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.

Aaron Schutz
Associate Professor &amp; Chair
Dept. of Ed. Policy &amp; Comm. Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53201
Office: (414) 229-4150
Fax: (414) 229-3700
Website: educationaction.org

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
> alienation.
> Thanks for this great discussion y'all.
>> --------
>> [ed: thanks to Chris for responding to Aaron's query.]
>> From: "Chris Cavanagh" <story at web.ca>
>> Aaron,
>> 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.
>> peace
>> chris
>>> 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 
>>> approach.
>>> 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 &amp; Chair
>>> Dept. of Ed. Policy &amp; 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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