Transcription of the episode “Disrupting power structures: Organizing youth for equity in schools”

[00:00:15] Jon M: Hi. I’m Jon Moscow. 

[00:00:16] Amy H-L: And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guest today is Dr. Keith Catone, Executive Director of the Center for Youth and Community Leadership in Education or CYCLE at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Keith is the author of The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism: Portraits of Four Teachers for Justice. Welcome, Keith. 

[00:00:40] Keith C: Hi, thanks for having me.

[00:00:43] Amy H-L: Keith, would you tell us about your journey as a teacher and an activist? 

[00:00:48] Keith C: Sure we can start in so many different places, but over the years I’ve traced the journey to different starting points. I think one of the stories I tell, one of my first moments of connecting or thinking that there needs to be a connection between community activism and teaching itself, was when, as an undergraduate, I was doing a community activism and community organizing training with a local organization in Providence, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, which still exists, and the lead organizer at the time was leading the training. I was doing some educational work, doing afterschool tutoring as an undergraduate, and asked the organizer. I said, “What kind of interactions or what kind of engagement do you have with public school teachers?” And the organizer looked at me like it was a really outlandish question. The look was sort of like, “No, we just don’t have any connections with teachers. Like that’s not a thing.” And it shocked me, because my narrative around what education was for was for social justice.

At the time, I was reading Freire and I was thinking about critical pedagogy and I was doing all these things in a classroom, thinking about the power of education to contribute to movements and to shape minds and community. And here I was in at the time, the most prominent community organizing group in the city being told, essentially there wasn’t any connection with public school teachers. And so from there, I really grappled with how do you do both? How do you really think about being a public school educator and being a community activist organizing? And, and I think that really shaped the way I approached my career in education and have approached my career in education from that kind of moment on. We’re talking over 20 years ago.

And so in terms of that moment, and so I went from there. I did become a teacher out of undergrad. I taught at Banana Kelly High School in the South Bronx. I taught social studies for five years and went back to school, did studies in school leadership and community organizing. I was a youth organizer in Providence for a little bit before kind of moving into the kind of work that I do now, which has grown into what CYCLE does, supporting youth in communities and schools to think about how to organize together for educational justice.

[00:03:16] Amy H-L: If I could ask you just to define a couple of terms, organizer, direct action and activist. 

[00:03:25] Keith C: Sure. Interesting terms to pick out of that narrative. So organizing, I think of our organizers, I think about a few things that I seek when I’m looking for community organizing. So one is that there’s a focus on grassroots leadership, the leadership development of those who are most impacted by social problems and equities and inequality. In the work that we do in schools, that’s youth and families of color, most primarily. I also look for the relationship. And a sense of collective being. So we’re not just developing individual leaders, but that we’re developing people in community, that we’re developing relationships among those people. And that if you’re doing that well enough, both focusing on the lifting up of grassroots leadership and the building of collective relationship, then you have a chance to build power together. And so that would be the other mark of organizing and organizers is they’re seeking to shift power. They’re seeking to build power with and among people who have been marginalized from the centers of power in society, to actually build power and generate power together, to shift the conditions and shift the pictures and circumstances in communities.

So those are the three things I look for: leadership from the grassroots, relationships and relationship-building, and a focus on the transformation of power or the building of power to transform conditions in society.

Activism isn’t always organizing, right. So activism can actually fall into a trap of more individual activities. Activism can often be episodic and singular and not necessarily be looking to build power or to have a strategy to work as a collective and to move together and to increase or have a chance to transform society together. So in this past year we’ve seen a lot of activism, and there are organizers who sparked that activism. But I think the question is, do activists, do folks who are ready to go out to a rally, are ready to show up for a certain thing, will they, can they be sustained and supported to lean into the building of some collective powers that can actually shift things? And I think that’s where direct action, is a tactic or a strategy of organizing or activity.

