EdCamp Revolution believes a teacher is more than a test score.
By Sabrina Holcomb
Fresh from EdCamp Revolution, a radically different “unconference” tackling issues of education equity and justice, New Jersey teacher Justin Author is still filled with the spirit.
“EdCamp Revolution rocked my world,” enthuses Justin. “I’m feeling a sense of hope and joy I haven’t felt for a very long time. My goal is to help change the world and taking part in EdCamp positioned me to make change that will have a huge impact.”
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For the uninitiated, EdCamps are a worldwide phenomenon—organic learning experiences for educators that break the mold of stuffy, scripted conferences. There are no rules (but plenty of planning)—participants decide what they want to learn for the day, sessions are determined on the day of the event, and anyone who attends can be a presenter.
When a diverse group of young New Jersey educators noticed that EdCamp learning spaces had very few educators of color and little to no social justice content, the idea for EdCamp Revolution was born. Coming from diverse backgrounds and subject areas, organizers Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, Mel Katz, Ike Onyema, Stephanie Rivera, J. Willy Sumner, Gabe Tanglao, TJ Whitaker and Chris Werner came together to launch these camps with a social justice focus.
“There’s a mandate for people of color and children of poverty: the elite are educated for freedom, and people of color are educated for compliance and obedience,” observes Okaikor Aryee-Price, a former 7th grade language arts teacher and co-organizer of EdCamp Revolution.
“As educators, we often see progressive learning environments that foster creativity, critical thinking, and innovation limited to schools in higher-income communities and students in gifted and talented classrooms,” Okaikor explains.
Determined to advocate for students whose schools emphasize test prep over creativity and innovation, EdCamp Revolution organizers decided “if a space wasn’t being made for them, they would make their own space,” says Okaikor.
With the help of sponsors like the New Jersey Education Association and event space at Columbia High School in Maplewood, they were able to make their vision a reality and the unconference free and accessible to all comers.
Turns out, there’s such a thirst for critical pedagogy—a teaching approach that challenges social oppression—the New Jersey event attracted more than a hundred educators from as far away as Washington, D.C. Together, educators, students, administrators, and community members explored education within the context of race, class, gender, and liberation.
“This was not an event for those scared to discuss the hard topics,” confides Justin Author, who took part in a session on how to bring up race in the classroom. “There was fire and a little edge in the room that made the discussion come alive. If we don’t understand our students, we’re derelict in our duties.”
“It’s time for a revolutionary change in how we perform schooling and teaching,” agrees Gabe Tanglao, a co-organizer of EdCamp Revolution who is deeply committed to the cause of public education. “If we apply Dr. King’s revolution of values, which prizes people over things, we can make our schools true hubs of democracy.”
“At the end of the day, our ultimate goal is movement building,” stresses Gabe. He advises educators who want to hold their own unconference to reach out to EdCamp Foundation (the parent organization) for a template to get started and EdCamp Revolution organizers (Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, Mel Katz, Ike Onyema, Stephanie Rivera, J. Willy Sumner, Gabe Tanglao, TJ Whitaker and Chris Werner) for guidance on events with an equity and justice framework.
“After going to EdCamp Revolution, I fell in love with this group of educators who are challenging the status quo,” confides Justin, who’s determined to share what he learned at the unconference with his own students. “Nothing matters if we’re not bringing it back to the classroom.”