As apart of my Detroit Future Schools residency at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, we put this video together.
The Tiger Lilies wrote, produced (notice the beatboxing), choreographed this song for the Boggs School’s 1st Bizarre, where the school opens up to community for an amazing night of sharing.
From February 21-23, 2014, Detroit Future Schools’ the Rida Institute will offer a three day crash-course in re-imagining what is possible within our schools. The question “what is the purpose of education?” frames the Institute, as participants explore the educational theories of Paolo Freire, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Eleanor Duckworth,James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs and others.
WHEN: Friday, February 21 - Sunday, February 23, 2014
WHERE: Allied Media Projects | 4126 Third St. | Detroit, MI
WHO: K-12 instructors, administrators, support staff
Seats are limited. Click here to apply today!
“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
I first heard this quote in undergrad. I had no idea who Frank Zappa was and didn’t care. But the quote struck me and validated so much of what I felt during a time when my political and activist identities were being formed. I had very loud opinions on capitalism and democracy and even on the role of faith in our everyday lives. A lot of the reactions to my ideals and opinions was usually a simple “but that’s not how X works.”
Recently, this quote has become even more relevant in my life.
As a classroom teacher almost solely in urban/under-resourced schools, I could never teach the curriculum I had been given. I also constantly found mysel with pacing guides or scripted curricula that bore me just to read them. I had to deviate because I saw the outcome of teaching these curricula or following these pre-outlined pacing guides: failing and/or bored students. Normalizing success for these students takes a type of organic thinking that considers the whole of a student’s life and community in order to make usually detached curriculum relevant.
In early 2013, I found myself sitting across from Michael Soguero, director of Professional Development at Eagle Rock School. Michael explained that part of his job entails evaluating schools or classrooms for “positive deviants.” My interest was immediately piqued. He told me about a book he had read by Richard Pascale called, The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems. Positive deviants are exceptions to the norm—as the word deviant clearly represents. Positive deviants are exceptions to an “undesirable” norm. The norms investigated in the book included female genital mutilation in Egypt, child malnutrition in Vietnam and MRSA outbreaks in US hospitals. In each of these contexts, there were people who deviated from the norm. Using the exact same resources available to everyone else in a shared area/context, people or families were solving problems that to the general public seemed intractable.
What’s the secret to solving intractable problems? The secret is this: find the positive deviance and watch them, talk to them, and then share out what makes them positive deviants. The practice of sharing out is actually a complex series of engaging the community that desires the “fix” to discover and implement their own solution. Very grassrootsy indeed.
Additionaly, at Allied Media Projects (AMP), there are several principles that ground the work of this organization. Two of these principles are extremely relevant to this concept of positive deviance:
Wherever there is a problem, there are already people acting on the problem in some fashion. Understanding those actions is the starting point for developing effective strategies to resolve the problem, so we focus on the solutions, not the problems.
The most effective strategies for us are the ones that work in situations of scarce resources and intersecting systems of oppression because those solutions tend to be the most holistic and sustainable.
These principles stress the fact that when we start by listening (another AMP principle) to the people most deeply impacted by a problem—when we deepdive into their stories and their spaces—we are most likely to find solutions to problems.
*this was originally posted on AMP talk at
*Here is a link to the site for the book Power of Positive Deviance