And it, I mean, the traditional definitions of direct action would be when you, when you intervene on the normal functions of the system, right. And you disrupt those functions. And so those are things. Those are actually, you know, there are unsanctioned protests and rallies that are interrupting the status quo or the way things are moving, sit ins, blocking any kinds of operations. Those are a lot of times tactics that organizers and activists will use to impress upon decision makers whatever it is that they’re demanding or fighting for. I think part of the difference in my mind is organizers if doing it well, are, are taking direct action as part of a larger strategy. So there’s a thoughtfulness around why that action, when, whom it’s targeting. And oftentimes if it’s not part of a strategy, we just have action after action after action and people show up and sort of spend a lot of energy and an action, but it oftentimes sort of dissipates. And I don’t know where it goes until the next action.

What we’re trying to think about when we’re thinking about organizing is how do we do that in a planful way so that we’re actually organizing to win, and not burning people out with action after action without strategy.

[00:07:42] Jon M: Thanks. That was really interesting. What is CYCLE and what does it do?

[00:07:48] Keith C: We are a Center at Roger Williams University, the Center for Youth and Community Leadership in Education. We do a variety of things. We’re organized into three different teams. We have a youth leadership team, which focuses a lot on the support of youth organizing groups throughout New England and in other regions of the country, to learn from each other. We do direct support in terms of training and also research support to support youth led campaigns that intersect with our research and learning team. That team is doing projects that lead with a research lens.

Although everything we do is undergirded through a theory of organizing, so we think about research in the context of organizing. And so the research that we’re doing really forefronts and tries to honor grassroots leadership, tries to actually be conducted in a way that contributes to leadership development and, in a sense, of building collective power for change. And so the research projects we do are very applied and usually in partnership and participatory with community members, young people and/or parents. And then we also have an organizing strategy and training team, which does two different things. One, we actually anchor and staff and support a local alliance called OurSchoolsPVD, which is an alliance of youth led organizations with a couple allies like ourselves and one other, the Center for Justice, which does pro bono legal work.

And we organize and offer training programs for introductory programs for new and emerging organizers. And so that’s a newer program, but we’ve done two iterations of what we call the CYCLE Strategy Institute or CSI. And we have done that once in 2019 in-person and then once virtually this past year, and we’re going to be actually doing a virtual, but more robust, version of that coming up in the following year, so that in 2022. And so that’s going to be something that we’re trying to build out that offers resources and tools to people who are organizing specifically in the education justice space. 

[00:10:09] Amy H-L: What is CYCLE’s theory of change?

[00:10:12] Keith C: So we ground everything we do in organizing. And so I think if we were to just sort of name a theory of change, I think what we believe is if you focus on and work on developing leadership relationships and power among those who are the most impacted by inequity and injustice, then you will be more likely to devise solutions that are workable and that are winnable and doable to transform those conditions. And so everything we do is grounded in those areas, like how are we designing programs and doing work so that it is forefronting the leadership, relationship development, and power of those who are the most impacted.

So if we have a sort of broad based theory of change, you know, that’s what it is. Is that that doing organizing work over the long haul that is strategic and planful can get us to change. You know, how that manifests into various projects and programs and from a nonprofit logic model theory of change, you know, it looks a little different with inputs and outputs and whatnot, but, but really what we’re, what we’re trying to do is amplify leadership, build relationships, and then generate power.

[00:11:40] Jon M: You’ve talked about an organizing disposition for educators. What does mean? 

[00:11:46] Keith C: Yeah. So we had the opportunity to host a virtual conferences past year that was exploring what we call “organizing dispositions for educational leadership.” And at its core, it essentially means that we believe educational leaders would be better at their jobs. . . So positional leaders within the field of education would be better at their jobs if they thought and were trained to think and utilize the tools of organizing. And so all the things I was just talking about, if you applied them and thought about them as driving the way that you approached your school or your district, or even your classroom, we believe that would enhance our ability to be successful in that work.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that educators need to be, or should be community organizers one-to-one. It’s to say that educators have a lot to learn from the field of organizing. And what we were identifying in this conference is that that is not how educators are trained. That is not the way in which schools or districts are organized.

