Teachers Strike for Their Lives and Their Students

By Bob Peterson

Tens of thousands of teachers went out on strike last Thursday. Not in West Virginia or Los Angeles — but in Colombia’s five largest cities.

And they are fighting for their lives. Literally.

The paramilitary group The Black Eagles issued a statement on September 3 saying “the time has arrived to wipe out from this country the so-called ‘union and social leaders’ all of whom are guerrilla employees.”

They sent emails to the leaders of the Colombian Federation of Education Workers (FECODE) naming the people they were going to kill, including the president, vice president, former president, their attorney, and other leaders.

As a result, the union called off a “Caravan in Defense of Life,” that it had planned to tour the Cauca Valley, a region in southwest Colombia with a majority population of Indigenous and Afrocolombians. FECODE instead called for a 24-hour general strike of teachers on September 12.

No threat can silence us. The school is territory of peace. Photo: FECODE

A key demand of the strike was an end to the killings and threats against teachers and other social activist leaders. In a FECODE press release on September 4 announcing the strike, the top demand listed was that the Colombian President Ivan Duque take immediate measures to defend “the lives and physical integrity of teachers, social and union leaders and a rejection of all forms of violence in the country wherever they come from.” The union also called on the government to implement the peace accord signed three years ago with the FARC, the main guerrilla group.

March in Medellin Participant

Participant in the march in Medellin holds the photo of Felipe Vélez, a teacher who was assassinated in 1987. Photo: Fecode

FECODE’s President Nelson Alarcon told the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, “We’ve had more than 10 of our colleagues murdered this year. More than 680 teachers were threatened in this period.”

According to data from the National Union School in Medellin, Colombia, more than 1,000 teacher union leaders were assassinated from 1977 to 2014. That would be equivalent to 7,000 teacher union leaders murdered in the United States.

Other key strike demands were implementation of accords agreed upon after previous strikes that include meals for children, improved health care for teachers, better school facilities, and the respect and recognition that schools are “territories of peace.”

Right-wing paramilitary groups and the Colombian military have a long history of targeting union and human rights leaders, community organizers, and environmental activists.

The Black Eagles are an illegal paramilitary group that grew out of an earlier right-wing group, now banned, that had received money from the United States and multinational corporations. The Black Eagles are involved in land theft, illegal mining, and illegal logging, much of which is on Indigenous lands or areas in which many Afrocolombians live. International human rights groups estimate that more than 700 activists have been murdered since the signing of the peace accord in 2016.

The response to the union’s call for a strike was overwhelming. On September 12 there was a massive turn out of teachers, parents, and students in support of the strike in Colombia’s major cities of Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Cali, Medellin y Barranquilla, and in dozens of smaller communities.

Unions throughout Latin America and from Education International, expressed solidarity.

As we continue to focus on the extraordinary teacher militancy throughout the United States, let’s remember that the movement for educational justice is global. We need to support — and learn from — the important teacher struggles in Colombia and around the world.

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Bob Peterson is a founding editor of Rethinking Schools, former 5th-grade teacher, and a past president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. He is currently the city-wide representative on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. To contact Bob Peterson, email bob.e.peterson@gmail.com.  

More information can be found at FECODE and via the hashtags #YoApoyoAFecode (ISupportFecode) and #PorMisMaestros (#ForMyTeachers).

For a more detailed article on the struggle of teachers in Colombia and the role of the United States see, “Teachers and the Colombian Peace Accord: Books versus Bullets”.

 

On September 20th, if Our Students Are Not in the Streets, Let’s Bring the Streets to Our Students

By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

At the end of August a group of student activists presented a letter to the Portland, Oregon, School Board regarding their plans to walk out of school on September 20th, part of a wave of activities in the week-long Global Climate Strike. The letter included an ambitious set of demands — no penalties, academic or extracurricular, for student strikers; the right to organize and promote the strike at school; dissemination of climate justice curriculum for educators to teach in the days leading up to and on September 20th; and more. The letter left me energized and inspired to do my part as a teacher to act in solidarity with my students.

