Racisim, Xenophobia, and the Election

By the Editors of Rethinking Schools
Ricard Morales Levins
As teachers and students return to classrooms this fall, together we have to try to make sense of a tumultuous presidential campaign and a summer of racial violence that have forcefully surfaced the racism that plagues our nation.

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. ◼

Originally published at

Making Climate Change Part of the School Curriculum

By Katy Farber

Originally published at

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.

Shortly after that, the National Education Association voted to support the Portland resolution and to encourage state and local affiliates to create and promote climate literacy resolutions in their own communities, using the Portland resolution as a model. The NEA has over 3 million members.

We wanted to know more, so we reached out to Bill Bigelow curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine. Rethinking Schools has been distributing “seed packets” to parents, teachers, and activists around the country, which include a copy of Portland’s school climate resolution, lesson resources, and excerpts from the Rethinking Schools book, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis.

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.


Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality on the Radio!


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.

You can catch  the interview here: or

The Roots of Racist Violence in Milwaukee

Editor’s note: Milwaukee is the latest city to erupt as a result of the police shooting of a Black man. As in Ferguson and Baltimore, the outrage in Milwaukee last weekend was rooted in long-standing anger toward the city’s multi-faceted racism. Milwaukee has been home to Rethinking Schools since our founding in 1986. Its schools cannot be separated from the city’s history of racism and racial violence.  At her blog, “View from the Heartland,” Barbara Miner notes that “Milwaukee has a well-deserved reputation as perhaps the worst city in the country to raise an African American child. The city’s intense segregation and disparity did not happen overnight, but are the result of decades of practices and policies.” Miner is the former managing editor of Rethinking Schools and author of Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City.

Following is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Lessons from the Heartland. The chapter details the tumultuous events of the summer of 1967—both the city’s long-standing practice of valuing law and order over social justice, and the power of sustained grass-roots organizing.

Also see Miner’s 2012-2013 Rethinking Schools article on the origins of the school voucher movement in Milwaukee.
. . .

Chapter 7


A Good Groppi Is a Dead Groppi.
—White supremacist sign during Milwaukee’s open housing marches

lessons2bfrom2bheartland2bphotoExcept for Alderman Vel Phillips, who had been raising the issue for five years, no alderman would even consider the topic [of Open Housing]. “Seventeen white Milwaukee aldermen listened silently for 30 minutes Tuesday while their lone Negro colleague urged them to consider the adoption of a city fair housing ordinance,” the Milwaukee Sentinel wrote of the day’s events. “Then, without a word of comment or criticism, they voted to reject the proposal.”

That summer, Phillips got support from outside the council. Father James Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council launched their Open Housing campaign, demanding the city pass legislation prohibiting discrimination in the sale, lease, and rental of housing property in Milwaukee. The campaign began with picketing outside the homes of prominent aldermen. On July 30, however, the marches were interrupted by what in Milwaukee are known as the 1967 Riots, part of a national explosion of pent-up Black rage.

In Milwaukee, as in other cities, anger in the Black community had long simmered over police brutality, unemployment, housing discrimination, school segregation, political and economic disenfranchisement, and the refusal of the white power structure to acknowledge the pressing need for change. On July 12, 1967, disturbances broke out in Newark, New Jersey, sparked when two white policemen arrested a black cabdriver for improperly passing them. Rumors that the cabbie had been killed led to six days of rage, leaving 26 people dead. Less than a week after the end of Newark’s riots, Detroit was in flames. Police action—this time against an after- hours bar—once again lit the fire. Disturbances grew so intense that not only did the governor call out the Michigan National Guard, but President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in army troops equipped with machine guns and tanks. The riots lasted five days, leaving 43 people dead and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed.

Milwaukee’s two-day upheaval began the night of July 30. By national standards, it was a relatively small disturbance. But it left whites in Milwaukee absolutely terrified, and it had a lasting impact on the city’s psyche.

The outbreak was fueled by rumors that a white policeman had killed an African American boy. Before long, the central city was beset with arson, gunshots, and looting. At around 3:00 a.m., Mayor Henry Maier instituted a 24-hour curfew and asked that the National Guard be called out. Only emergency and medical personnel were to leave their homes. Mail delivery and bus service were suspended. Those who violated the curfew were subject to immediate arrest.

