wisdom/theory of other practitioners as much as experience and much
more than empirical research.
I do, however, like Bob's list of what a good program needs. I am not
yet convinced that a degree program is the best way to offer this to the
largest number of people who desire/need it. Degree programs limit
location choices, family choices, work and income choices. I would like
to see if some distance learning seminars or classes would be of
interest. Another possibility is the long retreat model that some
distance programs that have been mentioned used. Again, degree
oriented should not be a requirement for entrance or even a point of
the program, just bring people in for a week of reading time, lecture,
research and some technical practice (researching your community,
geodata, designing a campaign, etc.).
"At the minimum, I think that ideal Academy would be fact-based,
case-oriented, life-affirming, inspirational, and demonstrably effective."
Those aren't bad requirements for the content of some courses, but I think
a curriculum should have in its base some quality courses that are less
empirically driven. These focus on social and political theory and
interpretation of historical events/biographies/movements. Several people
have mentioned why this was/is important to them.
NVRA Project Director, Project Vote
phone: 202-955-5869 cell: 202-276-4807
email: dougrhess at aol.com
postal mail: 2114 N Street, NW, Apt. 23
Washington, DC 20037
From: Charles Heying <heyingc at pdx.edu>
I too have been somewhat surprised by the antipathy to academic
training. At Portland State University we have developed an
undergraduate program which successfully integrates academic work
with community based learning. We are now in the very early stages of
discussion about a 5th year masters program that might have three
tracks, (a) community organizing, (b) traditional community
development (CDC type work) (c) social enterprise (social vision
organizations that combine aspects of nonprofit and private).
By our students comments, we have a very demanding curriculum
especially because it requires extensive group work, concensus
decisionmaking, detailed project planning connected to real work for
communities. Students engage in substantive and sometimes
controversial projects and they seem to thrive on these challenges.
And members of our faculty are involved in their communities as
neighborhood activists and as issue organizers. Portlands
neighborhood organizations are a mixed lot but some are very
politically active. Tonight our neighborhood association will decide
whether it wants to oppose Ballot Measure 38, a measure that could gut
Oregon's land use planning laws. While SEUL, the neighborhood
coalition, and the city-wide neighborhood land use committee have
taken a position in opposition, there are some at the neighborhood level
who think we are getting too political. It will be a testy meeting to fight
this out and I will be fully engaged in the discussion.
As an issue based activist, I just spent 2 years helping organize the
effort to stop the city from burying our historic open water reservoirs
that are the keystone features of two of our major public parks. The
decision to bury the reservoirs (at a cost of 200 million) was taken
without public input and in reaction to a supposed terrorist threat. Our
opposition was a case study in successful organizing with all the
attendant problems of developing and maintaining a volunteer based
effort. We found ourselves immersed in city and neighborhood politics,
highly technical water infrastructure planning issues, international
issues of water privatization and fighting an international private
consulting company that had essentially captured our local water
bureau. In the end, we were successful in getting the council to reverse
its decision and stop a planning juggernaut that wasted $4 million
dollars in consultancy fees over the two years.
And the reservoir battle became one of the signature public issues
highlighting the current city council's lack of responsiveness to
neighborhoods. This has had an impact on the Mayoral campaign
where an upstart neighborhood-friendly candidate, who refused to take
contributions larger that $25, upset an incumbent council member who
spent nearly $1 million in the primary. If the challenger prevails in the
general election, it will mark a significant shift in political direction for
the city and a victory of citizens over special interests.
My point is simple. Its not either/or. An academic can be fully engaged
as a volunteer activist. The things I learned by being engaged have
informed my teaching and they bring a level of credibility to what I do as
an instructor. But the reverse is also true. What I learn in the
classroom and as researcher also inform my activism and my academic
training and credentials bring credibility to my work as an activist. And
programs that train persons for work in community development can
also combine the best of both scholarship and activism.
So I am surprised that very thoughtful folks have a sense that
organizing can only be learned on the job and reject scholarly reflection
and analysis. I can hardly imagine one without the other.
Then again, I am feeling good today because we have been victorious.
Tommorrow, if things get reversed, I may be hip deep in nihilism.
> From: "Bill Berkowitz" <Bill_Berkowitz at uml.edu>
> In following the Co-List discussions about graduate training in
> community organizing, I have been surprised and taken aback by
> the badmouthing and robust antagonism toward graduate education
> found in many of the comments. Some of this critique may be
> warranted, but much of it is not.
> So as someone whose professional work since the 1960s has been
> evenly divided between local organizing and community development
> on the one hand, and university teaching on the other, including
> directing a graduate program in community change for several
> years, I feel motivated to weigh in.
> Lets readily acknowledge that (1) you can do great organizing
> without graduate training; (2) our best organizers to date have
> not had graduate organizing degrees; and (3) much of what it
> takes to be a successful organizer is learned on the street, or
> at least outside the traditional classroom. Compelling and
> unassailable truths, all of these.
> But graduate training in community organizing has compelling
> value as well. It has value in supplying credentials, in securing
> better salaries, in establishing career paths, and in gaining
> access to power, all of which have been noted in previous
> comments, but none of which is my point here. Whats not been
> noted is that graduate training, * when done properly, * with
> asterisks intended, is valuable for the simple reason that it
> improves the work. It makes the work more effective. Well-trained
> organizers are more likely to accomplish their goals, to get the
> job done, and to keep on keeping on.