There was only one problem: Those activists who have been showing up to school board meetings, sitting on climate justice committees, and organizing the September 20th walk-out, are not my students.

Although I live in Portland, I do not teach there. I teach in a wealthy suburb south of the city and, in the first two weeks of school, I have heard not a word about September 20th from my 11th-grade U.S. history students. In fact, when we read an article about Greta Thunberg’s activism, only a handful of students celebrated her actions and expressed support for the strike; most of my students were dismissive, even hostile, to the strikers and the climate emergency for which they’re sounding the alarm. Some students questioned the efficacy of the tactic: “It’s not like skipping school actually fixes the problem they’re supposedly so concerned about.” Others questioned the motivation of the strikers: “I think a lot of kids are just looking for an excuse to skip school.” Still other students expressed alarming views on our climate future: “There is really nothing anyone can do to stop climate change at this point. We need to focus on developing new technologies. Technology is the only thing that is going to save us.”

So what does educator solidarity with the student strikers on September 20th look like at a school like mine, with students like these? Or what about for other teachers, who work in schools that will not countenance a walk-out from kids, much less educators?

First, we can recognize a more meaningful solidarity with climate justice activists will not be limited to a single day but extend throughout the year. Indeed, in the second week of school, by sharing their assumptions about climate change and youth activism, my students offered me a roadmap of some teaching I need to do in the year ahead, on climate change, yes, but also on the history of activism and social change, and, in particular, the role of young people. To imagine and enact the kind of change that is necessary to avert further catastrophe, and to build a more fair, equal, and just world moving forward, our students need the tools offered by a rich, multidisciplinary climate syllabus. Our curriculum will need to emphasize the causes and consequences of, and current responses to, climate change while unearthing lessons from times in our past when collective resistance and social movements changed the world in unimaginably significant ways.

Second, at a minimum, on September 20th, we can surface the climate emergency (to which the strike is planned to draw attention) in our classrooms. I will be in the early days of a unit on the Gilded Age; it will be easy to tie in climate change by examining the exponential growth in the burning of fossil fuels that occurred during that era or the unregulated extraction of the earth’s resources by powerful men, celebrated as the quintessential U.S. capitalists. I am confident many teachers can find ways to make a lesson on climate justice “fit” in their existing scope and sequence.

But since few (perhaps none) of my students will walk out on September 20th, I want to make sure class is not business as usual on that day. I have the freedom in my school to abandon the calendar — at least for a day. Almost every year there comes a time when important events overtake my syllabus. Two years ago, after a white supremacist murdered two people on a MAX train in Portland, my students and I spent time processing and writing poetry of sorrow and solidarity to offer to the school communities that had been impacted. At the start of my first year teaching full time, 9/11 occurred, and I suspended my curriculum only days after I had launched it. Just as in these examples, I will share with my students the “why” behind our breach with the status quo. I will explain that since the climate crisis requires, in the words of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” and since activists have spent a lot of time and energy organizing this week of action, we are going to take the day to learn a bit about their work. I will invite students to Meet Today’s Climate Justice Activists, by participating in a mixer role play profiling activists from all over the world, many of them young people. Since my students will not be taking to the streets, this lesson will allow me to bring the streets to my students.

Third, we can build in and protect time and space in our curriculum after the strike for understanding and analyzing what happened on September 20th, with a keen eye toward the stories not making front pages and social media feeds. My students deserve a clearer, fuller view of the (mostly unheralded) student strikers — not just Greta Thunberg — to counter some of the misinformation fueling their dismissive judgments. They deserve an opportunity to change their minds.

Fourth, we can reach out to find allies among colleagues, parents, and community members to push forward the climate curriculum and policy of our schools. Four of my colleagues met after school last week to chat; we brainstormed lesson plans for 9/20, talked about where we might build in climate analysis to existing units, and shared what we’d been hearing from students in the first weeks of school. Our informal meeting in my classroom is a far cry from the achievements of the Portland team of parents, students, educators, and activists who succeeded in pressuring the school board to pass a sweeping, first-of-its-kind climate resolution in 2016. But it’s a start.

