1st Edition

Learning to Liberate
Community-Based Solutions to the Crisis in Urban Education

ISBN 9780415898379
Published November 16, 2011 by Routledge
248 Pages

USD $52.95

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Book Description

Few problems in education are as pressing as the severe crisis in urban schools. Though educators have tried a wide range of remedies, dismal results persist. This is especially true for low-income youth of color, who drop out of school—and into incarceration—at extremely high rates. The dual calamity of underachievement in schools and violence in many communities across the country is often met with blame and cynicism, and with a host of hurtful and unproductive quick fixes: blaming educators, pitting schools against each other, turning solely to the private sector, and ratcheting up the pressure on teachers and students. But real change will not be possible until we shift our focus from finding fault to developing partnerships, from documenting problems to discovering solutions. Learning to Liberate does just that by presenting true and compelling community-based approaches to school reform.

Drawing on over three years of ethnographic research, Vajra Watson explores the complicated process of reaching and teaching today's students. She reveals how four nontraditional educators successfully empower young people who have repeatedly been left behind. Using portraiture, a methodology rooted in vivid storytelling, Watson analyzes each educator's specific teaching tactics. Uncovering four distinct pedagogies—of communication, community, compassion, and commitment—she then pulls together their key strategies to create a theoretically grounded framework that is both useful and effective. A poignant, insightful, and practical analysis, Learning to Liberate is a timely resource for all educators and youth-serving practitioners who are committed to transforming "at-risk" youth into "at-promise" individuals who put their agency and potential into action in their schools and neighborhoods.

Table of Contents

Preface: Gems in the Gutter

1. Introduction: Gangstas, Gunshots, and Grades

2. Dereca Blackmon: Pedagogy of Communication

3. Rudy Corpuz: Pedagogy of Community

4. Victor Damian: Pedagogy of Compassion

5. Jack Jacqua: Pedagogy of Commitment

6. What Does (Not) Work

7. Community-Based Urban Education

8. Grindin for all we Got from the Bottom to the Top


A: Terminology

B: Methods and Validity

C: Participant-Observer or Observing Participant?

D: Interview Protocols and Youth Questionnaire

E: Website and Contact Information for the Community-Based Educators


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Vajra Watson is Director of Research and Policy for Equity in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis.


"In a language that is at once impassioned and skeptical, challenging and hopeful, provocative and poetic, Vajra Watson paints vivid portraits of four community educator/activists whose voices and visions, philosophies and pragmatism, and intelligence and courage offer us insights into how we might transform our schools into asylums of safety and oases of learning and achievement. Learning to Liberate is a heart-wrenching, soul-stirring, and mind-expanding call to action; it is a book for all of us who want to leave no child behind."

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is the Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education at Harvard University and the author of The Good High School, The Essential Conversation, and Respect: an Exploration

"A brilliant and illuminating analysis of what it takes to reach and teach urban youth.  Watson goes to the educators who have been effective in working with disadvantaged young people for years to uncover what makes it possible for them to build relationships that open minds, change lives, and expand opportunities.  Any educators seeking to find ways to become more relevant and useful to the students they serve will benefit from this book. " 

Pedro Noguera is Professor of Education and the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University