Education in the Time of the Coronavirus


By The Editors of Rethinking Schools

This editorial appears in the spring 2020 issue of Rethinking Schools.

First, we hope that you are safe and healthy. This is a stressful and frightening time for everyone, and the uncertainty of where the coronavirus pandemic is headed adds to our anxiety. Our schools are closing. Our conferences have been cancelled. Our communities are under emergency alert. We are told to practice “social distancing” to prevent the spread of the virus. And that is right — from a public health standpoint.

But we cannot allow “social distancing” to be a metaphor for how we respond to this crisis and the profound social failure it reflects. This crisis threatens to amplify inequality in countless ways, and more than ever, we need to respond from a place of community, compassion, and solidarity.

We go to press with this issue in late March and we have no idea what’s in store, or how things will have changed by the time you read this. But we know certain things about the history of crises. As Naomi Klein documented in her seminal work, The Shock Doctrine, elite groups always use crises to push “solutions” that enhance their power and profit — to pursue the “policy trinity,” as Klein puts it: “the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations, and skeletal social spending . . .” The same is already happening during this crisis, with Trump pushing tax cuts and bailouts that disproportionately benefit those who need no help, and angling to bail out his friends in the oil and gas industry as prices plummet. 

On March 12, the Federal Reserve system poured an emergency infusion of $1.5 trillion into credit and financial markets. No one asked, “How will you pay for it?” The amount was nearly equal to the total student loan burden that has saddled generations with staggering debt while successive administrations pursued austerity for the many and “socialism” for the rich.

Amidst the all-too-familiar press for a corporate agenda, we can also see the outlines of a more progressive response. Activists and social movements are demanding immediate steps toward free universal health care, paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, direct subsidies to those facing loss of jobs and income, an end to evictions, a moratorium on foreclosures and utility cut-offs, and emergency housing for all who need it. We need a systemwide social justice “shock.” 

As K–12 schooling moves out of buildings and onto the internet, we know that profiteers and hucksters will promote a commodified vision of teaching and learning. Who needs real teachers when students can simply be planted in front of computers? And we have already seen outfits like the  Koch brothers-funded Bill of Rights Institute, stepping up advocacy of its laissez-faire capitalist ideology, embedded in online U.S. History and Government lessons about “freedom and opportunity that exist in a free society.” The right-wing loves a crisis. As the free-market guru Milton Friedman wrote in the Wall Street Journal following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, “This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.”

Now is not the time to pull away from social justice education activism, but to find new ways to express it. As schools go onto the internet (at least for older students) — or into hibernation — we need to make sure this happens in a way that does not promote greater inequality. For many of our students, schools are not only sites of learning, but sources of nutrition and health care. We need to organize to protect and expand these services. As with other forms of wealth in our society, computer technology and internet access are not distributed equally. We need to ensure that whatever alternative means of teaching and learning school districts institute have equity at the center — that includes freezing standardized testing, which only magnifies inequality. And as Trump denounces the “foreign virus” that has invaded our country, we have to organize against this naked xenophobia, and to defend especially the rights of children in immigrant detention centers, who are some of its most vulnerable victims.

For almost 35 years, Rethinking Schools has argued for the defense, and for the transformation, of public schools. Because quality education — education that is participatory, joyful, hopeful, critical, antiracist, alert to cultural and linguistic diversity, academically rigorous, and that equips students to build a better world — is a human right. But so is health care. So is housing. So is clean water and affordable energy. So is meaningful work. So is transportation. And so is a stable climate. These are all components of the more democratic and egalitarian society that we want for our students and for ourselves.

Organize for a better future bee

Ricardo Levins Morales

The coronavirus crisis is horrific, and even in its early days has led to great suffering, and widespread terror. But this crisis is not a time of retreat; it is a time to insist on, to organize for, an agenda of human rights and wealth redistribution. Has there ever been a time when the need for universal free health care was more essential — and more obvious? Or paid family and medical leave? Or for everyone to have guaranteed access to clean water and a safe place to live?

So yes, please wash your hands, and then raise them, to continue to fight for equality and justice.

 

The Coronavirus and Our Work

Organize for a better future bee(Ricardo Levins Morales)

 

First, we hope that you are safe and healthy. This is a stressful and frightening time for everyone, and the uncertainty of where the coronavirus pandemic is headed adds to our anxiety. Our schools are closing. Our conferences have been cancelled. Our communities are under emergency alert.

This crisis threatens to amplify inequality in countless ways, and more than ever, we need to respond from a place of community, compassion, and solidarity. Through it all, Rethinking Schools remains committed to providing social justice teaching, storytelling, and resources during these uncertain times.