The September 20th walkout was called by students; but there is a clear ask of adults. The organizers wrote,

“We’re asking adults to step up alongside us. There are many different plans under way in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together, with your neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make your voices heard and make this a turning point in our history.”

For some of us, this stepping up may take the form of walking out with our students. But for many of us, that may not be practical, either because, as in my case, there seems to be no student movement to join, or because the professional risks are simply too great. But the alternative to walking out need not be silence. Let’s join the students, whether in the streets, or in our classrooms, by using our teacher voices for climate justice.

Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (ursulawolfe@gmail.com) teaches at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon. She is an editor for Rethinking Schools and a teacher organizer for the Zinn Education Project.

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This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

 

NEW YORK POST ATTACKS RETHINKING SCHOOLS

Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

Have you seen the recent attacks on Rethinking Schools?

Over the past couple of weeks, the New York Post published two pieces attacking social justice teaching and Rethinking Schools books, publications, and resources.

Teaching For Black Lives

The first New York Post piece, an op-ed titled “How Black Lives Matter is moving into the schools,” criticized the best-selling Rethinking Schools book Teaching for Black Lives for taking a partisan approach to teaching about anti-Black racism and encouraging teachers to teach students about Black resistance and protest.

The author Peter Meyer, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire and former fellow at the right wing think tank Heritage Foundation decries the spread of the Black Lives Matter at School movement which “is moving beyond street protests to establish a growing presence in the nation’s public schools.” Meyer says that efforts to teach students about the history of “structural racism” and to resist ‘the school-to-prison pipeline’ and the ‘epidemic of police violence and mass incarceration’ in America are “false and grossly irresponsible” and will have a “demoralizing” effect on students. Meyer instead calls for what he views as a more “balanced” analysis of structural racism and proposes that the solution lies in simply “cultivating virtues of mind, heart, and character.”

In fact, the editors of Teaching for Black Lives tell readers the book strives to “reframe the teaching of these histories in ways that challenge white supremacy and reject many of the popular, yet racist, myths that all too often paint Black people as non-actors in their own liberation.”

It is essential that teachers equip students with skills to be able to learn from Black liberation movements and challenge systems that perpetuate white supremacy. Very few textbooks are available today that give a bottom up perspective of Black liberation. Teaching for Black Lives is an essential resource for educators committed to anti-racist teaching and to pushing back against white supremacy in our schools. 

See what makes Teaching for Black Lives so popular with social justice educators here.

The second article, “New NYC teachers given book with essay titled ‘Dear White Teacher’“ was written by Post reporters outraged that 2,700 copies of our newly revised The New Teacher Book  were included in orientation tote bags for New York City Teachers. 

The article was intensely critical of efforts to promote anti-racist teaching and culturally relevant pedagogy, and took aim at a sampling of critical topics addressed in The New Teacher Book that every new teacher should be talking about such as joining their unions, opposing harmful standardized tests, embracing community and education activism, and opposing school privatization.

Learn more about The New Teacher Book here.

Since The New Teacher Book was published earlier this year it has received overwhelming compliments from both new and experienced teachers. School districts and teacher unions have been adopting it for professional development.

Rose Peterson, a high school English teacher in Milwaukee, WI recently commented, “The New Teacher Book is an outlier in that it is solely comprised of what matters most in education today. From how to set up a classroom to what to teach inside of it, The New Teacher Book covers the questions that confound and dilemmas that paralyze new teachers from a holistic, anti-racist, student-centered perspective. It strikes the perfect balance of pieces that comfort and pieces that challenge.”

With a political climate emboldening white supremacists, teachers desperately need resources like these to navigate these difficult times. Rethinking Schools remains committed to the critical work of promoting equity and racial justice in our classrooms and schools.