The following morning, the city’s freeways and streets were empty and still. Six armored personnel carriers, each mounted with a .50 caliber machine gun, were ordered into the Milwaukee area. In the central city, the Milwaukee Journal reported, “every pedestrian and civilian vehicle was challenged by troops armed with bayonet-tipped rifles.” The riots left four people dead, almost a hundred injured, and 1,740 arrested.

Maier’s show of force was widely praised as saving the city from even more devastating consequences. At the same time, nothing of substance was done to alleviate the conditions leading to the unrest and anger in the African American community. [emphasis added.]

Shortly after the riots, Father Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council again took up their demands for open housing. And, just as they had crossed into the suburb of Wauwatosa, the civil rights demonstrators were not afraid to venture into white supremacist strongholds of Milwaukee. The decision led to the now legendary marches across the Sixteenth Street Viaduct separating the city’s downtown and Inner Core from the South Side.

On Monday, August 28, 1967, protesters gathered at St. Boniface in the central city. For the first time, they set out for the South Side, infamous as a stronghold of ethnic whites opposed to civil rights.

In a tribute to Father Groppi’s reputation among his former South Side parishioners, a small group of supportive whites from St. Veronica’s met the demonstrators at the beginning of their march across the bridge.1 By the time the protesters walked the half mile across the bridge, however, matters had changed. Most of the 3,000 whites on the other side were hostile, with signs that read “A Good Groppi Is a Dead Groppi.” Some yelled “Sieg heil,” others “Go back to Africa.” The marchers continued. Before long, counterdemonstrators along the march route were throwing bottles, stones, and chunks of wood at them. Another 5,000 white counterdemonstrators were waiting when the civil rights protesters arrived at their destination, Kosciuszko Park in the heart of the South Side.

The next night, Groppi and the Youth Council once again headed to the South Side. This time, an estimated 13,000 counterdemonstrators challenged them. Once again, Groppi and the marchers continued. After their march, they returned to their Freedom House in the Inner Core. At about 9:30 p.m., the house was on fire. Groppi said the police started the fire with tear gas; the police said a firebomb had been tossed into the house by an unknown person. When fire trucks arrived, the police would not let them near, citing reports of gunshots and fears of a sniper. “Youth council members said the gunshots came from police weapons,” writes journalist Frank Aukofer in his civil rights history of Milwaukee. “No arsonist or sniper ever was found.”2

After the day’s events, Mayor Maier banned nighttime demonstrations. On the night of August 30, however, Groppi held a rally at the burned-out Freedom House and led a march down city streets. Police ultimately arrested 58 people.3 The next night, declaring that Maier’s ban violated their First Amendment rights of assembly, marchers headed toward city hall. Some 137 people were arrested, including Alderman Phillips and Father Groppi.

Within days, the mayor was forced to lift his ban. Keeping their promise to continue marching every day, Father Groppi and the Youth Council didn’t stop even during the cold winter months, when temperatures sometimes dipped below zero.

On the South Side, white racists organized Milwaukee Citizens for Closed Housing, led by a white priest, Father Russell Witon. Decrying  “forced open housing,” Father Witon and his supporters organized counterdemonstrations at the Milwaukee archdiocesan chancery office and in the central city. The group, however, had more fury than staying power. Their efforts dwindled.

Open housing supporters, meanwhile, refused to give up. Beginning with the walk across the Sixteenth Street Viaduct on August 28, 1967, they continued with marches and protests for 200 consecutive days.4 Finally, propelled by national events, Milwaukee’s power brokers realized they could no longer hold onto the past. On April 30, 1968, Milwaukee’s Common Council finally passed the open housing bill. The vote occurred two weeks after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated during his campaign in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis. Riots of rage broke out across the country. In Milwaukee, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people marched somberly but peacefully through downtown.

The open housing legislation ended a long chapter in Milwaukee’s civil rights struggles, spanning almost a decade and involving the city’s seminal civil rights leaders and organizations. As early as 1961, [Desegregation activist Lloyd] Barbee helped organize a 13-day sit-in at the state capitol to ban discrimination in housing. In 1965, by that time a legislator, Barbee successfully co-sponsored statewide open housing legislation, but even supporters acknowledged it was a weak bill. In Milwaukee, meanwhile, Phillips and Groppi were pushing the more comprehensive local ordinance.

