Posted by Crystal Mattison on Jun 25, 2015 - 10:30 AM
Last week I was asked to help with a Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School site visit in Neshoba County, MS. For those of you who don’t know the significance of freedom schooling and how it relates to democratic education, I hope you take a few minutes to read this. Just last summer, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, also known as the Mississippi Summer Project. That summer of action fifty years ago was coordinated by the the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) which is made up of Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the NAACP and SCLC to focus on increasing voter registration and establish Freedom Schools. Black Mississippians and over 1,000 volunteers from out of state (predominantly white), participated. They were harassed, beaten, and some even killed.
Today’s CDF Freedom Schools are named after the Freedom Schools of 1964, and serve a similar purpose: “empowering children and preparing them to make a difference in themselves, their families, communities, nation and world today.” (1) CDF does this through their Integrated Reading Curriculum comprised of conflict resolution and cooperative group activities associated with real life and culturally relevant literature. While being involved with CDF Freedom Schools since 2004, coming to visit Neshoba County today has brought everything in my life over the past 11 years full circle.
40 Freedom Schools (some sources say 50) emerged “with the goal to empower African Americans in Mississippi to become active citizens and agents of social change.” (2) On June 21, 1964, almost 51 years to date, three men, James Chaney, Andy Goodman, and Michael Schwerner went missing after they visited a church in Neshoba County, Mississippi. They were going to visit a church that was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan because it was going to be used as a Freedom School.(3) Hate crimes were not unheard of during this time.
Shortly after arriving to Philadelphia, MS last week on the evening of June 17, my phone and Facebook kept going off as family and friends were contacting me regarding another hate crime (almost 51 years later in another part of the south) that took place in Charleston, SC that left 9 victims dead.
At a church.
By a white male.
Freedom Summer 1964 was used to empower the people to reclaim their power. The CDF Freedom Schools model is similar to that of the 1964 Freedom Schools in that democracy is power for the people by the people. Freedom Schools are a clear form of democratic education: education for the people, by the people. Now for the Institute of Democratic Education in America, it is important for us, our networks, and all who we are connected with to practice democratic education not only in school buildings, but in every aspect of life.
Last week, during IDEA’s virtual Learning Breakthrough Series (LBS) gathering, we had a conversation about race, class, and their intersectionalities. I am thankful for the space we as an IDEA family have and use for these types of conversations and this type of work regardless of how hard it is. We have A LOT of work to do. The conversation made clear how much work we need to do and can do through democratic education.
IDEA is shifting. We are changing. We are growing.
How are we practicing democratic education and making the best use of our space and time? Stay tuned through our newsletters and blogs as we share different partnerships and projects we have been working on over the past few months as well as those to come.