> Why is this so?
> First, and possibly foremost, graduate training exposes the
> student to a body of verified principles of how human beings
> operate, both individually and in groups. Not theories, not
> models, but demonstrated facts of human behavior, based upon
> multiple empirical investigations. Any organizer will gain from
> learning how to apply principles of reinforcement; or how to make
> a message most persuasive; or how seating patterns will affect
> group dynamics; or what will motivate someone to join a group; or
> what leadership style will work best in a given situation.
> There are such verified principles, refined over generations, and
> a prospective organizer who ignores them limits his impact. You
> can learn them in the field, or on your own, but you can often
> learn them best in a program of systematic study. Will knowledge
> of these principles ensure success? Would it were so. Will they
> make success more likely? Yes, they will.
> Second, good graduate training promotes a more disciplined and
> thoughtful approach to the work. Flying by the seat of your pants
> is a wearing mode of travel. All of us appreciate planning, but
> how many times do we sit down and write out step-by-step action
> plans (even if they get changed in practice)? All of us pay
> homage to evaluation, but how many times do we put actual energy
> into evaluating our work systematically, and abiding by the
> consequences? All of us value facts, but how many times are we
> challenged to demonstrate, perhaps in writing, the factual basis
> behind our assertions?
> Graduate training done well obliges the student to be systematic
> and rigorous, in those respects and others. These are not the
> only organizing virtues, but they are virtues nonetheless, and
> were better off cultivating them. Ideally, such training carries
> over into the work outside the classroom. It becomes a life
> Third, proper graduate education nourishes the student
> personally; it helps sustain the work over the long haul. It
> gives you a broad community of support, one not always found at
> work, or within ones own organization. In graduate training,
> your supports come from diverse colleagues whove been there
> before, from those whove stood in your shoes, or those whose own
> shoes have gotten scuffed around elsewhere, but look, they are
> still striding forward.
> An organizers work can be lonely and hard. Many organizers quit,
> or lose the gleam. Finding peers to affirm you, as well as models
> to inspire you, can strengthen your effort and maintain your
> commitment over years or decades or a lifetime, which of course
> is what needs to be done.
> These are strong reasons, I think, for a prospective organizer to
> get graduate training in community organizing, over and above
> learning on the job or in short workshops or courses. The work
> is worthy of a degree. Even at that, were only talking about one
> or two years of structured education, not signing your life away.
> Granted, some graduate education can be distancing and bloodless,
> dull as dirt. It can make you rue the day you plunked down your
> money and stood on a registration line. But we mean graduate
> education * when done properly, * so we should be clear on what
> that involves. The answer could be a treatise in itself, yet I
> think we can specify some of the basic elements. Here are a
> 1. The instructors should have practical organizing and community
> development experience.
> 2. The students should have some organizing background as well,
> so that they can learn from one another.
> 3. The classes should be small, to maximize such learning.
> 4. The local community should be closely tied to the program, so
> that both students and faculty can deepen their community
> connections, and so that the program itself can be influenced by
> community needs.
> 5. The curriculum should emphasize practical applications
> throughout, with field assignments and community-based projects
> being part of most courses.
> 6. The curriculum should teach proven principles of individual,
> group, and organizational behavior, and how they apply to
> everyday organizing and community change situations.
> 7. The curriculum should describe objective methods for studying
> community life, so that analyses and decisions are based on facts
> rather than speculations.
> 8. The curriculum should feature problem-oriented case studies
> and case examples of actual community situations, to complement
> and supplement more generalized instruction.
> 9. The program should draw upon the considerable number of on-
> line community development resources now available. [One of them
> is the Community Tool Box, which my colleagues and I have been
> developing over the last ten years, now with over 6000 text pages
> and growing. Check it out at ctb.ku.edu if you are not familiar
> with it.]
> 10. The program should explicitly teach about the personal
> qualities essential in outstanding community work for such work
> draws upon the entire person, not just ones technical skills.
> Those qualities can in fact be taught, or at the very least
> modeled and exemplified. When we do so, we can inspire, and
> thats half the battle or more.
> 11. The program should create a sense of community and solidarity
> among all those involved in it. It should walk the walk; it
> should model the community values we desire in others.
> 12. Finally, the program should be evaluated, frequently and
> continuously, to make sure it is achieving its pre-established
> goals, and meeting the needs of its students and the larger
> constituencies it serves.
> This is a start. Theres much room for elaboration and
> improvement throughout. Id be especially interested in reader
> response to these guideposts, and in how they might be modified
> or expanded to help shape the development of organizing programs
> more generally. In dreamier moments, I can also envision a small
> printed volume based upon these Co-List discussions, or even a
> face-to-face gathering of those wanting to advance graduate
> education in our field.
> To pose the issue more broadly, suppose we imagined an ideal 21st
> century Academy of Community Change, or call it what you will.
> What would that look like? At the minimum, I think that ideal
> Academy would be fact-based, case-oriented, life-affirming,
> inspirational, and demonstrably effective. It would respond to
> the objections that previous readers have raised. And it would
> prepare us to cope with the momentous issues we will surely be
> dealing with in the decades to come.
> Can we bring this vision about? What do you think?
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