Barbee, Phillips, Groppi, and countless other activists easily moved between housing, school, and employment issues. They believed not only that the issues were inherently intertwined but also that they all had deep roots in overarching problems of racism and discrimination. …

Readying Students for the Conflagration

By Brian Gibbs and Holly Gibbs

When the LA Times reported that there was negative backlash from the Portland School Board’s decision to make certain that climate change was accurately described in all textbooks and instructional materials we had two reactions: A shrugging “Of course.” And, an exasperated “We’re still arguing about this?

In 2016, reputable scientists of all political stripes, conservative, liberal, and everywhere in between, agree our planet is heating up causing major fluctuations in weather patterns, extreme swings in temperature, increases in extreme weather events such as hurricanes, and rising sea levels that have recently subsumed part of the Solomon Islands. These scientists agree that human actions are the cause. This is why the Portland School Board’s decision entailed that the language not be softened in the textbooks and instructional materials and that they remove language that equivocates like “possibly,” or “perhaps,” or “one theory indicates” because there is no doubt about the causes and consequences of global warming.

Unlike some historical interpretations that can be argued and interpreted based on the available documents and historical record, or a piece of literature that can be open to multiple interpretations, that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity is an agreed upon fact. Many argue consensus existed years ago, and that the skeptics were outliers whose fringe views were given along side well established fact, only because media outlets were so determined to appear impartial. In the case of our changing climate, evidence comes from irrefutable measurements of air and ocean temperatures, retreating glaciers, and rising sea levels. Peer reviewed articles, interpretation of data, and critical feedback, and discussion by an extensive community of scientists, over many—too many—years, in fact, has led to our current understanding that climate change is happening, at an alarming rate, and that it will radically impact the lives of everyone in the world.

This isn’t the first time that content, curriculum, and textbooks have been changed. It is an ongoing and constant process. What facts and information should be included in texts and curricular materials, what should be focused on, and what should be lessened or removed from curriculum is an ongoing process as more evidence is discovered, new theories are tested, and consensus is built among academic and educational communities. Authors, genre of literature, historical content, mathematical knowledge, and scientific research are all reviewed, examined, and changed.

Recently the Armenian community launched a successful effort to include the study of the Armenian Genocide in the California content standards, for example. Concerned that an important history relevant to their community and to students statewide was being ignored, citizens organized, petitioned and successfully added the study of the Armenian Genocide to state requirements. Without citizen engagement a tragic and important part of history may never have engaged the minds of students.

We can no longer say with false hope that the changes we have experienced are generational shifts the Earth has always experienced. Scientists worldwide have come together repeatedly to loudly assert in one voice that climate change is here. It is a simple and profound truth that grasps at the root of what our children will face. How long must we keep them in the dark by shrouding the absolute certainty of the challenges? We need the next generation to be armed with the truth so that they can find solutions to the inevitable worldwide complications and social upheaval that will result. Our children must be inspired by the truth.

Social studies textbooks at one time didn’t include topics such as slavery, civil rights, tensions between classes, and other topics that were deemed too controversial. Harold Rugg, a teacher and scholar, wrote textbooks that included these and other issues to encourage students to engage difficult content and to apply it to their lived existence. When severely critiqued he responded, “The world is on fire, and the youth of the world must be equipped to combat the conflagration.”

Rugg was correct then and he’s right now. The world is heating up. This will have profound effect on how our children live and exist. They need to know climate change, fully understand it, so that in their futures as business women and men, lawyers, doctors, teachers, fire fighters, professors, artists, community activists, and politicians, they can live their lives in a way that could possibly save it.

The Portland School Board and the small group of thoughtful committed citizens who brought the proposal to the board, ought to be thanked and commended for their work. We hope above hope that the Portland resolution sparks change that spreads to school districts nationwide.

Brian Gibbs taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 16 years. He is an assistant professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a contributor to Rethinking Schools magazine.

Holly Gibbs is an assistant professor of Geography and Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on global land-use change.

 See the Rethinking Schools book, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis, for teaching resources. Rethinking Schools has made available a “seed packet” for individuals and organizations interested in initiating a school district climate policy similar to that adopted by Portland, Oregon Public Schools.

Nation’s Largest Teachers Union Endorses Teaching “Climate Justice”

By Bill Bigelow

In May, the Portland, Oregon school board passed the country’s first comprehensive “climate justice” resolution. The school board voted unanimously to “abandon 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. The Portland resolution said that students in city schools “should develop confidence and passion when it comes to making a positive difference in society, and come to see themselves as activists and leaders for social and environmental justice—especially through seeing the diversity of people around the world who are fighting the root causes of climate change…”

That effort received a big boost last week in Washington, DC, when the country’s largest union, the National Education Association (NEA), voted at its national convention to support the Portland resolution and to encourage state and local affiliates to create and promote climate literacy resolutions in their own communities, using the Portland resolution as a model. The NEA has close to 3 million members, and its convention is dubbed “the world’s largest deliberative assembly,” with 7,000 delegates.

