As an Engagement Advocate for SeeClickFix, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is talking to people across the country who are using the SeeClickFix platform in creative and innovative ways to effect real change in their communities. In this guest post from Jason Muniz from East Oakland, he talks about how he is using SeeClickFix in the classroom with his students to engage them in social change in their neighborhoods.
My name is Jason Muniz, and I am a 9th Grade Social Studies teacher at Fremont High School in East Oakland, CA. While I am not originally from the Bay Area, I have lived here for five years and have grown to love my adopted city. My students hold a special place in my heart, and it was in service to them that I came to incorporate SeeClickFix as a tool to teach my students about civic action and social change.
The community living in East Oakland has long been plagued by negative perceptions of those on the outside. Many people associate our city with poverty, corruption, urban decay, and violence. Much of East Oakland’s reputation is deserved, but the view from afar is often incomplete. There are indeed many low income families living here, and those communities survive greater challenges than anyone should be forced to endure. A considerable number work hard to confound the negative expectations of outsiders, and one way they do this is to act in advocacy for one another. The fact that East Oakland has a long history of civic action is often overlooked, and as an educator in this community it is my responsibility to honor that work. It was with that purpose in mind that I first came to use SeeClickFix while teaching about social justice. The project I will describe has been a part of my teaching practice ever since.
Events like the Arab Spring, Brazil’s “Vinegar Revolution,” and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri have brought to light the power of social media when applied to civic action and the pursuit of social justice. People around the world have begun using their personal technology to take action and raise awareness about the need for change. I wanted to similarly empower my students, especially since much of their lives are spent living inside the space that exists between their faces and the electronic devices in their hands. I also wanted to teach this lesson responsibly, and with an eye towards the safety of the teenagers in my care. Marches and rallies seemed outside my scope, and a more humble approach was called for.
In my class there is a unit I teach where the students explore the problem of crumbling infrastructure in cities around the world. We examine the causes and the implications of failed roads and buildings in disrepair. We also consider what solutions might look like. I encourage the students to draw parallels between the countries we studied and their own East Oakland community. Juxtaposing images of war torn and disaster plagued countries with images of their own community is often powerful. Once the students are aware of the stakes I challenge them to photograph examples of failing infrastructure in their own neighborhoods. I inform them we will be using a mobile/web application called “SeeClickFix” to try and resolve the problems we observe, and will be reporting on the results.
In the weeks that follow the students take pictures of potholes, uneven pavement, walls covered in unwanted graffiti, and trash dumped on the roads. Once the images and their locations are collected the students create their own SeeClickFix accounts. They upload photos. They use maps to identify specific locations. They describe the issues they uncover and submit the issue to Oakland’s city government. They create personal blogs and journal about each step of the process. They make posters that track the progress of the issues they reported. After a few days pass the students log in to their accounts and monitor the progress of the issues they reported. They are typically quite optimistic.
“If they see that people are reporting issues and really care about their city then they could be more motivated to improve Oakland’s infrastructure.” Andrea J.
“Since most of the 9th graders are doing this it would help Oakland little by little since with time most of the issues reported will be closed, fixed.” -Sarai L.
“I think that the SeeClickFix problem will do something about it because it is showing other people that we as a community want to see our city get a better reputation.” -Anais D.
- Quotes from student blog posts responding to the question “Do you think the SeeClickFix project will do anything to improve Oakland’s infrastructure?”
For most students this was their first opportunity to communicate with any element of their city’s government, and the experience is usually met with mixed results. Almost all the issues the students report are acknowledged, and a few students see the problem they reported resolved. Unfortunately some student reported issues remain idle. Many others receive automated responses generated by Oakland’s Public Works Department informing them that there is no room in the budget to resolve the issue they reported. Some students are inevitably upset with the disappointing outcome of the project. Others are appreciative of the fact that SeeClickFix exists, and that someone in power is listening to their voices. In their project culminating writing assignment I often find quotes like these:
“I learned that there is a lot of bad infrastructure in Oakland. I did know we had it but I guess I just considered it normal. Now I see it and I just want it to be fixed and now I know that there is a place to complain and they can fix it.” -Reyna J.
“I learned that 1 person can make a difference in this world, I also learned that there is a company that focuses on fixing problems in the cities, with reporting an issue to SeeClickFix there is a chance of the problem maybe being fixed.” -Jordan P.
“I learned that people actually care so I don't if they fix the problem quickly, I just want them to fix the problem eventually. At least they take their time to do this and handle so many problems a day, if I could I would say thank you to SEE CLICK FIX for caring about our future.” -Mauro D.
- Quotes from student blog posts responding to the prompt “Describe something that you learned from the SeeClickFix project that you did not know before it began.”
My student’s words have inspired me to push our analysis of the issue of infrastructure repair in East Oakland a little further. In recent iterations of this project students are challenged to examine what parts of Oakland do and do not receive infrastructure repair. They search for and comment on patterns of inclusion and exclusion. The students plan next steps. They demonstrate resiliency. Partner schools in our district have also adopted this project, and one class even sat in on a meeting in City Hall in order to give the department of Public Works a student-generated report card grade (They got a C-). Despite the outcomes students in our city are slowly learning to use technology to help advocate for change. It is my sincere hope that this is only a first step, and that East Oakland’s youth will continue to work to protect and better their community. I’m proud that I am able to support them in this endeavor, and I appreciate the role SeeClickFix has played in teaching our students how to take action.
If you are an educator, or have child attending school in a community where self-advocacy and social justice is a priority, I highly recommend using SeeClickFix to help instruct your students. The experience has been a meaningful, and one that I plan to continue for years to come.
Jason Muniz is a social science and technology teacher at Fremont High School in Oakland, CA. If you would like to learn more about his work with his SeeClickFix project, or want to support community schools in underserved neighborhoods, please visit his website munizworld.com or connect via social media using @JMuniz1976.