And that if they did, I mean, there’s a lot of lip service paid to things like student voice and family engagement. Right. You can probably go to many, many different district and school websites and see the ways in which they’re celebrating, how they’re doing family engagement or how they’re empowering student voice.

But usually those are very confined and constrained efforts within these preconceived parameters that are derived from the system, right. Derived from the educators in charge. But if you really took those programs, and took the whole way we do organize schools and thought about it through an organizing lens and thought about it from the sense of let’s really learn from the wisdom and the leadership of those who are most impacted, now we might, we might do things differently and that’s what we’re interested in exploring. We don’t pretend to have the answers about what things would be done differently and how, but really are encouraging folks to reconsider the process by which they do that thinking to, to come up with those answers that are context specific that are, that are really driven by the people who are going to be the most impacted.

[00:14:14] Amy H-L: If maybe you have an example or two, an answer that you’ve come up with through one of these methods and how that differs from an answer the the more traditional process would have reached. 

[00:14:30] Keith C: Right. So we have a project right now called SCORE, Schools in Communities Organizing for Racial Equity, in Providence. And it’s a partnership with the district and it’s a partnership with their Chief Equity and Diversity Officer, who is a central office administrator but was very interested in this idea of organizing dispositions. And I’ve heard her speak about them in other contexts. And she’s told me that the thinking that we did at the conference has really influenced the ways in which she has considered her leadership. I think she was predisposed. It’s not like she just learned this at the conference, but I think really that gave her some language in some ways to think about how leadership could happen.

And so what we’re doing in this context is the district itself has an equity plan. They’re thinking about how to reorient their work and their goals and everything around issues of educational equity. What we’re doing is we’re working with a group, a small team of youth and parent researchers who are, first of all, identifying areas where they feel– that they feel the most important to them when it comes to schools and educational equity, and doing research to derive a set of equity indicators that could be utilized by the schools to set goals and measure and mark progress.

 And so one of the ways that that sort of follows this organizing dispositions idea is that we have equity indicator systems all over the place, right. You can Google that. You’ll find a bunch. We did a literature review with some partners at Rhode Island College. I shouldn’t say we–our partners at Rhode Island. College did a literature review, and one of the things that they found through that review is most, if not all, of these indicator systems are developed top-down. They’re developed by experts, They’re developed by people with PhDs and developed by folks sitting in offices who are told to develop indicators based on the research. Some of them, some of the processes were used to develop indicator systems to do things like community engagement or focus groups and feedback and input, but nothing was driven and derived by community itself, right, by people on the ground who are going to be the most impacted.

And so the flip on this is we believe that doing the indicator development from the ground up from a community centered and driven process will generate things that are more immediately relevant and recognizable and relatable to communities. And may then have greater prospects for success or greater chances for success in implementation. Now the trick is going to be, can it translate the other way, right? Can the system adopt or respond productively to things that are generated by community, and we don’t have a proof of concept there yet because we’re in the middle of this project? But so far, it’s been really interesting to be part of this.

I was just talking to a partner in this, a funding partner who was interested in our progress. But also I’m in an advisory group for them about another indicators project that they’re doing. And I said, you know, one reflection I had when I was in a space like the one I just described, wonky PhD, you know, like experts-based reviewing indicators. All of the indicators that do get generated from those processes are outcomes oriented. And I think what we miss in all of the outcomes indicators are in translating those to the day to day for people who are experiencing schools or whatever system the indicators are intended for, the conversation about how any of that actually happens. Like how any of those outcomes are arrived at. 

And the conversations and the community research team that we’re working with are much more about experience or much more about what they are dealing with on a day to day. So the questions that they’re asking are a lot closer to the ground in that way, right. They care about outcomes, obviously, but the ways that those outcomes will become relevant are how we are measuring and understanding the processes and the experiences that people have day to day. And I think most indicator systems actually miss that, right, and don’t do a good job at helping educators take these outcomes oriented indicator systems and translating them into, actually, what does that mean for me day to day in practice, and you know, this is a small project and there’s a very sort of narrow set of areas that they’re focusing on, but we’re hopeful that if it’s successful that we’ll be able to sort of build upon it. And actually uh,, work with communities to, to think about what indicators might look like in different kinds of areas. So they’re focusing on mental health supports and course availability in college career readiness right now. Of course there is a ton of other areas you could focus on in education.