The effort to pass the resolution was led by teacher delegates from Oregon, Washington, California, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, and included members of the national Badass Teachers (BATs) caucus.

Oregon teacher Kathleen Jeskey was one of the delegates supporting the NEA resolution: “Clearly teachers from all over the country see that it is past time to teach our students the real science of climate change and properly prepare them for the future. BATs is a caucus dedicated to social justice and we realized that no other social justice issue can be dealt with properly if we ignore the issues around climate.”

In addressing the convention, Jeskey paraphrased the Portland climate justice resolution: “We must commit ourselves to providing teachers, administrators, and other school personnel with professional development, curricular materials, and outdoor and field studies that explore the breadth of causes and consequences of the climate crisis as well as potential solutions that address the root causes of the crisis, and do so in ways that are participatory, imaginative, and respectful of students’ and teachers’ creativity and eagerness to be part of addressing global problems and that build a sense of personal efficacy and empowerment. Our schools must play a leadership role in modeling for students climate and environmentally friendly practices.”

NEA delegates passed a second resolution, sponsored by Noam Gundle of the Seattle Education Association, calling for the teachers union to “publicize the work of NEA members educating students and their communities on issues of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change using innovative project-based learning and cross-curricular methods.”
There remains an enormous gulf between the severity of the climate crisis and the attention given the crisis in U.S. schools and in widely used text material. In testimony before the Portland school board in May, members of the community group Educating for Climate Justice, shared examples of textbooks currently in use in Portland schools. One passage in Physical Science: Concepts in Action tells students: “Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants, and other sources may contribute to global warming.” The small section on climate change is filled with this conditional language of “may” and “might.”

A social studies textbook used in Portland and around the country, Holt McDougal’s Modern World History, begins its second of three paragraphs on climate change: “Not all scientists agree with the theory of the greenhouse effect.”

Portland’s resolution was passed with the support of more than 30 community groups including 350PDX, the Sierra Club, the Portland Association of Teachers, Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Climate Action Coalition, and the Raging Grannies.

The Milwaukee-based social justice education publisher Rethinking Schools has been distributing “seed packets” to parents, educators, and community activists around the country, which include a copy of the Portland resolution, supporting articles, an “Organizing Lessons from the Portland Climate Justice Resolution,” and excerpts from the Rethinking Schools book, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis.

Rethinking Schools’ interim executive director, Bob Peterson, former president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, an NEA local, suggested the NEA’s “new business item” in support of Portland’s climate justice resolution. “Today’s teacher unions should recognize that educators need to address social and environmental justice issues,” Peterson said. “The NEA’s support of the Portland climate justice resolution offers teacher unions around the country a concrete way to connect teachers, parents, and the broader community on an issue that concerns us all.”

The process of replicating the Portland climate justice resolution is already underway. The Seattle Education Association’s Noam Gundle plans to use the NEA’s endorsement of the Portland resolution to begin a similar effort in Seattle, working with other teachers, sympathetic school board members, and the King County Labor Council. Gundle said, “This is a first step in educating our students on the most important issue of our time.”

billbigelow-100x100Bill Bigelow is curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the Zinn Education Project. He co-edited A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis. Learn more about the Zinn Education Project and how you can help bring people’s history to the classroom.

***Blog first published on the Huffington Post***

Cook quote

A Dialogue with the Curriculum of Our Nation: A Critical Reading of Moments

By Courtney B. Cook

Courtney Cook sent this poetic response to the murder of Philando Castile to Rethinking Schools. We wanted to share it with our readers as a source of healing and a call to action. Cook is a former high school English teacher who has been engaged in justice work and critical education in high schools, prisons, and youth-run organizations. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Cultural Studies in Education at University of Texas at Austin.

