Thursday, October 22, 2015


One of my graduate students brought in his field notes from observing five sophomore English teachers at a large urban high school.  All had been teaching a lesson on action verbs, a lesson that varied only slightly from teacher to teacher.   My student and I mused on the possible efficacy of teaching action verbs de-contextualized from text – texts the students would read or themselves compose, giving action to those verbs.

Then I thought of Jean Anyon.  In Ghetto Schooling, she taught us the importance of action verbs.   People living in poverty in Newark didn’t just happen to be poor. They, and their neighborhoods, had been pauperized. They had been made poor.  City leaders, corporate executives, and elected officials had taken actions that over many years had created structures of inequality, had moved jobs away from the central city and lowered wages for those jobs that had remained, and had shifted the investment of tax dollars into whiter, richer areas of the city.   They exercised their power through action verbs:  they pauperized those areas of the city they chose to abandon.

The life and legacy of Grace Lee Boggs remind us that action verbs – real actions – can also challenge injustice.    Grace Lee Boggs, who died this year at the age of 100, took action and inspired action. And she did so everywhere she lived and in every circumstance in which she found injustice.  Those actions included investigating and naming and making public (“public-izing”) not only injustices but the people and organizations and laws that created and benefited from them.  Her actions included writing with courage, organizing in places where the poor and oppressed had more typically been acted upon, and building new structures of possibility that would persist beyond her lifetime.

Image source:
McFadden's tribute to Boggs is full of the specifics of Grace Lee Bogg’s actions:  injustices encountered, creative solutions imagined, obstacles surmounted, and new alliances ever being forged to fight civic and economic injustices with unconventional voice and action.  A Chinese-American woman organizing for African American civil rights, and in the process expanding our understanding of democracy in action.

Image source:  Tumblr "The People's Record"

For more inspiration from Grace Lee Boggs, and for the humor and, yes, grace, she brought to all her endeavors, I hope you’ll take time to savor her interview with Bill Moyers.

No comments: