query: teaching organizing in little time
Discussion list for COMM-ORG
colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Wed Dec 19 22:32:56 CST 2007
[ed: Aaron posts the results of his query.]
From: Aaron Schutz <chutz at uwm.edu>
I was planning to send out a post summarizing and commenting on the
interesting responses I have gotten to my request for ideas about
creating a brief introductory organizing workshop. But the document got
too long for a post. So I’ve put two documents up on my website here:
The first document listed is my summary and comments on the posts people
made in response to my request. (The funky formatting was designed for a
plain text post.)
The second document is my own version of a brief workshop, with no
guarantees on its effectiveness.
I’d be interested in hearing any responses if anyone would like to
continue the discussion.
Associate Professor & Chair
Dept. of Ed. Policy & Comm. Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53201
Office: (414) 229-4150
Fax: (414) 229-3700
Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
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> [ed: thanks to Ben for continuing the conversation.]
> From: benshepard at mindspring.com
> Thank you for this.
> I really appreciate this discussion.
> I like to start such classes asking students,
> what community means to them, and how have they
> gone about creating community in their own lives.
> People reflect on some good stuff.
> In another early session, i like to ask students why
> people are poor?
> And then ask what we can do about it.
> Here we link structural problems with macro solutions.
> And students realize they really know this stuff. THey
> just need to connect a few dots. The fun part is working
> through the material with the students so they discover
> some of their insights into building communities and battling
> Thanks for this great discussion y'all.
>> [ed: thanks to Chris for responding to Aaron's query.]
>> From: "Chris Cavanagh" <story at web.ca>
>> i want to add, from the different (albeit overlapping) tradition of
>> popular education, to the great responses you are getting. One way that
>> i like to start a session on the type of thing you are describing is to
>> draw out where people are at to begin with. In your case, i would ask
>> something like, "how do you think social change happens?" How you
>> structure the asking and the answering, as it were, is key. You could
>> just do a quick go-around, of course. But i find giving a little more
>> structure/guidance to be worthwhile. So, a quick pairs discussion ( i.e.
>> 5 minutes) from which you ask every pair to share one response is both
>> quick and illuminating. From this you get at least a sense of what
>> people are bringing into the room. Or, depending on time of course, you
>> could structure something more complex, in which in pairs or threes you
>> ask everyone to share one anecdote/account/example of social change that
>> they've heard about or been involved in. You ask them to record each
>> contribution on stickie notes in the form of a headline (urging them to
>> use a bit of humour can always be nice - e.g. write a sensationalistic
>> tabloid headline) and for the report back each person who has a stickie
>> to share posts it on a wall with each subsequent person clustering
>> theirs with other contributions with which they connect. The clusters
>> then reveal certain patterns that you can name, examine, unpack, etc.
>> The first thing i describe can be done in 15 minutes while the stickie
>> note thing takes no less than 30 minutes and can take as much as an
>> hour. What these exercises are all about is drawing out people's
>> experience and common sense about the matter at hand. I affirm Amy's
>> question "What do you mean by community organizing?" which is important
>> to be clear about. But, at a minimum, i assume we agree that it is about
>> social change. And everyone has an opinion about how social change
>> happens. But common sense, of course, is ever and always that messy mix
>> of good sense, bad sense and nonsense. I find that the more you can
>> problematize people's common sense the more likely it is that they'll be
>> able to connect whatever new it is you have to impart. The challenge of
>> our education work, i would say (whether that done within community
>> organizing or the popular education work that happens around the world)
>> is to critique the bad sense that we all have in abundance, affirm the
>> good sense and develop even better sense (as for nonsense, welll...
>> sometimes we just need to hang on to some of that for comic relief).
>> Common sense is a powerful and resilient thing. And failing to challenge
>> it usually means that people leave educational events and retain, for
>> the most part, those things that disturb their common sense the least.
>> Which usually means all the good shit we thought we got across is left
>> on the cutting room floor (just to mix metaphors there).
>> i'd love to hear how you end up applying the advice your getting from
>> this conversation. Keep us posted. Good luck.
>>> From: Aaron Schutz <schutz at uwm.edu>
>>> Most people in my city don’t know much about organizing, and they mostly
>>> don’t know that they don’t know. They feel somewhat hopeless about the
>>> huge problems facing the city, and I think often sense the limitations
>>> of efforts focused on service to the needy, but don’t really know what
>>> else to do.
>>> One Solution:
>>> I would like to come up with a short workshop for small groups of
>>> non-profit workers, teachers, residents, and others that would introduce
>>> them to the tradition of community organizing. The goal is NOT to teach
>>> them concrete skills, but instead to give them entrée into what is an
>>> alien perspective about community change.
>>> The best approach would probably be to bring this workshop to where
>>> these leaders already meet. But in these cases you would likely be given
>>> very limited time: from 1-3 hours at most.
>>> The Problem:
>>> In my experience most people continually reinterpret what one tells them
>>> about organizing into frameworks that make sense to them. The community
>>> development/social service perspective is deeply engrained. If you ask
>>> them to pick a target and imagine a possible issue, even after
>>> explaining basic concepts, for example, they often choose neighborhood
>>> residents as targets and seek internal cultural change or community
>>> building as a goal. The idea of wresting power from the powerful or
>>> resisting outside structural oppression is difficult for them to
>>> coherently grasp.
>>> On the other hand, there is something uniquely compelling about the
>>> community organizing approach, especially to those who work in
>>> traditional social service occupations.
>>> I just did an hour-and-a-half presentation to a group of early career
>>> non-profit workers, and I think I started to reach some of them (and
>>> pissed a number of them off), but I am not very happy with my current
>>> Why Do This?
>>> The goal would be to increase the number of people in the community who
>>> at least have heard of organizing, focusing on key leaders. At the
>>> minimum, we need more people who have some sense of what organizing
>>> entails, who can engage coherently and usefully with organizers, and
>>> who, once they learn about organizing, may have interest in pursuing
>>> these ideas further and supporting more “organizing like” activities.
>>> This isn’t all we need, but I think it might help.
>>> I would love to hear others ideas about how one might approach this
>>> problem. Or even whether you agree that it’s worth addressing.
>>> What would you focus on in terms of the few concepts you could try to
>>> get across in such a short time?
>>> What kinds of activities would you try if people only had 15-20 minutes
>>> to collaborate?
>>> Aaron Schutz
>>> Associate Professor & Chair
>>> Dept. of Ed. Policy & Comm. Studies
>>> University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
>>> P.O. Box 413
>>> Milwaukee, WI 53201
>>> Office: (414) 229-4150
>>> Fax: (414) 229-3700
>>> Website: educationaction.org
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