[00:19:59] Jon M: So I understand that it’s a work in progress at this point, in terms of the bottom up indicators. But what are some of the things that, for example, the youth and parent organizations that you’re working with, that are involved in this process, what are some of the kinds of indicators that they’re looking at? Or what are some of their major demands that they want the system to respond to?

[00:20:28] Keith C: So I think it would be premature for me to answer that, only because they’re in the midst of doing data analysis on the research that they’ve been doing. So they’ve collected surveys and they’ve been doing interviews to think about how to answer exactly that question, Jon. So that’s the next step. And the crux of what they’re looking to develop in the fall is what are these things really? I mean, what I can say is that when you listen to the conversations, it goes back to what I was saying before. I think we’re gonna have to try to thread this needle of supporting the development of things that are representative of the day-to-day experience that folks are having. So for instance, a, a common indicator for college and career readiness, when it comes to course selection, might be whether or not, or the extent to which, AP courses are available, right. But a lot of the questions that young people were raising were much more nitty-gritty of like, how is it that you’re, you know, supported to select courses? How is it that you’re assigned to a course? They’re almost building-specific practices and, and how we articulate or measure those kinds of things through an indicator of process is going to be tricky. 

Another common one for sort of mental health supports would be like a counselor to student ratio, right. That would be a common indicator. When you have conversations with families and young people, one of the things that they’ll very quickly point out is that oftentimes counselors and systems can perpetuate harm and actually are not as helpful or are discriminatory or prejudiced or just flat out racist. And so when you have that, when, when the indicator is, you know, a ratio, we’re not getting any information about whether or not any of that stuff is effective and working or if young people even feel like it’s for them, right. So the ratio might be great, but if the person or the system has a reputation for not serving me well anyway, it doesn’t matter if you flood the system with counselors if young people are feeling alienated by the whole process. 

And so how are we going to get at the ways that we can articulate, measure, and check in on those processes or those experiences so that systems can actually be responsive and change in the ways that matter? 

[00:23:00] Amy H-L: This would seem to me to require a whole different approach to training counselors. 

[00:23:07] Keith C: For that example, it may very well. Yeah.

[00:23:12] Jon M: What does an ethical school community look like? What would be your vision of, you know, what it can be, very much incorporating the process issues of how decisions get made as well as, even though I know you’ve talked about how you may have a lot of good ideas, but that the real question is whether they come out of a, a collective process, but what, what would your vision be, where you’d like to see your work and CYCLE’s work? 

[00:23:46] Keith C: I think a vision is that there are schools that are truly grounded in community, that there aren’t lines of separation between communities and schools. I mean, we have something called community schools in the field, and I think the best ones probably do function in a lot of the ways that we need a whole lot more of. Yeah. And that the school is just fully integrated as part of a neighborhood and as part of a community. And that it’s not seen as that institution that is run by outsiders, you know, where our young people go and get what they get, but then we have to deal with it at home or, or whatever the kinds of feelings are when there are those separations.

I think some of the ways that gets articulated is, and we hear a lot from young people and even families, but from young people, about a sense of belonging, a sense of that, the adults in that building care about them, that they matter. And I think those things are done when you, going back to organizing, when you actually invest in leadership, see that there are leaders in front of you, invest in that, that you invest in relationships, and that you invest in generating shared power, right. Collective power. If schools focused on the ways that those things could happen to me, that would be the vision. And so where –that we’re doing it together. One of the refrains, when I started working in the youth organizing and youth development field after being in the classroom was what if schools could function like our organizations? Because organizations in the community do those things, right, see the leadership and the potential in every young person that walks through their door, invests in that leadership, cares for them, builds relationships with them, builds relationships between them. And then, you know, some youth development organizations stop at that, right. They’re doing leadership development. Those that are doing organizing are trying to turnkey those kinds of activities into thinking about what’s the kind of power we need to generate for our community to make change. And to me, I think that would be at least my vision of the kind of school that I would love to send my child to, or be part of.

