query: graduate degree in organizing
colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Tue Jun 29 07:59:39 CDT 2004
[ed: thanks to James and Doug for continuing the conversation.]
From: jrt at riseup.net
My response is simular to the gentleman from ACORN's but with a different
In my experience, graduate degrees in community organizing set up a very
strange dynamic. As in organizing: only experts need apply. The grad
student usually spends a lot of his or her time overcoming mistrust if
indeed they are working in communities where GEDs are more common then
However, training beyond the simple learn on the job model is essential as
well. Granted most of the people I know who organize learned in some
variation of this approach. My mentor had a habit of dropping me off in
the projects and disappearing leaving me to learn very quickly. Then he
would appear again after two hours and wax poetic about Mao's Mass Line
Theory. It isn't completely ineffective, but leaves a bit to be desired.
I've been putting a lot of thought into how exactly we bridge the need for
reflection, development and training and the "learn by screwing up model."
I think we need to develop organizers trainings that are embedded in
insitutions like community colleges and places such as non-profit housing.
A lot of community colleges already have decent Labor Studies departments.
How about Community Studies? These colleges are where working-class people
are at. Maybe i'm old fashioned, but that is still my orientation.
On the second point, much of the affordable housing (non-profit) can
directly trace its roots back to mostly radical community organizing in
the 1970s. Now many of the founders have traded in their little red books
for tomes on public policy. Gone are the notions of "fighting displacement
through preserving the base community," and using the gains of affordable
housing to develop new leaders from the bottom up.
Yet with poor people's housing under attack (check out the latest Section
8 debacle, HOAX 6, cuts, etc.) and privatization the time is definetely
here for such housing providers to encourage community organizing schools
in their developments. The hard, cold reality is that the days when it was
possible to simple advocate for more human needs are completely over. We
have to fight hard.
If one thinks that the primary force behind social change is graduate
students, then a Masters in Community Organzing makes sense. If one thinks
that the main force behind social change are those most affected by social
and economic calamities (along with principled allies) then the other two
make more sense.
Anyhow, just a few thoughts after a half bottle of wine.
Enjoy the weekend
From: DougRHess at aol.com
Certainly nobody can learn organizing without a good trainer/mentor
and just doing it (which means being out of your office at least half the
time dealing with members and not with peers or other groups' or
institutions' staff). Afterall, you cann't learn to box by watching videos
or reading books.
But as Moshe pointed out, there are some personal issues of theory
and strategy worth thinking over that can best be done in school. On
other thought on the topic is that there are skills that people often need
in organizing at an advanced level that one can not easily aquire, or at
least quickly aquire, without some formal study. For instance,
accounting, writing, statistics, etc. Not everybody needs or wants
these, or has an aptitude for them, but they are desirable in many
situations (managing a staff and budget is not the least of the uses of
them). Final note: many of the best organizers I know may not have
graduate degrees but they came from families and colleges (or
dropped out them) that were very intensive educationally. There might
be a connection to some liberal arts educational experiences and good
organizing...at least for the long haul.
Oh, real final note: having said that, I have not run into too many MSW
degrees in organizing. A few. I would think the degree type is less
important than the classes you want to take (a degree may not even be
an interesting final point). Some classes in land use at an MBA night
school, for instance, may interest an organizer who does housing
organizing; or a course in education reform policy for a school
organizer, etc. Also, many policy schools now offer a list of courses in
nonprofit management. Some are worthwile, others not, so make sure
you meet the faculty, read the syllabus and sit in on a class they teach
before laying down the dollars. There are (sadly) lots of adjunct faculty
out there teaching very watered down courses because both they and
the students cannot give the course their full attention to the course
due to other work loads or poor preparation. Aviod them.
NVRA Project Director, Project Vote
email: dougrhess at aol.com
postal mail: 2114 N Street, NW, Apt. 23 Washington, DC 20037
> From: Rabbi Moshe ben Asher & Magidah Khulda bat Sarah
> <kharakim at jps.net>
> Drew Akason asks: "What exactly would a 'Masters in Organizing'
> or a 'Doctor of Organizing' do beyond the Halls of Ivy? Another
> way of asking the question is, Why would an organizer want a
> masters or doctorate in organizing? Presumably, someone with a
> graduate degree wouldn't have any interest or reason to continue
> doing the work.
> Drew's question reminded me of my own reasons for getting
> graduate degrees and continuing nonetheless to organize. I
> already had a B.A. and some seat-of-the-pants organizing
> experience when I decided to get education and training that
> would enable me to do the work more thoughtfully and purposively.
> As it turned out, I was fortunate to encounter Warren Haggstrom,
> an experienced farm-labor organizer who, at the time, was
> teaching in the grassroots organizing program at the UCLA School
> of Social Welfare. When I finished the program, I returned to
> organizing. After several years, I had a number of questions
> about practically acquiring permanent public powers at the
> grassroots, questions that required at least a year or two of
> serious study to answer. When I realized that the doctoral
> program at UC Berkeley would give me precisely that opportunity,
> I applied and was accepted. The doctoral program allowed me to
> focus on a dissertation that was geared exactly to the questions
> for which I wanted answers. Subsequent to receiving my doctorate,
> I spent many years organizing, first doing neighborhood- and then
> congregation-based work.
> The graduate degrees also gave me the opportunity over the years
> to teach as a part-time lecturer and train many other organizers
> who, like me, had enrolled in schools of social work. And also in
> those times, especially because of the challenging questions of
> students, I had the opportunity to reflect on and write about the
> work I had done, it's meaning in the larger scheme of social
> development and its practical organizing lessons.
> From: "Nathan Henderson-James" <nathanhj7 at hotmail.com>
> I think it is significant that almost all the replies to your
> message are from people who aren't actually organizers in the
> sense that I think about it (building an organization for the
> disenfrancied to use to redress the power imbalances in society).
> I think that if you are serious about becoming an organizer you
> don't need a degree to do it. Here at ACORN almost none of our
> organizers have an advanced degree and a fair number of them
> don't have ANY degree at all. All of what you need to know in
> terms of practice and principles can be learned on the job. At
> least that's how it works here. And from talking with people at
> other networks, that's the way it works there as well.
> None of this is to take anything away from the programs that
> exist out there, but I do want to point out that getting back
> into organizing is a lot less about knowing the theory than it is
> about being passionate about justice. If you have that, then the
> best thing to do is just get out and DO it.
> I recommend internships and organizer academies either from the
> AFL-CIO or from groups like us. I mean, if you aren't going to
> move for "the dream job" (which pays you in money and the
> emotional satisfaction of changing people's lives) why should you
> move for a graduate program (where you pay THEM)?
> Anyway, that's my $.02.
> Nathan Henderson-James
> ACORN National Political Staff
> Performance Poet
> 510-213-1970 cell
> nathanhj7 at hotmail dot com
> "I want to inject your blunt caustic observations between my toes
> so that some day my truth will kick someone's ass!"
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