 

Now is not the time to pull away from social justice education activism, but to find new ways to express it. As schools go onto the internet — or into hibernation — we need to make sure this happens in a way that does not promote greater inequality. For many of our students, schools are not only sites of learning, but sources of nutrition and health care. We need to organize to protect and expand these services. As with other forms of wealth in our society, computer technology and internet access are not distributed equally. We need to ensure that whatever alternative means of teaching and learning school districts institute have equity at the center — that includes suspending standardized testing and expanding resources to serve the immediate needs of school communities. And as Trump denounces the “foreign virus” that has invaded our country, we have to organize against this naked xenophobia, and to defend especially the rights of children in immigrant detention centers, who are some of its most vulnerable victims.
 

The coronavirus crisis is horrific, and even in its early days has led to great suffering. But this crisis is not a time of retreat; it is a time to insist on, to organize for, an agenda of human rights and wealth redistribution. Has there ever been a time when the need for universal free health care was more essential — and more obvious? Or paid sick leave? Or for everyone to have guaranteed access to clean water and a safe place to live?

If you have a story to share about hope, inspiration, and organizing during the COVID-19 pandemic, please consider submitting it to Rethinking Schools.

So let’s wash our hands, and then raise them in the fight for equality and justice.

Solidarity,
Rethinking Schools Board, Editors, and Staff

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Rep. Barbara Lee Calls for Climate Education in All Schools

“We need to teach every young person the human impacts of climate change and how to combat the climate crisis before it is too late.”  
By Bill Bigelow

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Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) met with press on Thursday Sept. 19, 2019 to announce that she would be introducing a House Resolution in support of teaching climate change in schools. (Photo: @RepBarbaraLee)

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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.

In May of 2016, the school board in Portland, Oregon, passed what is believed to be the first comprehensive climate education resolution in the country. It called for climate justice curriculum, increased professional development, support for student activism, and for the school district to abandon the use of text materials that deny the human roots of the climate crisis or minimize its effects.

“Imagine if young people throughout the United States had a climate justice education that asked them to consider the roots of the climate crisis, to examine the profoundly unequal ways the crisis is manifesting itself throughout the world, and to think of themselves as activists who can make the world cleaner, safer, and more equal.”

This climate education work gets a big boost today from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) who is remembered for her courageous stand as the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of the use of force in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Today, commemorating what promises to be the largest climate strike ever, Lee’s office says she will officially introduce a House Resolution to support the teaching of climate change in schools throughout the United States.

Like Portland’s school board resolution, this is not only a call for more “climate literacy.” Lee’s resolution also emphasizes that the climate crisis is a social crisis. In introducing the resolution, she said, “We need to teach every young person the human impacts of climate change and how to combat the climate crisis before it is too late.”  

The resolution emphasizes that “climate change is a generational social justice, racial justice, and human rights issue.” It has been endorsed by diverse education and environmental justice organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Sierra Club, the National Center for Science Education, the Mom’s Clean Air Force, Students for Climate Action, and Rethinking Schools.

The resolution begins from the premise that student climate activism is essential, but “in order to meaningfully act upon our changing climate and changed world, young people need education about its causes, consequences, anticipated future impacts, and possible solutions.” And, “when students engage in a climate change curriculum, they can develop a greater sense of efficacy about their capacity to address critical social and environmental issues.”

The congresswoman’s House Resolution emphasizes, a changing climate “disproportionately affects students of color and students in poverty, thereby exacerbating existing inequalities and limiting equality of opportunity.”

Lee is also a co-sponsor of HR 109, The Green New Deal—the most ambitious Congressional statement outlining how to tackle the climate crisis, and simultaneously address broader social inequality. But as Rethinking Schools magazine editors pointed out in a recent editorial, as ambitious as the Green New Deal is, it never mentions the word schools. 

Thus, Lee’s resolution is a welcome gesture, reminding her colleagues—and everyone else—that the climate crisis especially affects young people, that young people are and will be at the center of those demanding action, and that the Green New Deal has profound implications for our schools. 

Here in Portland, Oregon, where I work with the Portland Public Schools Climate Justice Committee, emboldened by the promises of the school board’s 2016 climate justice resolution, last spring, students and climate activists raised a series of demands for more robust implementation of the resolution. One of these demands was that the school district hire someone whose only job would be to promote climate justice education throughout the school district—working with students, frontline communities, environmental and social justice organizations, teachers, administrators, and with the school district’s Climate Justice Committee. In May, Portland’s school board authorized funds for this position, and the country’s first “Climate Change and Climate Justice Programs Manager” begins work next week. 

In a statement Thursday, Rep. Lee said, “By failing to address climate change in a meaningful way, we are failing our children—and they know it.” 

Imagine if young people throughout the United States had a climate justice education that asked them to consider the roots of the climate crisis, to examine the profoundly unequal ways the crisis is manifesting itself throughout the world, and to think of themselves as activists who can make the world cleaner, safer, and more equal. The House Resolution now introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee may be an important step in that direction.

bill-bigelow Bill Bigelow taught high school social studies in Portland, Oregon for almost 30 years. He is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and the co-director of the Zinn Education Project. This project offers free materials to teach people’s history and an “If We Knew Our History” article series. Bigelow is author or co-editor of numerous books, including A People’s History for the Classroom and The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration, and most recently, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis.

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

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!