Tara Mack: Planning for Justice

What if education empowered all youth -- including low-income youth & youth of color -- and gave them the skills and motivation to challenge and overcome the injustices within their communities? Tara Mack, Executive Director of the Education for Liberation Network, believes that grassroots coalitions of teachers, students, activists and citizens can help realize this vision. In addition to her work for ELN and the Free Minds, Free People Conference (at which IHE facilitated a panel discussion), Tara co-edits a terrific plan book for teachers (see our review yesterday) that features resources for integrating social justice education into the classroom. Tara told us a little about her involvement with social justice education and the plan book.

IHE: You started off in art, theater and journalism. How did you get involved with social justice and education issues?

TM: As a journalist I enjoyed writing, but I didn't enjoy the kind of professional distance that mainstream reporters were expected to maintain. I wanted to get more directly involved in issues that I cared about. So when I moved to New York, I looked for a community organization that I could get involved with. Soon I was working with youth at Groundswell Community Mural Project in Brooklyn doing an investigative art project about local Rest in Peace murals. Then I did similar kinds of investigative art projects at The Brotherhood/Sister Sol in Harlem. While I was there I noticed that there were a lot of people doing justice-oriented education work with youth, both in and out of schools. But these people didn't necessarily know about each other. I wanted to work with an organization that helped build those connections and relationships.

IHE: You’re the executive director of the Education for Liberation Network. Tell us what Education for Liberation is, and a little about the organization.

TM: The Education for Liberation Network is a national coalition of teachers, community activists, youth, researchers and parents who believe a good education should teach people—particularly low-income youth and youth of color—to understand and challenge the injustices their communities face. We facilitate opportunities for people who are doing education justice work to connect to and learn from each other. We aren't a top-down organization, offering everyone some particular methodology for doing this work. Instead we promote grassroots leadership and learning, sharing the work of on-the-ground educators and activists. You can see that reflected in the plan book--in the teachers we profile in each edition, in the fact that we are sharing teaching resources from dozens, even hundreds, of other organizations, in the lists of social justice conferences and organizations. It's as much about connecting people as it is about giving people something.

IHE: One of ELN’s exciting projects is your collaboration with NYCoRE to create a social justice plan book for teachers. How did that come about and what were your initial goals with the book?

TM: It was actually a project that NYCoRE had been thinking about for awhile. But they felt they didn't have the capacity to do it on their own. I was thinking about doing a social justice calendar of some kind, but liked their idea a lot better then the ones I had been imagining. I spoke to Bree Picower of NYCoRE about the idea of doing it together and making it national, rather than just for New York City teachers, as NYCoRE had originally envisioned.

The plan book is very much in line with the Network's mission. Sharing resources is a key part of our work, and this seemed like a great vehicle for that. It's also a useful community-building tool. It helps us reach new educators and connect them with our community or with communities of educators in their area. The idea of a joint fundraising project also really appeals to me. Fundraising is normally such a competitive activity. So the idea of working with an ally on a project that brings income to both organizations fits our values. I wish we could do more such projects.

IHE: The most recent plan book is in its 4th edition. What have you learned over the years, and what has been the response from teachers?

I've certainly learned a lot of social justice history trivia. And through the Teacher2Teacher profiles I have learned a lot of interesting ideas for enacting social justice values in the classroom. Teachers are working in such confined circumstances in some ways, and many respond with incredible creativity. We have gotten lots of great feedback from teachers who use the book. They like that it is both practical and inspirational. I feel proud that we have been able to achieve both of those things in one publication.

IHE: What are your goals for the future of the plan book? Any new projects for teachers coming up?

I hope we can find new ways to use the book as a tool to build community. One thing we did this year is connect the plan book to our national conference on education justice, Free Minds, Free People. We gave copies to all those who signed up for our Radical Professional Development pre-conference intensive, which brought educators together to learn about teacher activism. We also had a lunch featuring all the people at the conference who had been profiled in our Teacher2Teacher section. Both were really successful, and I would like to continue doing that kind of work. In the 2011-2012 plan book we also used some of the Teacher2Teacher profiles to explore the politics of education, how they relate to the classroom and how teachers are responding. I think we would like to continue doing that as well.

~ Marsha

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