River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 29 2012

Not All Speed is [a] Movement…

“In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others”

–Alexis de Tocqueville

Originally, I was going to write about my final week of school before state testing begins, but I wanted to instead reflect on a great day of professional development through Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), a closely-affiliated partner organization with Teach For America.  Through this partnership, LEE was able to offer a full-day training on organizing and advocacy at Delta State University. Regardless of how one feels about TFA’s leadership pipeline strategy, it’s hard to argue against the benefits of providing opportunities to empower educators, especially in the Mississippi Delta.

I came into this training with some background knowledge having taken Marshall Ganz’s course on organizing (People, Power, and Change) at the Harvard Kennedy School during my junior year of college. I learned a lot about myself through this course in which I was the youngest participant. Through LEE, it was neat to reflect on how far I’ve come as a leader. Compared to three years ago (wow, I’m getting old), I’m much more opinionated and less hesitant to voice my perspective about various issues. That said, I’m still an introvert at heart and have a ways to go. Being able to craft and share one’s “Story of Self” is extremely difficult but at the same time very empowering when perfected as a skill. If anything, my corps experience has helped me to understand and to articulate my own background. This deeper understanding is a fundamental step as I seek to figure out my future path.

We also worked on Root Cause Analysis, which is a technique I’ve practiced on a number of occasions in different settings.  Too often, our policy solutions take aim at symptoms rather than truly targeting the underlying causes of  issues. This strategy has never really made sense to me. Anyone who plays video games knows this to be true; take for example the zombie-killing game Dead Nation:


"I'm Going To Need a Bigger Gun"

The objective of this game is to make it to the hospital by cutting your way through swarms of brain-eating zombies. Often, you’ll encounter a “Zerg-Rush” of sorts (Google it) where a single hive will continually spawn new zombies until you destroy it. To defeat it, you can either attack the hive directly, or simply reload your gun continually to fight off the new zombies.  If I used the strategy of current reform, I’d merely buy a bigger, costlier gun and throw some grenades to kill the zombies at a higher rate. These tactics work splendidly until I exhaust my ammo and run out of money, which leaves me with my default, unlimited ammo handgun. Am I better off than where I started? No. To actually defeat these attackers, I have to skillfully kill just enough zombies to get to the root cause of the problem, the hive which creates them, and destroy it using the diverse arsenal of weapons at my disposal. The logic dictating this method [attacking the source] as anything other than the most effective solution perplexes me. Clearly, our policymakers need to play more video games.

Anyhow, our training session spelled out 20+ problems plaguing the Mississippi Delta, but from sharing stories through one-on-one meetings to power mapping and messaging, I felt inspired by the tools we equipped ourselves with to affect change. I think the critical piece going forward is to ensure we make the right kind of change; that’s my two cents on the matter.

Note: for more information and resources on Organizing, check out The New Organizing Institute - http://neworganizing.com/toolbox/

SN- I think I’m going to start a new trend; #reformreloaded, more on that later…

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    Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

    Mississippi Delta
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