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And so it begins. At a high school in rural Oregon, south of Portland, 30 to 40 white students celebrated Trump this week in front of a Confederate flag and taunted Latina/o students: “Pack your bags, you’re leaving tomorrow,” and “Tell your family goodbye.” Graffiti found in a Minnesota high school bathroom read,”#Gobacktoafrica Make America GReat again.” The Southern Poverty Law Centerreports over 200 incidents of racist, sexist, and homophobic harassment and intimidation.
These are harbingers of the dangerous new era launched by the election of Donald Trump. And they underscore the importance of the work we have ahead.
But racist and xenophobic celebrations were not the only response to Trump’s election. In San Francisco, more than a thousand students walked out of class to join protest marches. As one student said, “We’re trying to inform people about white supremacy, racism, homophobia, everything.” And in the New York City high school where Rethinking Schools editor Adam Sanchez teaches, the art club hosted a “No Allegiance to White Supremacy” t-shirt-making gathering, while the Feminism and Black Lives Matter clubs held a joint emergency meeting to discuss the election. These responses are also harbingers: anticipating our schools and classrooms as sites of resistance to everything that Trump stands for. As in San Francisco, students in New York later took to the streets—marching more than 40 blocks from Union Square to Trump Tower. As did students at that Minnesota high school and throughout the country, from Los Angeles to Phoenix, Boulder to Des Moines.
Trump’s election is the single worst political event in our lives. And it’s right to mourn. But a Trump administration is also a call to action. For now, we need to listen to our students and create a space where they can talk, ask questions, and analyze what has happened. We can tell students that we will do whatever we can to make our schools—and our world—safe for them and their families. Part of that involves what we say and do in our classrooms and our schools, including how we work with students doing the taunting and writing the racist graffiti. And part involves the work we do within our unions and community groups, and the alliances we build with other justice-oriented organizations.
We will redouble our efforts to provide the teaching resources that help our students make sense of what is happening in our society, and how we got here. We have resources at Rethinking Schoolsand the Zinn Education Projectthat look at other times when racial progress was rolled back by white supremacy. But social movements have made important progress during times that seemed hopeless, and we also have teaching materials that explore these.
There will be lots more to say—and lots more to do. For now, we simply want to thank you for the work you do that is more essential than ever and to assure you that we are in this together.
With love and hope, Rethinking Schools editors and staff
Rethinking Schools needs more articles that focus on science. We are looking for submissions that show what engaging students’ sense of equity and justice looks, sounds, and feels like through the teaching of science. We seek justice-centered, equity-oriented, story-rich, and critical articles that describe science teaching and curriculum in PK-12 classrooms, community spaces, or PK-12 teacher preparation.
What we need and what to write
Science is more than worksheets, textbooks, and memorization. Science touches everyday lives of all people. We encourage stories from a diverse range of science fields such as natural, physical, earth, and life. We invite you to submit a story that shows science teaching that is sensitive to cultural, historical, environmental, and socioeconomic contexts. We want stories that show how learning science helps students better understand the forces that shape their world. We want educators of all types to share how they use science to enhance learning, promote critique, and address real-world social, cultural, political, and ecological problems—including the climate crisis. We are looking for articles that discuss:
teaching science in classrooms from a social justice/equity perspective
students and teachers working together to use science as a tool to promote social justice
science in everyday practices of various cultures, families, and communities
Students’ voices are important; make sure we can hear them!Rethinking Schools is purposefully not an academic journal. We want the writing to be lively, conversational, and to avoid needless jargon. Please approach your story as a narrative, filled with anecdotes and voices of students, teachers, parents/guardians, caregivers, family, and/or community members.
****PLEASE NOTE:Before you begin writing or submit your article, please:
Teachers learn that the district’s plan for a desperately needed school renovation is based on “100 percent utilization”— teachers will rotate through classrooms, losing the home bases students depend on. They organize to change the plan.
Por Grace Cornell Gonzales | Traducido por Vanesa Ortiz Solís
Una maestra bilingüe describe cómo la ansiedad que sienten los administradores escolares con respecto a los resultados de los exámenes estandarizados disminuye el compromiso de la escuela con el desarrollo de la lectoescritura en español y el amor de los estudiantes por el aprendizaje.
