Norma J F Harrison, an 85-year-old activist and community volunteer, is running for a position on the Berkeley Unified School District board for the “fifth or sixth” time.
Harrison, who moved to California 42 years ago, worked as a substitute teacher in the state for five years, in addition to her previous teaching experience in Chicago.
“I’m not going to get elected,” Harrison said. “But, were I elected, I’m wondering whether with the combined intelligence and attitude here in this city, whether there would be some usable ideas about how to create alternative schools or whatever it be.”
Harrison has been running for the school board since 2010. She is a member of the Communist Party USA and the California Peace and Freedom Party, and will also be an elector for Gloria La Riva and Leonard Peltier at the national Electoral College.
Harrison does not agree with the way schools are currently being run. One main issue she has is she feels that subjects should not be taught separately, but rather in a more interconnected way.
“I don’t have an ability to do other stuff, but I do have an ability to try to talk with people about us liberating ourselves from the very oppressive structures that we’re living in,” Harrison said.
Similarly, Harrison feels that the current education system denies learning from other areas in life.
People are always learning, she said, but nonschool learning is not always appreciated.
“School is the opposite of education,” Harrison said in an email. “It tells us that education is what happens through a teacher/teachers exercising us. It erases our learning, our constant study of life all our lives.”
Harrison is still in the process of collecting signatures to get a place on the ballot. While talking to constituents, she said she spoke to a parent who wants the option to send their children to school in person in the fall. Harrison said she hopes that online school can be executed better than it was in the spring.
School reform is not possible, according to Harrison, because she feels the whole system is broken. Harrison said people experience “selective amnesia” when saying they enjoyed school and emphasized that it is OK to not enjoy school.
Harrison said her daughter went to Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley and was “in and out of classrooms.” Harrison described the classroom environment as annoying, frightening and off-putting.
“They think that they can reform schools, but they can’t fix a thing that doesn’t work in the first place,” Harrison said.