I went to sleep safely on Wednesday night with Alton Sterling and his family in my heart and with a heaviness of despair at my doorstep. I woke up Thursday morning to a world without Philando Castile and because I could no longer stomach the videos of Black men being murdered by police, I listened only to the audio. Then I listened again and typed the transcript, and considered more carefully the words and grief of Diamond ‘Lavish’ Reynolds. I want to be in dialogue with this moment. I want to be in dialogue with Ms. Reynolds and her child to say I am so sorry. I want to be in dialogue with the Black community in this nation and say, yes, your lives matter.  I want to be in dialogue with the police who mishandled her and her daughter after senselessly killing her partner – pay attention, I want to say! You are accountable, you are responsible, you have to do better. You do not have the right to kill Black people. Importantly, I want to be in dialogue with my white community who may not be listening – it is your privilege that allows you to move forward without paying attention. We don’t deserve the safety we’ve been granted anymore than Philando and Ms. Reynolds and her daughter do. Anymore than Alton Sterling did, or any of the others whose names deserve to be listed, who deserve to be memorialized and remembered, who deserved safety and protection because that is what we, as citizens, are promised. I want to be in dialogue with my white counterparts who may be passively watching these videos as they become commonplace, or worse spectacle, or who may be expressing outrage and advice only in digital spaces without taking action – active solidarity is the only solidarity. We have to show up or we are complicit. I want to be in dialogue with my fellow educators and ask this question: if the curriculum of our nation is teaching us that Black lives don’t matter, that police have the right to kill and go free, then why not use this transcript as a part of your curriculum? Why not study it carefully, read it critically, write letters in response to it to your local police and politicians as citizens asking the questions that these events might conjure in the hearts of young people facing terrifying realities?

The following is that attempt towards dialogue with this reality; to read this moment as curriculum with a critical eye of an educator, of a white woman, of a citizen who continues to hope for justice and democracy and humanity to take the lead. It takes its form by responding directly to Ms. Lavish Reynolds, the officers involved, and other audio which is partially transcribed from the recording she shared with the world during the time of her unimaginable tragedy. Unless otherwise indicated, the language which is not italicized is transcribed speech from Ms. Reynolds directly.


we got pulled over for a busted tail light

I, too, have been stopped for a busted tail light. My boyfriend joked with the officer about the Boston Red Sox. I got a warning. I am still breathing. He didn’t even get murdered. Served and protected by our whiteness.

he’s licensed

Dear politicians who employ your rhetoric of safety and defense for the right to carry firearms,

Licensed carry for what kinds of citizens? Which bodies get to carry openly within your definition of safety? Who gets to carry guns within your conception of self-defense? Which people get to abide by the laws you work so tirelessly to defend? The message I hear is clear: gun rights for whites.

 he let the officer know he had a firearm

and was reaching for his wallet

Philando’s mother said he was taught to “comply, comply, comply.” His was killed in compliance. To you, Philando’s mother, I am so sorry. He did not deserve this. You did not deserve this.

 [Murdering Officer:]


No. His compliance didn’t kill him. A man killed him. An officer of the law shot four shots into the window of a car with a four-year old in the backseat. An ambassador of justice yelled profanity into the ears of the victims. In case his shots fired weren’t loud enough, he demanded his confused reaction to his own action to be heard. No, his power in the pistol was not enough, he extended his reach to constrict space as his voice silenced victims’ cries of grief and fear. Shame on you, Officer. For murdering a man, for pointing a gun at his lover, for cursing in front of a scared child and polluting her air with your toxicity.

 [pause for compliance.]

 yes sir, I will, no worries.

Compliance. Respectful language. No worries, she said. And now it is the duty of the victim to calm the culprit. Must we expect her to call her partner’s murderer Sir? No worries she said. No worries. No, he mustn’t mind the worry her child will change through after this trauma. He mustn’t mind her worried, weary soul; the ways she must worry her memories of moments with her partner – moments taken from her en route to an irrecoverable future – like a stone in her pocket she rubs and rubs until worry itself erodes it into non-existence.

oh my God please don’t tell me he’s dead.

please don’t tell me he’s gone.

please Jesus don’t tell me he’s gone.

please Officer,

please don’t tell me you just did this to him.

