Image source: BAMN
The first time I went to Detroit, in 2011, I was taken to the amazing Catherine Ferguson Academy, a school for teenage mothers and their kids. It was under occupation at the time, facing closure like so many schools in the area under the city’s emergency management. While checking out their gardens, I was told about the curriculum, which not only included quality ‘abstract’ teaching, but also practical lessons in child care and urban farming. This way, when students left the school, they had valuable self-subsistence skills that could also count a work experience.
As Detroit remains under ’emergency management’, widely regarded as unethical and as a breach of democractic practices, not only labour union contracts are terminated, but essential infrastructure is withdrawn, by cutting the wages of already overstretched police, firefighters and medical personnel. At the time of writing, not even the city government’s website could be loaded.
The Catherine Ferguson academy faced similar ’emergency measures’. After being temporarily saved from closure through the help of US TV host Rachel Maddow, it’s temporary breathing space appears to be over. Once again, the students are protesting, this time about catastrophical teaching conditions. As the emergency management handed over the school to a for-profit company, the students have not seen any teaching, teaching materials or school buses. From one day to the next, an award winning teaching model was obliterated:
“When CFA was kept open as a charter as part of Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy, run by for- profit Evans Solutions, Evans said they would be able to provide more funds and resources. But Evans has not invested a single bit in CFA. They haven’t supplied a single new textbook or piece of technology. Busses were provided briefly last year, but stopped soon after count day. Instead of providing what students need, Evans Solutions is spending our money on the Big Picture Learning Company.
This corporate reform model does not uphold the collective character of CFA or its philosophy that pregnant and parenting students should receive an education equal to every other high school student. Instead of going to classes, having discussions and learning from our teachers and each other, we stay in one room all day and work on projects individually, researching on computers and basically teaching ourselves.”
As student Tatyana Baker reports on the Michigan Radio Blog: ‘We are told that we have to teach ourselves.’ (…) ‘We are not allowed to call our teachers “teachers” …they’re advisors. If you need biology class, you get a 15 minute seminar, maybe once a week.’ More testimonies about the state of teaching at recently ‘reformed’ schools can be found here.
The students are now filing a lawsuit, with the help of the civil rights organisation By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). The students are calling for support with an online petition. You can find out more about the Catherine Ferguson Academy from the documentary ‘Grown in Detroit’.