Elementary and middle school students have grown up with an African American as president of the United States. This is a historic milestone. But these same students have also grown up in a nation that’s increasingly unequal, a country where police killed more Black people in 2015 than were lynched during the worst year of Jim Crow.
In the past several months, students have watched Donald Trump use racist, Islamophobic, misogynist, and anti-immigrant vitriol to whip up a terrifying level of support, with ominous repercussions no matter who wins the election.
Even as Black Lives Matter has spearheaded a growing movement against police violence, our children have been subjected to an unending stream of police murders of Black and Brown people, including the recent videos of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, wrote after watching those videos: “We all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option.”
We hope that teachers will view these disturbing developments not as issues too controversial to talk about, but rather as teachable moments to address white supremacy and our nation’s rich history of movements for justice and equality.
In these scary times, the courageous undocumented youth of the Dreamers, the Movement for Black Lives (a collective of more than 50 organizations, including the Black Lives Matter Network), and thousands of other activists are providing light and hope. Powerful teaching confronts the dangers squarely and also builds on their examples and those of other young people standing up for justice. When a student put up a “Build a Wall” banner in Forest Grove High School in Oregon, many students were outraged. The next day hundreds of them walked out in protest; as word spread through social media, students from seven other area high schools joined in. High school and college students in nearby Portland staged their own protest march later that week.
White fans at a high school girls’ soccer game in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, started chanting “Trump, build that wall” at the predominantly Black and Latina Beloit Memorial team. A few days later, the neighboring Evansville girls soccer team posted a video condemning the racist incident and expressing support for the Beloit team. At Beloit’s Big Eight Conference game against Janesville Craig, players from both teams stood side by side during pregame introductions as a show of solidarity against racism.
Trump and Our Classrooms
The “curriculum” of the presidential campaign inevitably finds its way into our schools and classrooms. As we reported in our summer issue, a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the campaign is “producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions . . . [and] an increase in bullying, harassment, and intimidation of students whose races, religions, or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.”
Trump’s ascendancy parallels the growth of extreme right-wing parties throughout much of Europe, where a toxic stew of austerity, economic anxiety, and the refugee crisis has fueled xenophobic and neo-fascist rallies, electoral victories, and violence.
His popularity also reflects the growth of racism and inequality in the United States, which has been exacerbated by policies pursued by both the Republican and Democratic parties. Internationally, pro-war policies have led to unspeakable suffering, wasted hundreds of billions of dollars, fostered terrorism, and destabilized whole swaths of the planet. Bipartisan “free trade” policies have thrown people out of work in the United States at the same time they have increased inequality abroad. Domestically the “war on drugs,” “three strikes,” zero-tolerance discipline policies, and other criminal justice “reforms” have led to unprecedented rates of mass incarceration of African Americans.
At the same time, we have witnessed an inspiring resurgence of demands for an end to police violence, for racial justice, for climate justice, for gender justice, for economic justice, for immigration justice. There’s a lot to talk about.
The polarization and racism of this election season make it especially important to create safe classrooms where students engage deeply in critical analysis. Of course, a student who is a member of a targeted group should never be singled out as a “spokesperson.” And perhaps it’s time to rethink traditional approaches to teaching about elections.
For example, many teachers routinely hold debates with students representing candidates from different parties (more than just the Democratic and Republican parties, we hope). However, this year such debates might be counterproductive. We don’t want to create classroom forums where students-as-candidates could repeat racist rants, nor should students be subjected to them. Slogans like “build that wall” are essentially racist slurs; “jail the bitch” is a sexist slur.
A better curricular route might be to look at the premises underlying key campaign issues — immigration from Mexico, for example — by asking questions: What is the history of the border between the United States and Mexico? How have initiatives like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) affected Mexican farmers and workers, and influenced immigration from Mexico? Who benefits and who is hurt — on both sides of the border — by “free trade?” (See “Who’s Stealing Our Jobs?”, and the Rethinking Schools book The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.) After this kind of study, students can more easily recognize a slogan like “build that wall” for the ignorant and hateful demagoguery that it is.
Instead of limiting classroom conversations to the issues as the campaigns define them, teachers can draw on the perspectives of activists who call into question the narrow two-party discourse and offer rich critiques of the racism, xenophobia, sexism, and Islamophobia heard on the campaign trail — and sometimes at school. (See “As a Teacher and a Daughter: The Impact of Islamophobia,” by Nassim Elbardouh, summer 2016.) This is the perfect time to invite local community and campus activists into our classrooms.