Please. Please. Please. Please God and Jesus and Officer. Please reality be an illusion. Please fictions of justice be more of a fiction and less of a reality. Please interventions from the Heavens make a difference. Officer, you just did this to him. Please comply. Please call yourself a killer, a thug with a gun. Please explain yourself. Please take responsibility. Please use your experience to speak to other murderous and untrained officers. Please Officer, you just did this to him and, yes, you are a You in a system of Y’all’s and Y’all bear the burden of murder and we hold you all – and you – in contempt of justice that we wish to no longer accept as a fiction, because the truth of the fiction is a man bleeding to death in a passenger seat of a car with a broken tail light, and a grieving lover a foot away from him, and a terrified child stunned in a backseat, and your finger on the compressed trigger. In your hand the still warm pistol pointing into innocent faces, in your hand a tool of death not justice. Please Officer, see your hand holding the gun, see your fear pulling the trigger, see your power as an alienable right which we are standing at the ready to alienate loudly and persistently until You and Y’all see a Black body and know that the right to life is unquestionably real. Until you hold as an unalienable right that Black lives matter and you are not author to the stories of who gets to live and who must die.

where is my daughter?

do you got my daughter?

Who has this mother’s daughter? How can we hold this mother’s daughter? How can I, with my feminine whiteness and all its power it doesn’t deserve, serve the Black mothers and their daughters and their sons in the absence of a justice system that does not meet that promise? How can I leverage my shield of whiteness to stand in for the protection that this justice system denies?


Keep walking

Keep walking

Keep walking

Keep walking

Keep walking an officer orders. Keep walking. What if her legs are tired from all the walking you’ve forced her do? What if her feet have blisters from walking and walking and walking through the combat zone you’ve created in her very own neighborhood, despite careful compliance with your orders to walk and walk and walk? Thousands of others have walked and walked and walked through histories which neglect this violence. They have walked and walked and walked in a direction towards racial justice and how long will the order “keep walking” come down from architects of the violence? It is not her duty to keep walking. Let her rest. Shame on you, Officer.


Get on your knees

Get on your knees

A woman forced to get on her knees before a man. A man in uniform with a badge of power. A mother forced into violent submission of your power while her daughter is crying. Forced to negotiate measures of safety and knowing, and learning, that safe spaces are as much of an illusion as the justice you claim to serve. A lover whose dead partner’s shirt is still wet with blood, who kept walking and walking and walking and courageously broadcast her torture. Who testified her experience to the court of us all, who is forced to kneel before you like the human God that you and y’all imagine yourselves to be. Like a human God that we all, in our silence and complicity, in digital outrage that isn’t supported by human action – by not putting our white bodies in the street, on the steps of the capital, in community spaces of care and support – join in a fellowship of praise. Digital outrage, fleeting hashtags, tweets and reposts do not account for change. Shame on you, Officer, for your orders and shame on us if outrage does not translate to action. White counterparts, if you cannot understand your inaction as your unearned privilege, if you do not see your ability to choose whether or not to be a body in action involved in a movement towards racial justice, then you do not understand that our whiteness and its power is the bedrock of the problem.

[the mother’s daughter is crying]

[click-clack of handcuffs into further confinement of the mother whose child is crying]


Ma’am you are just getting detained right

now until we get this all sorted out, okay?

What exactly are you “sorting out?” How do you sort out the murder of an innocent man? What’s to sort? Why do you contain a woman, a mother, a partner, and deny her daughter comfort, so you can “sort out” the “all this?” All this? This human life, you mean? Sort it out? A murderer who is not cuffed while an innocent and traumatized victim is? “All this” is everything – everything wrong with your understanding of justice and humanity and procedure. There is no procedure to follow when yours are the bloodied hands of responsibility, but I assure you that the direct course of action to follow is not to contain a grieving lover and mother who is on her knees before you, who has walked and walked and walked while you refer to the life of her partner as “all this.” Shame on you, Officer.

Mother, I hear your grief. Sweet girl, I hear your crying; Philando, I heard your voice as you spoke before breath left you. You and you and you did not deserve these degrees of despair. You and you and you did not deserve this counterfeit justice which calls itself by the name of human God.

Please don’t tell me

Please don’t tell me Lord Jesus

Please don’t tell me my boyfriend is gone

Please don’t tell me he’s gone

I am so sorry. I am so sorry.



I am so sorry. I am so sorry.


Stand up and walk over here.

You with your orders, quiet down, shut your mouth. You with your power to murder cannot be blind to the grief You and Y’all have caused. You with your fear of repercussion shut up, shut up, and listen to this mother’s, this lover’s, this child’s grief and hear it and know you are responsible. Shut up and listen and see her and see what You and Y’all have done. I wish blood stained skin like it stained Philando’s shirt, like it stained Ms. Reynolds’ empty passenger seat, so you cannot forget. So you cannot turn away from responsibility.

Don’t let him be gone.