Donate to Rethinking Schools today and help sustain our work to get social justice resources into the hands of educators that need them the most.

The Green New Deal and Our Schools

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

As Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope wrote recently in The Nation, “There is a runaway train racing toward us, and its name is climate change. This is not alarmism: It is scientific fact.”

This is where the Green New Deal, introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey, begins: with the terrifying prospects of the runaway train of climate catastrophe. But the Green New Deal seeks to mobilize people not from fear, but from hope — hope for a radical transformation of society. It’s a manifesto that begins with the imperative of dramatically cutting greenhouse gases — global reductions of 40 to 60 percent in emissions from 2010 levels by 2040, reaching net-zero global emissions by 2050.

Why the Green New Deal? Ocasio-Cortez, supporters in the Sunrise Movement, and others, draw inspiration from the audacious initiatives of the Depression-era New Deal programs, as well as the massive World War II mobilization. Because anything less is inadequate to the urgency of the crisis, as laid out starkly in last October’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. But the new New Deal explicitly rejects the racism of its antecedents, which, for example, excluded agricultural and domestic workers from Wagner Act union protections and baked in a future of racially segregated housing through Federal Housing Administration policies.

The Green New Deal imagines a vast social reconstruction that will meet 100 percent of U.S. demand for power through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources; upgrade buildings in the United States to achieve greater energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability; support sustainable family farming and build a sustainable food system; create millions of good, high-wage jobs; provide “unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States”; and more.

The Green New Deal is not just about suppressing carbon emissions, it’s also about democratizing decision-making. It calls for the use of “democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers to plan, implement, and administer the Green New Deal mobilization at the local level.” It concludes by promising “high-quality health care,” “affordable, safe, and adequate housing,” “economic security,” “clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

It imagines a very different country from the one we now live in.

And schools? The Green New Deal includes only one line about “providing resources, training, and high-quality education,” and, in fact, never mentions the word schools. Nonetheless, the Green New Deal has profound implications for schools, and offers an extraordinary opportunity for social justice educators to draw on the utopian — in the best sense of the word — vision laid out in the congressional resolution.

*** Click here to purchase a copy of Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart’s groundbreaking book on teaching climate justice, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth ***

Let’s start in our classrooms. The revolutionary aspirations of the Green New Deal will only be brought to life by people who grasp the enormity of the crisis that humanity faces and the radical changes necessary to address it. This requires that we teach a climate justice curriculum that: 

• engages students in the science of climate change;
• probes the social and economic roots of climate change; 
• emphasizes the brutal inequality that results in those least responsible for the crisis being hit the hardest;
• alerts students to the breadth of global activism for climate justice;
• helps students see how climate justice is inextricably linked to addressing broader issues of racism, militarism, imperialism, and class exploitation;
• invites students to imagine a society based on principles of ecology and social equality; and
• encourages students to come to see themselves as activists for a green and just world.

Continue reading
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Our Appreciation

Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

More than 30 years ago, Rethinking Schools began as an activist publication by a group of Milwaukee teachers passionate about combatting scripted curriculum, standardized testing, and textbook-dominated curriculum while emphasizing multicultural education and a commitment to racial justice.

The original 1986 Rethinking Schools newsprint tabloid began with 35 subscription requests. Volunteers helped count and bundle the newsprint with twine and deliver the publication across the city. Within the first two and a half years, the print run grew to an impressive 20,000 that were distributed free of charge to Milwaukee schools, libraries, and community centers.

                 Rethinking Schools Vol 1.1Rethinking Schools Magazine Covers

Since our founding, we’ve grown into a nationally prominent book publisher, growing our relationship with educators of conscience around the country.  

This Teacher Appreciation Day, we would like to say 
thank you to the countless educators and education activists who have contributed to our mission over the years. Whether you submitted an article, shared our resources with a new teacher, subscribed to our magazine, purchased a book, volunteered, or donated, your support has helped us support teachers as they teach and organize for racial and social justice. 