The issue of voter suppression is particularly relevant this election. President Obama’s election eight years ago and the changing demographics of the United States motivated Republican legislators and a conservative Supreme Court to roll back historic victories of the Civil Rights Movement. Teaching about the campaigns for the right to vote — for women, people of color, residents of Washington, DC, or Puerto Rico — exposes the racism and sexism endemic in our nation’s history, as well as the ongoing struggle to turn the United States into a democracy. It also opens up discussions about who can and can’t vote today, why it’s important to vote if you can, and ways to make your voice heard if you can’t.
What is particularly powerful are stories — from the past and from today — about youth working together against racism and other forms of oppression. Resources abound: children’s picture books, young adult novels, short stories, poetry, videos. Check out the archives for Rethinking Schoolsmagazine, our books, and the Zinn Education Project for ideas. Anti-racist teaching is important in all subject areas, not just social studies. Math classes can tackle the racial inequality of the criminal justice system, language arts classes can address gentrification, science classes can focus on environmental justice (see “Lead Poisoning: Bringing Social Justice to Chemistry,” by Karen Zaccor).
And then there’s action beyond the classroom walls. In addition to powerful examples like those of the students in Wisconsin and Oregon, teachers in North Carolina demonstrated at a Clinton rally where Obama was scheduled to speak. They demanded an end to deportations and that Clinton and Obama do everything in their power to release detained refugee youth.
Progressive school board members in various cities are promoting systematic approaches to fighting racism. In Milwaukee, despite objections by right-wing talk show hosts, the school board passed a Black Lives Matter resolution and put nearly half a million dollars in this year’s budget to fund implementation. In San Francisco, Albuquerque, Portland, Oregon, and other communities, educators, students, parents, and community activists have come together to fight racism through similar initiatives, such as ethnic studies programs. Many of these draw inspiration from Tucson, Arizona’s hugely successful Mexican American Studies program, outlawed in 2010 by conservative lawmakers. These are the kind of long-term, institutional responses that educators, students, and community members are fighting for.
We need to seize on teachable moments to address racism and white supremacy during this election cycle and, after that, continue and increase our efforts. From the dinner table to the classroom, from staff meetings to school boards, educators need to find ways to put the issue of race and racism front and center and keep it there.
We know time is short before the elections, but the damage wrought by racist comments and slurs fueled by the campaign will be long-lasting. And the anti-racist teaching that emerges because of thoughtful parents and educators — and from students who demand more relevant curricula — will flower and bear fruit long after November’s election. ◼
It can be a confusing time to be a kid. People on the TV, internet, and radio say conflicting things — about climate change — with seriousness and determination. How hard to tell truth from fiction!
We know that scientists agree that human caused climate change is real, and it is hurting people and ecosystems across the globe.
How can we help students understand this complex issue, and inspire them to work toward creative solutions?
Here at Moms Clean Air Force we are asked how teachers and parents can make sure climate education is part of the curriculum. We were excited to hear about Portland, Oregon’s school board climate justice resolution which “abandoned the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities,” and called for all schools to teach a “climate justice” curriculum.
Moms Clean Air Force: Amazing progress in Portland and with the National Education Association, Bill. Why do you think climate education is being supported now? What was the tipping point for Portland?
Bill Bigelow: The resolution in Portland grew out of a workshop that Tim Swinehart and I led on our book for climate justice activists in Portland. People were shocked when we shared with them Portland’s “official” curriculum on climate change, which not only is very puny, but even doubts that it is happening. “Not all scientists agree with the theory of the greenhouse effect,” one current social studies text says. Climate activists had recently organized to get the city council to pass an excellent resolution opposing any expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in Portland, and so we had the idea to get the school board to pass a resolution acknowledging that climate change is real, is human-caused, is serious, and that it’s urgent that we teach about it across the curriculum.
I suppose you could say that the tipping point was the gulf between what we know about the climate crisis and what the school curriculum included. It had become too huge to ignore. I think that’s true across the country.
What has the reaction been to the Portland resolution?