[00:26:19] Amy H-L: Well, this is a huge amount of work and very important work. I’m wondering if it’s scalable. Yeah. 

[00:26:28] Keith C: I mean, I think that’s where the scale question in my nonprofit world hat and thinking a lot about how that really does occupy a lot of our minds. One of the things I advocate for, as you can probably tell, is our processes. So what I think is actually scalable is the learning of processes and the implementation of process, not necessarily identical products, right. 

And so I do think that when the mainstream is talking about scale, they’re talking about franchise, right. They’re talking about replicability with precision, right. We want McDonald’s fries to taste the same, no matter where they are, right. And that’s being produced at scale in education. That doesn’t work, a) because it’s so context specific, and it’s so tailored to individuals with a bunch of different learning needs in communities with a whole bunch of different conditions. I think we’re looking to replicate our processes that will honor that full potential and that realization within any context. So that I think has more promise when you talk about scale, then trying to actually figure out what the specific program would be. These specific interventions or measures or whatever to do will get you somewhere, but it’s about process.

[00:28:15] Amy H-L: So should these processes be taught in graduate schools of education?

[00:28:20] Keith C: Absolutely. Yes. And when I think about it, actually to, to sort of take that to where I felt like, at least in my teacher education program, I felt like I was taught about pedagogy, right. I was taught approaches to pedagogy that I could kind of slot any content into. And when I grew as an educator, you know, I’m actually not the kind of educator that harps on content expertise, because I really felt confident like you could give me almost any content and I can work with a group of people to learn that content together because I understand the processes of learning and the processes of learning together, of inquiry, of moving through information. And so I felt pretty confident that like, I don’t care what the curriculum is, as long as it’s worth teaching, let’s do it and we’ll figure out how to learn together. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t have any content expertise, right. I don’t know if I would have felt as confident doing it in sort of the sciences where I don’t have any content depth. Young people would be better served with someone who has a little more knowledge of biology or the life sciences or something and these processes. But I do think that to me, that that analogy works. You could give me any, I had a few different structures for how you could move through material in a 50 minute period. And then in other years, 90 minute period.

 And now in the same sort of way, I think one of the things CYCLE’s really good at, and we have a decent reputation for, and I feel really confident around our team, is that we can help people from different organizations in different places come together and learn from each other. They’re bringing the content. We’re just creating the container that sets them up to be able to deliver that content, share that content, and absorb that content with and from each other. And to me, those are all skills of both good educators, in good teachers and good organizers. And so all the way back to one of the first questions around like the journey as an educator and organizer, I really feel like there’s so many intertwined skills of good ones in each context that there aren’t necessarily that different, right ,when you see it really in action. Really great organizers are amazing teachers. Really amazing teachers probably make great organizers.

[00:30:53] Jon M: So I have a slightly different question, which is what do you see as the role of parents associations in schools? Have you had experience working with them, and what’s your sense of what can make them an effective force or, on the other hand, an ineffective force?

[00:31:10] Keith C: That is a great question. Especially as I sit here being assigned to the PTA budget for 2021-22 school year for my child’s elementary school at a pretty traditional PTA. We are not, as one of my mentors, Karen Mapp, wrote a book called Beyond the Bake Sale, or co-wrote a book called Beyond the Bake Sale. And we haven’t gotten too far beyond the bake sale at our PTA. And I feel guilty about that. But I think if we’re talking about school-based parent associations, so much of what they’re able to do is dependent upon building leadership in my experience. And so if you have a supportive principal, who’s going to make space, who’s going to support the leadership of families and parents, who’s open to ideas and not threatened by them, a principal, maybe with an organizing disposition, you’ll have success. In situations where that’s not the case, I think it becomes a little more difficult.

