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Broken classes


The AMC kicks off Friday at 9 a.m. with an all-day symposium on popular education. Based on a model developed by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in his 1968 book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, popular education emphasizes more a more participatory, flexible curricular approach than, well, than is generally considered wise by traditional in American standards. Think Reading, ’Riting, Redistribution of wealth.

Detroit’s favorite 91-year-old, still active activist Grace Lee Boggs will be delivering the opening keynote address. Participating teachers will receive State Board Continuing Education Units (SB-CEU) credits for attending.

"I think that what’s wrong is that education as it’s carried on in our schools is a very top-down kind of education," she says. "Popular education creates a kind of horizontal relationship between teachers and learners where both are learners."

Certainly a standout local example of this model in action among this year’s AMC participants comes out of an organization that Boggs founded with her late husband James Lee Boggs in 1992: Detroit Summer.

For the past year, the group’s Live Arts Media Project (L.A.M.P) has been working on a CD, a mix of spoken word and hip hop, featuring both local musicians and Detroit high school students. The 22-song disc, just released last week, is called "Rising up from the Ashes: Chronicles of a Dropout," a reference to the city motto, Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus (We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes).

"Rising up from the Ashes" is a response to the city’s failure to retain students in its public schools. Estimated dropout rates among Detroit students range from 50 to over 70 percent, depending on who you ask and when.

The album was made via a series of interviews with students about the problems they face in school. The L.A.M.P. team then overlaid the interviews with music. L.A.M.P. student producer Mariana Castañeda says that the process was liberating for the participants.

"Just being in these workshops where you’re genuinely listened to and where you have a chance to create what you actually want to create was appreciated, whereas in school they usually have the opposite experience," she says.

The students make it clear just how dissatisfied they are on the album. "On 12 Steps to Oblivion," one girl keeps repeating that "They treat us like animals" in the city’s schools. "Dropout Economics" shows the path by which many impoverished students are forced to drop out and sell drugs.

Boggs says that this sort of project should send a clear message that the postindustrial city schools need a "paradigm shift" to survive.

"We need to move away from what’s there. It’s not functioning." Charles Maldonado is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to

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