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Our success building a national and global presence with no institutional or corporate backing is made possible by a community of educators and activists dedicated to building the schools our children deserve. You are a member of that community. 

From all of us at Rethinking Schools, thank you! 


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Click here to browse our books and magazine subscriptions

Take Sides for the Earth and Teach Climate Justice

A People's Curriculum for the Earth

A People’s Curriculum for the Earth by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart.

TEACHING CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS

As we celebrate Earth Day, we invite you to join us in taking sides for the Earth by teaching climate justice and becoming part of the #TeachClimateJustice movement with our book,  A People’s Curriculum for the Earth by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart.

The book is an infinitely useful collection of articles, role plays, simulations, stories, poems, and graphics that help breathe life into teaching about the environmental crisis. A People’s Curriculum for the Earth features classroom-friendly readings on climate change, energy, water, food, and pollution—as well as on people who are working to make things better.

For Earth Month, get 15% off your order when you use code EARTH19 at checkout through 5/1/19.

Order your copy today. 


Additional Resources to Teach Climate Justice

Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise movement.

OUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE — TIME TO TEACH CLIMATE JUSTICE
By Bill Bigelow

For too long, the fossil fuel industry has tried to buy teachers’ and students’ silence by saddling us with a curriculum of climate denialism, and spreading climate change doubt that made its way into mainstream textbooks. The gulf between the severity of the climate crisis and the curricular response in schools continues to yawn wide. This is where we come in. Social justice educators need to expose the biased and damaging curriculum and construct an alternative.

Continue Reading. 

 


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ZINN EDUCATION PROJECT’S TEACH CLIMATE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN

This month, the Zinn Education Project is launching the Teach Climate Justice campaign.

How do we teach the climate crisis in a way that also confronts racism, economic inequality, misogyny, militarism, xenophobia, and that imagines the kind of world that we would like to live in?

The Zinn Education Project has compiled classroom-tested lessons, recommended books and films, a sample school board climate justice resolution, and is offering workshops for educators.

Visit the Climate Justice Resources

 


‘WE CAN BE WHATEVER WE HAVE THE COURAGE TO SEE’: A New Video from AOC Envisions a #GreenNewDeal
From Common Dreams staff writer, Eoin Higgins

AOC-Video

Common Dreams shares a colorful new video from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released by The Intercept that can help us imagine what the Green New Deal will mean for our communities, schools, and classrooms.

 

The video features art from Molly Crabapple, the artist who illustrated our #SchoolsToo magazine issue cover.

Learn more and watch the inspiring video here.

 

Hip-Hop Artist Macklemore Donates to Match School District Purchases of the Book Teaching For Black Lives

 

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Macklemore Donation Match

We’ve got some great news about Teaching for Black Lives! Hip-hop artist Macklemore is donating up to $10,000 to match dollar-for-dollar school district purchases of Teaching for Black Lives.

Ask your school district to apply for the match today!

About Teaching for Black Lives

Teaching for Black Lives is a collection of teaching activities, role-plays, essays, poems and art designed to help educators humanize Black people in curriculum. The book demonstrates how teachers can connect their curriculum to young people’s lives and explore how classrooms and schools can be set up either to reproduce racism or challenge it.

Macklemore said of Teaching for Black Lives “This book will help students learn about the struggles and contributions of Black people that are too often left out of the curriculum.”

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How to Apply for the Macklemore Matching Donation

Hip-hop artist Macklemore will match on a dollar-for-dollar basis money spent to purchase Teaching for Black Lives, up to $10,000.

School districts interested in applying to receive the Macklemore matching donation should complete the application form with the number of books that will be purchased for educators, a summary of the student population demographics served in your district, and a brief statement about what the matching donation would mean for educators and students in your schools.

The book price to districts after the matching donation is applied will only be $29.95 $12.50 per book. School districts will pay shipping costs.

Click here to apply to receive the Macklemore match!