So most of the parent organizing work that CYCLE’s been supportive of and groups like us support are community-based parent leadership and organizing groups, right. And so they’re organizing and doing work outside of the schools. So they don’t need the sign off of a principal or whoever else on any of the things that they’re doing. And so it’s much more in the political space and in the organizing space. And so ultimately, though, I think this is where we need to push fields of organizing and certainly in the field of youth organizing where young people can’t do it alone, nor should they. And parents actually, if organized, in most cases hold a lot more political power, a) by virtue of the vote, b) just other kinds of power, economic and in other ways that adults hold power in society. And so if we’re really thinking about a long-term strategy for change, it has to be driven by both youth and parents.

For us, that feels really important because of a lot of different factors. Our relationships are both deeper and broader with youth organizing groups. And I think there are more that are thinking about it. How do we move to an intergenerational model? How do we think about partnering with parent groups? A lot of this gets into, and, you know, we are very much embedded in the broader nonprofit industrial complex, just full transparency on our end. And a lot of the funding is finding its way or there’s more funding finding its way, still, not enough, but to youth organizing,. And then there’s parent organizations. And so, I think that is clear. What’s actually really interesting is if we think about a different part of the education sector, if you use that term, but whom I’m about to name does use that term, is in the charter school area, of the sort of larger big box charter schools and the more corporate oriented charter school movement. They actually, I think, do understand the power of parents cause they will flood communities with, well trained organizers to build demand for their schools, and they do it effectively. They do it well. We don’t see that in more progressive education circles and the funding isn’t necessarily flowing to support the organizing of parents in those, in those same ways. I think when I I’ve seen really well-trained community organizers get picked up, hired by charter school networks to go do what they do, and these are folks who you want organizing for you, right, so, and they’ve been then pulled in to do that, and I’m sure paid handsomely to do that. Because I imagine that’s how they’d been pulled in. I believe it’s really important. I do believe it’s an area that the sort of progressive philanthropy needs to do a lot more investment in and community organizing groups who are doing work with families or with parents to really think about the ways they can do it around education as well as really important issues that they’re doing work around, like, say, housing or jobs and employment or immigration rights and all of the things that adults in oppressed communities are battling.

[00:35:40] Amy H-L: Can you tell us about your book, The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism? Who should read it and what’s it about? 

[00:35:46] Keith C: Sure. So the book is portraits of four teacher activists in New York City, four amazing women, all coming from very different backgrounds and lineages in the sense of where and how they came into the education profession. What I do in the book is sort of try to trace stories of their own personal political development and how that shows up and manifests in the ways that they approach the teaching profession, how our own autobiographies write themselves into our pedagogy and into the ways that we consider ourselves as educators.

Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, who is a professor at Teachers College, Columbia, has a concept called the “archeology of self,” and she does it with racial literacy and thinking about how you really need to excavate the archeology of self to excavate yourself, your own experiences, your own inner being to understand how you’re going to function in classrooms when you’re trying to think about racial equity and you’re trying to develop your own racial literacy and build racial literacy among young people. And she hadn’t published on that idea extensively when I was doing my research for the pedagogy of teacher activism, but had she, I would have borrowed heavily from it because it really resonated with me when I first time heard her speak on it. It resonated with me because of how much I learned about the four women who were featured in my book, about their lives and the ways that it showed up in classrooms.

 And in those instances, there were ways that were reinforcing to projects of justice, projects of equity and educational justice. I think the flip side of what Dr. Sealey-Ruiz is really thinking about as well is when we haven’t done that excavation, the beautiful and ugly ways ourselves can show up, right, in classrooms, in ways that might be supportive and other ways that might do harm. But I think the things that I got to discover with the folks in my book were a lot of moments of just beauty, and tracing, like, wow, like, you know, when you told me about this part of your life, do you think it has anything to do with the way that I just watched you teach this lesson? And having conversations about whether and how that was true or not.