The resolution in Portland was passed with the support of more than 30 community, education, and environmental justice organizations. So for many people the reaction was jubilation that the school board would unanimously pass this measure. On the other hand, the right wing and climate denial crowd around the country recognized immediately that this was something that could catch on in other communities, and they attacked it as censorship, mocked the idea of “climate justice,” and tried to discredit some of us who led the initiative. We were gratified that the country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, endorsed the Portland resolution and urged members across the country to organize to get their own climate literacy resolutions passed. We also had wonderful support from parents, and Climate Parents, which organized a MoveOn petition drive to thank the Portland school board for passing such an important resolution.
Are you seeing more schools, parents, and teachers taking an interest in climate education for students?
Yes. I’ve heard from people all over the country about the Portland climate resolution. And the NEA resolution was introduced not just by Portland teachers but also people in Washington, California, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. Rethinking Schools received a small grant to send out “seed packets” to teachers, parents, climate activists and others interested in sponsoring a resolution similar to Portland’s. We have sent these out to teachers and parents across the country.
How can parents and teachers best advocate for climate education in their school systems and states?
The first thing is for concerned parents, teachers, and community members to come together and begin talking about the character of climate education being offered in one’s school district. What curriculum material is in use? Look at the relevant textbooks. As I mentioned, our group in Portland began with a workshop around the book A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, to give people a sense about what we mean by “climate justice” — i.e., that the curriculum needs to feature the voices of people from “frontline” communities, the ones hardest hit by the climate crisis; we need to be exploring the deep social roots of the climate crisis, and we need a curriculum of hope — to put kids in touch with activists who are working for a fossil-free future.
And the kids! How can students take on a leadership role in climate education in the classroom and beyond?
From the very first meeting in Portland, we had students involved in our work — middle and high school students. Some came from Sunnyside Environmental School, a public K-8 school in Portland that focuses its curriculum on environmental awareness. Sunnyside has sponsored annual teach-ins on climate change, on energy issues. This is how students come to take on a leadership role in this: They participate in a curriculum that equips them to understand the enormity of the climate crisis, and also highlights people all around the world who are acting to address it. My experience is that young people want meaningful work, they want to make a difference. But they need to be engaged in an environmental justice curriculum that invites them to be part of the solution.
What is your sense about the future of climate education and action in our country?
That’s a big question. There is such an enormous gap between students’ need to understand the science and social forces underlying the climate crisis and what schools are teaching about it. This is where outside pressure becomes so important. What happens — or doesn’t happen — in schools is of concern to all of us. Environmental organizations, parents, community activists, educators, and students need to band together to demand that school districts get rid of biased, climate denying materials, and launch a process of robust professional development and curriculum creation so that students see clearly what’s at stake and the urgency this issue deserves. Our group in Portland is a good example of the good things that can happen when even a small group of parents, teachers, activists, and students starts to organize and demand change.
Are there climate curriculum models for other districts. What other schools are leading the way?
Portland is the furthest along, and we have only just begun. As a result of the passage of the climate justice resolution, we have begun meeting with the Portland Public Schools administration about the implementation of the resolution. This fall we’ll be sponsoring workshops for teachers with Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a remarkable poet from the Marshall Islands, who gives voice to people who are some of the most vulnerable to the devastating impact of climate change. We will also be conducting a full review of text materials to evaluate these for bias and how adequately they address the human causes of the climate crisis, and its severity. Our Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference will also feature a number of climate-related workshops this fall. The book that Tim Swinehart and I edited, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, is the only one I’m aware of that features role plays, simulations, student-friendly readings, and detailed lesson plans on climate change, and the environmental crisis more broadly. Tim and I began work on this book in 2007, so it’s been a long time in the making. I hope people consider using this as a resource.
Thank you to Bill for talking with us about your work to bring climate education into our nation’s schools. Moms Clean Air Force has a picture book for this very purpose, called Every Breath We Take, for younger children, with free lesson plans HERE.
KPFA, the San Francisco Bay Area progressive radio station, recently ran an engaging hour-long show on Rethinking Schools’ new book Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality. Kate Raphael, producer of KPFA’s Women’s Magazine, interviewed RSGS editor and contributor Jody Sokolower and contributors Liza Gesuden, Candice Valenzuela, and A.J. Jennings. The far-ranging conversation included how to talk with 3-year-olds about gender, the challenges of facilitating a Black girls group, what is intersectionality anyway? and teaching sex-positive sexuality.