Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free When They Tried to Steal Our Classrooms

    Authored By Amy Lindahl

    Teachers learn that the district’s plan for a desperately needed school renovation is based on “100 percent utilization”— teachers will rotate through classrooms, losing the home bases students depend on. They organize to change the plan. 

  • Features
  • Free What Happened to Spanish?

    How high-stakes tests doomed biliteracy at my school

    Authored By Grace Cornell Gonzales

    A 3rd-grade bilingual teacher describes how administrators’ anxiety about standardized test results erodes both a school’s commitment to Spanish literacy and students’ love for learning.

  • Free ¿Qué le pasó al español?

    Cómo fue que las pruebas de alta exigencia condenaron a la educación bilingüe en mi escuela

    Authored By Grace Cornell Gonzales | Translated By Vanesa Ortiz Solís

    Una maestra bilingüe describe cómo la ansiedad que sienten los administradores escolares con respecto a los resultados de los exámenes estandarizados disminuye el compromiso de la escuela con el desarrollo de la lectoescritura en español y el amor de los estudiantes por el aprendizaje.

  • Passion Counts: The “I Love” Admissions Essay

    Authored By Linda Christensen

    Seniors write admissions essays based on something they feel passionate about, discovering at the same time that they are “college material.”

  • Space for Young Black Women: An Interview with Candice Valenzuela

    Authored By Jody Sokolower

    The story of the development, challenges, and successes of a support group for Black girls at an Oakland, California, high school.

  • Free Who's Stealing Our Jobs?

    NAFTA and xenophobia

    Authored By Tom McKenna

    As a way to deal with racial tensions between his Black and Latina/o students, a high school teacher examines the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

  • Free My So-Called Public School

    School foundations and the myth of funding equity

    Authored By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

    A teacher uses her own school to illustrate how school foundations perpetuate inequality within districts and states.

  • Free Lead Poisoning

    Bringing social justice to chemistry

    Authored By Karen Zaccor

    Building on the lead-poisoned water scandal in Flint, Michigan, a Chicago chemistry teacher helps her students explore lead poisoning in their own city.

  • Ebola: Teaching Science, Race, and the Media

    Authored By Alexa Schindel, Sara Tolbert

    Two teacher educators encourage their students to think about the impact of racial and colonial biases on media coverage of science issues—and on scientists.

  • Departments Free
  • Racism, Xenophobia, and the Election

  • Fighting to Teach Climate Justice

    Authored By the editors of Rethinking Schools
  • Education Action
  • Mexican Teachers Fight Corporate Reform

  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.
  • Good Stuff
  • Saul Alinsky Lives!

    Authored By Matt Alexander

Saul Alinsky Lives!

Saul Alinsky Lives!

People Power: The Community Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky
Edited by Aaron Schutz and Mike Miller
Vanderbilt University Press, 2015

Fifteen years ago, I was part of a community organizing effort that led to the founding of June Jordan School for Equity (JJSE) in San Francisco. The relationships we built and the lessons I learned about people coming together to wield real power are unforgettable. Our work was guided by the San Francisco Organizing Project, based on the organizing principles of Saul Alinsky.

Alinsky was one of the most significant U.S. community organizers of the 20th century. He started his work in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood in the late 1930s, building grassroots power in what he called “the nadir of all slums in America.” By the 1960s, Alinsky was influential in the formation of people’s organizations ranging from the Black power organization FIGHT in Rochester, New York, to the United Farm Workers in California. They started national networks, including the Pacific Institute for Community Organizations (of which the San Francisco Organizing Project is a member) and the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), which today bring together thousands of religious congregations, civic organizations, and unions to drive positive community change.

In People Power: The Community Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky, editors Mike Miller and Aaron Schutz have gathered dozens of primary documents and interviews from the 1960s to the 1990s that explain why Alinsky was such an important figure. Miller, who worked with Alinsky, writes that he “was a small ‘d’ democrat who knew that if people were to participate effectively in a democracy, they had to have the latent power of their numbers brought forth.”

When we were planning
 JJSE, we built relationships, across race and class, among teachers, parents, and youth. Hundreds of families wanted a school that was community-based and focused on justice. But for nearly a year we could not get a single meeting with the district superintendent. Alinsky’s tactics showed us how to translate those relationships into power. As Miller explains, Alinsky believed “if decision makers in the power structure wouldn’t meet or engage in good-faith negotiations, organized people could use their numbers . . . to force such negotiations.” So we announced that we were hosting a public event with 250 people and three school board members to discuss our proposed school—and suddenly we had three meetings with the superintendent in two weeks.

Alinsky’s ideas also influenced the kind of school we created. He saw organizers and teachers as similar in many ways, writing that an organizer was “a special kind of educator, one who did his education within the experience of the people with whom he was working.” IAF organizer Dick Harmon expanded on this theme: “Organizing is teaching . . . which rests on people’s life experiences, drawing them out, developing trust, going into action, disrupting old perceptions of reality, developing group solidarity, watching for the growth of confidence to continue to act, then sharing in the emotional foundation for continual questioning of the then-current status quo.” At JJSE, we view teaching through this organizing lens, creating classrooms where students build communities around strong values, understand how oppression works, and develop the skills they need to fight for positive change. One of our major efforts at JJSE now is hiring alumni and other working-class San Franciscans to staff the school.

Speaking from our experience at JJSE, there is a lot to learn from Alinsky’s work. People Power is a fascinating collection of documents, most of which were passed informally among community organizers and never previously published. It’s an important resource for teachers as well as organizers. ◼