And so anyone who’s into teaching can read the book. They’re real people. And one has since retired from teaching and one is now a professor. Actually, two are now professors and only one is still in the classroom. Two are college professors now, and one retired. So she was a career educator after a short stint as a delivery truck Teamster member. They’re just beautiful stories. It was an honor to really work with them and just my joke to folks, whenever I’d see them in New York, I had moved away and I was back doing the research every month and I’m showing up to meetings. I was showing up to some of the activist spaces that they’re a part of that I had been part of a few years before. So folks had asked if I moved back and I was like no, I’m doing research. Well, what’s your research? And I’m like, well, I’m doing it right now. Like, this is my research. But what are you talking about? No, this meeting is my research. You know, I I’m taking notes. And it was a lot of fun. It was exciting to be able to do research that was just sort of so personally meaningful and fulfilling, and I was lucky enough to get it in print.

[00:39:33] Jon M: You’re on the board of Education for Liberation Network. What is the Network and what does it 


EdLib, as some of us refer to it in shorthand is a network that started actually as a listserv pulled together by Dr. Charles Payne, of mostly Black educators who were just interested in the idea of exploring the idea, promoting really the idea that education should and can be used for the liberation of black communities and oppressed communities. And so the work morphed into not just the listserv now, years later, and now our third executive director later, where we do a whole bunch of different things. So we just finished the Free Minds, Free People, which is a conference that happens every other summer. So if you just missed it, it will be back in 2023. And this was the first virtual one. Usually it is in person and it rotates or just finds its way into different cities around the country. It’s a week- long conference where people come nationally to just share space, learn with each other, organize for the future, and think about the kind of places, the kind of world that we want to live in. 

Vincent Harding was a keynote at the one we hosted in Providence in 2011. And he said something there that he said often, but I would never forget it because it was the first time I heard it,and he said, “We’re citizens of a world that has yet to become.” He said it more eloquently. But the idea that like we are citizens of something we’re trying to organize into being. I think that’s really one of the things that Education for Liberation Network is doing in different projects. Free Minds, Free People conference being one of them.

There’s a new publication that’s coming out that EdLib has done in partnership with Critical Resistance, called Lessons in Liberation, that’s going to be an abolitionist toolkit for folks who are both interested in abolitionist education and getting rid of the prison industrial complex. That is again, a manifestation of… we are trying to organize ourselves into the world that we want to live in. And we want to be citizens of that world and we need to live it and we need to organize for it because it’s not here. 

And so we support a lot of different efforts around organizing for ethnic studies as well. And there’s a social justice plan book that we produce, our Education Justice Plan Book that we produced with Rethinking Schools, that is a very practice oriented teacher planner or educator planner, because I think folks in community organizations use it, too. But it celebrates different anniversary dates in history and spotlights various practices from really wonderful educators throughout the country. So there’s a whole bunch of different activities.

It’s a small but mighty group. We have only one full-time staff person, but really it’s an amazing community grounded in the Lessons of Liberation, the title of the book, but really, you know, lessons of love. And our most recent executive director of Thomas Nikundiwe, who was a dear friend, just passed away on July 4th this past year. And, you know, I think just the legacy that he was able to leave, building upon the work of Charles Payne and the director before Thomas was Tara Mack. These are some of the most special people that I’ve ever met, and my fellow board members also fit that category. And I think you feel it when folks attend the conferences or go to meetings or in the space, you feel how it’s a space of doing just as Dr. Harding was saying, trying to be in this world, but organizing for the world we want.

[00:43:29] Amy H-L: Well, it sounds as though EdLib is an organization to which we’ll want to devote an entire podcast. 

Thank you so much, Dr. Keith Catone of CYCLE.

[00:43:43] Jon M: And thank you, listeners. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend or colleague. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and give us a rating or a review. This helps others to find the show. Check out our website,, for more episodes and articles and to subscribe to our monthly emails. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make them easy to use in workshops or classes. We work with consultants to offer customized social emotional learning programs, with a focus on ethics, for schools and youth programs in the New York City and San Francisco Bay areas. Contact us at We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter@ethicalschools. Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Until next week. 

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