By Shea Howell

May 2, 2017

Students, parents, teachers and supporters gathered to celebrate the end of the second full semester of the Detroit Independent Freedom School initiative (DIFS). Students took center stage at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to talk about what they had learned, what mattered most to them about their education, and their aspirations for the future. There was music, laughter and playfulness in presentations, especially the songs and raps created by youth as a way to share their experiences with the audience.

There was also talk of freedom, freedom to learn, to grow, to know where we come from and where we are going, and freedom to determine our own futures. Inspired by liberation struggles of the 1960’s and tempered by the flourishing African centered educational efforts that evolved in Detroit over the last three decades, freedom and struggle were woven throughout the celebration. Freedom schools are about more than reading, writing and arithmetic. They “cultivate community strength, self determination, and build movement-based futures.”

This semester of Freedom Schools began in January “Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It provided sessions engaging students with ideas of self- sufficiency, art, technology and manufacturing, culture and history. Students learned about healthy eating and spoken word poetry. They learned about life in the water and in the soil needed to grow food.

The celebration came the day after DIFS held a youth Roll Call where young people from across the city gathered to talk about what is going on in their schools and to strategize about ways to stop school closings in Detroit.  This youth forum was generated by people who attended a community speak out against school closings earlier in the year.

DIFS is part of a larger movement sweeping across the country as parents, teachers, students and their supporters are organizing to reclaim education as a community priority.

In February Journey for Justice Alliance announced a #WECHOOSE Campaign emphasizing education equity.  Given new urgency with an accelerated attack on public education in the federal administration, #WECHOOSE is organizing to resist privatization, school closures, and the senseless, relentless testing of our children.

Core goals of the #WECHOOSE campaign include a moratorium on privatization of public schools, the end of zero tolerance policies and the end of efforts to seize control of local education by Mayors, Emergency Managers and unelected boards. Nationally they are supporting the end of standardized testing as a pretext to close schools and an honest assessment of school functioning, especially in terms of racial and economic justice. #WECHOOSE also aims to create 10,000 community schools. They say, “We want strong neighborhood schools with a curriculum that is engaging, relevant and rigorous; supports for high-quality teaching and not high stakes testing; wraparound supports for every child; student-centered school climates; and the end to zero tolerance policies in schools and transformative parent and community engagement.”

The city- wide resistance to school closings is already having an effect. Last week, in an effort to avoid widespread resistance, the State and the Detroit Public Schools Community District announced a new “partnership” designed to prevent another round of school closures. Labeling it a “journey to excellence” the agreement will enable the schools to remain open for a minimum three-year period.  The agreement “aims to increase performance through partnerships with local universities, unions, businesses and community leaders.”

Over the course of the next year, school and state officials will be conducting “ a deep review and discussion that will include staff, students and families to determine the causes of low student performance and how to improve.”

Adopting the #WECHOOSE platform would be a good beginning.