Thursday, October 06, 2011

Update: Metro Public School's North Nashville Collaboration

I attended Alan Coverstone's North Nashville "Collaboration" this afternoon in the Pearl-Cohn auditorium. My unscientific estimate is that there were 75-100 people in attendance: a good number of MNPS staff, half-a-dozen council members, several ministers, Pearl-Cohn students and staff, and professional organization officials. It did not strike me as a community meeting. Instead, it was more of a networking klatch for North Nashville movers and shakers. Presentations were given by Coverstone, students, an official with the unbuilt Museum of African American Music, the President of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship, CEO of JUMP and an Urban League representative.

The stated purpose of the meeting was to make the Jefferson Street corridor a renowned destination and to ask North Nashville organizations to provide volunteer opportunities for Pearl-Cohn students. The terms "grassroots," "movement," "change," and "innovation" were used repeatedly. Pearl-Cohn itself received beaucoup praise some defensive because of perceived news media spin.

I would consider this an attempt to bring grassroots legitimacy through student voluntarism to the insular Metro Nashville Public School system. However, there were no parent-teacher (-student) organization leaders present as far as I could see. The only mention of a PTO was by one of the student speakers in passing. No neighborhood association reps stood to identify themselves. I cannot fathom how this "collaboration" can become a movement without the buy-in of PTOs and neighborhoods who were not there to collaborate. Maybe the IMF is so strong that they can leverage grassroots organizations, but I do not see it yet.

Interestingly, one community organizer who trains people in nonviolent direct action at JUMP mentioned the current "Occupy Wall Street" dissent (involving tens of thousands of protesters) as an example of the kind of things he instills at his clinics. I couldn't help but wonder how many of the education bureaucrats, council members, and business group leaders were squirming a little at the prospect of full-scale dissent in Nashville streets against untrammeled economic growth. Alan Coverstone's Office of Innovation is absolutely if not exclusively concerned with meeting the priorities of Nashville's Chamber of Commerce set. The last thing they would consider innovative is open dissent and nonviolent direct action against economic institutions in the streets of Nashville.

Some background and context might be helpful. Voluntarism arises from an American tradition Robert Fisher called "social welfare organizing". It was the legitimate form of neighborhood organizing for 100 years before the 1960s. This kind of charity movement compliments the Dean's administration's narrow focus on volunteer organizations for large segments of Metro service delivery. It is also the activism of elite society. A change in organizing culture in the 1960s gave rise to a "new populism" of community-based determination and mobilized social protest against institutions. This seems to be the tradition of Occupy Wall Street dissent (although the current protests also have strong echos of the classic radical organizing of the Great Depression era).

I simply do not see how the MNPS's Office of Innovation could be innovative enough to at once manage volunteers and tolerate a populism that skirts the radicalism of Occupy Wall Street. Wall Street is one of the drivers of education reform (otherwise known as, running education as a business).

In the end we will see if Alan Coverstone can mobilize enough community support on the strength of organizing volunteers alone to qualify this "collaboration" as an authentic North Nashville grassroots movement. It will no doubt help a few lucky students. However, I do not see MNPS brooking anything even slightly more participatory or comprehensive than that.


  1. Thanks for the update.

    It appears the reason schools did not spread the word was because this meeting was not school-related. In that sense, whatever slight you felt at not being notified should be somewhat lessened.

    MNPS should distance itself from this group and not support any more meetings through its official channels. There is no nexus with the school system at large.

    I have no issue with local schools and/or PTOs being involved, as that is their choice.

    Credit should be given for allowing different voices to be heard at the meeting. If they work at cross-purposes and this goes nowhere, well, that's not an uncommon result.

  2. So are your kids students at Pearl-Cohn? Did you attend MNPS? What were you doing there again? Oh, and what are you doing to volunteer for people in "your North Nasville Community?" How many students know you by name and knock on your door for help? Have you helped take care of anyone's relatives, siblings, etc, to help them so they can levy time to do their studies? I would like to hear more about what you were doing there and what you are doing to help and volunteer, as was the purpose of the meeting.