Jay Gillen presents "The Power in the Room: Radical Education Through Youth Organizing and Employment"
How community-centered, peer-to-peer, youth knowledge exchanges are evolving into a strong economic and political foundation on which to build radical public education.
Following in the rich traditions in African American cooperative economic and educational thought, teacher-organizer Jay Gillen describes the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP) as a youth-run cooperative enterprise in which young people direct their peers’ and their own learning for a wage. BAP and similar enterprises are creating an educational network of empowered, employed students.
Gillen argues that this is a proactive political, economic, and educational structure that builds relationships among and between students and their communities. It’s a structure that meets communal needs—material and social, economic and political—both now and in the future. Through the story of the Baltimore Algebra Project, readers will learn why youth employment is a priority, how to develop democratic norms and cultures, how to foster positive community roles for 20–30 year-olds, and how to implement educational accountability from below.
Jay Gillen has taught and organized in and around Baltimore City Public Schools since 1987. In 1994, after a 2-year organizing campaign, he became teacher-director of the new Stadium Middle School, the first community-controlled public school in Baltimore in many years. Working with graduates of the Stadium School, Gillen developed the peer-tutoring Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP). He currently teaches in a juvenile detention center for young women and is helping to develop a peer-to-peer youth enterprise incubator. Gillen is the author of numerous articles and the book Educating for Insurgency: The Roles of Young People in Schools of Poverty.
“This is the kind of nuanced and hopeful book that could only be written by someone with decades of experience working with youth the country refuses to invest in. Anyone who wants to learn how to support youth development outside the dominant paradigms needs to wrestle with Gillen’s argument that economic empowerment, political activism, and education aren’t three different things; for Black people, they are three aspects of one thing. At a moment when even people who understand the connection between education and activism may be losing a sense of struggle as an intensely democratic process, this is an extraordinarily important book, one Ella Baker would have loved.”
—Charles Payne, author of I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement
“The Power in the Room is an important, critical book written by an educator who, for over twenty years, led the Baltimore Algebra Project. It is a must-read for activists and theorists who are concerned about democratic life in contemporary America. Capturing the vision of Bob Moses, the quintessential representative of the organizing tradition of the modern Black Freedom Struggle, The Power in the Room also links the tradition of cooperative economics practiced by Ella Baker and many Southern Black communities to the demands and economic realities of contemporary Black communities. Situating Black youth as knowledge workers/math workers in our contemporary society, the book represents a powerful implementation of the historic African American philosophy of education—education for freedom, racial uplift, leadership, and citizenship. Gillen demonstrates how in the midst of a rigorous, public, and ongoing attempt to hold elected officials accountable for giving Black children first-class education, Black youth have created a crawl space to organically link math education to freedom.”
—Theresa Perry, author of Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students
“The Power in the Room is a visionary tour de force built on a rock-solid foundation of teaching and organizing young people in communities marked for failure. Here Jay Gillen applies the ‘two-eyed approach’: one eye focused unblinkingly on the mud and muck of the world as it really is, while the other eye envisions an expansive world that could be or should be, but is not yet. He dives headfirst into that contradiction and illuminates essential steps toward an earned and effective insurgency. For those targeted and crushed by the system of racial capitalism, the message is clear: you have every right to be here, you need no one’s permission to interrogate the world, and the power to understand and transform all that you see before you is in your own capable hands. A phrase uttered by the great Ella Baker at the memorial for a martyred freedom fighter long ago—We who believe in freedom . . . —becomes a refrain that Gillen repeats throughout, whether urging an action or making an argument, and as it echoes throughout the book, it becomes an invitation to join one another—arm-in-arm, heart-to-heart—in an urgent and incipient beloved community. We who believe in freedom!”
—William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education (retired) at the University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of “You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones!”: And 18 Other Myths about Teachers, Teachers Unions, and Public Education