Yinzercation hosts The New York Times’ Bob Herbert
On Thursday, public education volunteer organization Yinzercation hosted the national launch of The New York Times’ columnist Bob Herbert’s new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America, in McConomy Auditorium.
Yinzercation describes itself on its website as “part of the grassroots education justice movement committed to students, equity, and the preservation of public education as a civil right and a public good.” The group also hosts a multitude of events to promote their cause, including rallies, demonstrations, and lectures.
Reverend Richard Freeman of the Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock kicked off the event with a speech about the importance of public education.
“We are at a crossroads,” Freeman said. “And we believe that the way through the crossroads begins with quality education. It begins by giving our children hope.”
Jessie Ramey, a member of the Yinzercation Steering Committee, followed with a description of Yinzercation and its purpose.
“We joined the education justice movement back in 2011 when Governor Corbett took office and promptly cut about a billion dollars from public education,” Ramey said. “These cuts have disproportionately affected our poorest students and our communities of color. So our schools and kids who already had the least, now get the least.”
Kathy Newman, associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon and another Yinzercation Steering Committee member, then introduced Herbert and Tony Norman, a columnist, associate editor, and book review editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Norman moderated a conversation with Herbert about his book, public education, and social justice movements.
Much of the discussion revolved around the Yinzercation movement.
“There were two major things that I saw [in Pittsburgh],” Herbert said. “One was what I thought was an obscene attack on public education ... but then on the other hand, I saw this extraordinary civil engagement, this movement of ordinary people who are fighting back and saying that this is intolerable.”
Herbert talked about how the themes of his book tie into Pittsburgh’s public education movement.
“[In my book] I wanted to show how in so many ways we’ve lost our way in this country, how much trouble we’re in,” Herbet said. “I thought that the mainstream politicians and the mainstream media had not really given a true picture of how difficult our circumstances were. On the other hand, I wanted to say that it’s not hopeless, that people can fight back. In Pittsburgh, I saw people fighting back, and fighting back effectively.”
Norman and Herbert also discussed the aspects of a successful social justice movement.
“It’s important to first become civically engaged, whatever the issue is… But its also important that you organize,” Herbert said. “The most difficult thing of all is to sustain it. It has to be a sustained effort.”
When the discussion was opened to questions from the audience, the conversation broadened into a discussion of progressive politics, economic problems, and social issues as a whole.
Some members of the audience, such as Pittsburgh residents Paul and Karen Beer, felt the discussion had gotten off track.
“It was a little all over the place; it was a little disappointing,” Karen Beer said.
“[The discussion] just wasn’t very substantive. It was riddled with political platitudes,” Paul Beer said. “It was speaking very abstractly about problems, and unfortunately I felt like I was at a political rally.”
Others left feeling dejected, despite Herbert’s intended message of hope.
“I feel kind of desperate—what are we going to do?” said Osher Lifelong Learning Institute member Florence Chapman. “Working on the grassroots organizing is difficult. We’ve been working on that for a long time.”