I am so sorry.

[Murdering Officer:]


Shut your mouth. This is not a space for your grief or your shock or your incomprehension. You did this. I know you have grown accustomed to being heard and not being questioned and I know it because I, too, am bearing witness to your actions, but please shut your mouth. Are you worrying that we will find out what you’ve done or that you will be held responsible? No worries, remember? No worries, administrative leave is your future. No worries, indictment is not. No worries, your hands clasp through history with the hands of lynch mobs and will be thrown into the archive of the hands of persons unknown. Quiet down. We cannot hear you until a new language is spoken from your mouth.

He started shooting for no reason.

Thank you for your truth. It is a truth that is not to be contested. The media may try, but I believe you. This is a truth of trauma and we as her witness must hear this truth and not tangle it into spectacle. He started shooting for no reason. Thank you for your truth. You and you and you did not deserve this. There was no reason.

[Murdering Officer:]



I am so tired of your voice. Oh, was this an “accident?” Hold your power with the same smugness in which you held your pistol. If to be a man with power is to murder another in front of her lover and child then use that manhood to contain your growls of disbelief.

You wanted his license and registration.

You told him to get it Sir…

We force the victim to remind the perpetrator of reality. Realities which will be called fictions, fictions which will not be acknowledged as reality. Lavish, I am so sorry.

Please don’t tell me my boyfriend is gone.

I am so sorry.

he don’t deserve this

he’s a good man.

he worked at J.J. Hill Montessori School

he had no records of anything

he never been in jail

he not a gang member, anything

You force her to justify Black life to you. We force her to justify Black life to us. Black life does not require justification. Black life does not require justification. Black life does NOT require justification. I believe he was a good man, Lavish. I am so sorry. I am so sorry for the students who he smiled at in the cafeteria having to learn of his death, having to watch it in the news, having to experience a grief that cannot be held. I am so sorry for what we have done to support the system and praise the human God of power that changed your life. I am so sorry. He did not deserve this. You did not deserve this. Your daughter did not deserve this. Your community did not deserve this. Black life does not require a justification.


Please Lord…

that you allow him to be still here with us

wrap your arms around him

the Police Officers are not allowed to just kill these people like this.

spare their heart Lord.

Your name, Diamond, comes from the Greek word meaning indestructible. Diamonds were once imagined to be tears of the gods. The gods weep with you. Your compassion amidst grief which asked the Lord to spare the hearts of murderers in the moment is humanity at its most magnificent depth. I am so sorry. I hope your Lord wraps her arms around Philando and holds him warmly. I hope your Lord folds you into her embrace through your grief. I am so sorry.


You know we are innocent people Lord.

…we are innocent people.

We are innocent.

Your innocence is unquestionable and you did not deserve this. You are innocent people. I hear you. I do not doubt you. I know you are speaking truth. We must consider guilt and innocence as James Baldwin did in a letter to his nephew 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

In 1963 he wrote to his nephew:
“I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it    and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning   destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”

The officer is not innocent. His colleagues who cuffed you and failed to acknowledge your grief are not innocent. The system that supports their actions is not innocent. They are guilty and I see their guilt. We see his guilt.

[Four year-old child:]

I want to give my mommy…

Can you take the handcuffs off me?

I am so sorry you could not hold your daughter.

I am so sorry.


Can you search her?

I can’t. It’s got to be processed.

I can’t.

Is the murdering officer in cuffs? Is he in cuffs as you sort out the all of this? Is he still holding his gun in his hand while the innocent mother’s are clasped behind her back unable to hold her daughter?


I don’t know what kind of condition he’s in

because I’m handcuffed in the back of a police car.

I am so sorry, Diamond. You did not deserve this.


I’m scared mommy

Sweet girl, I am so sorry you are scared and that you should be scared. I am so sorry the police scare you and should scare you. I am so sorry you are scared. You do not deserve to live in fear. I am so sorry.

Don’t be scared.

The strength of a mother, the power of a woman.

It’s okay Mommy.

It’s okay I’m right here with you.

Sweet girl, I don’t know when it became your weight – the grief of the world’s madness. I don’t know when we decided that our nation’s children would have to carry the impossible load of terror and violence on their shoulders and in their spirits, and you do not deserve to have to be so beautifully strong. You are innocent. You deserve that innocence. You are beautiful. Your life does not require justification. Your mother is beautiful. Your mother is strong. I am so sorry you are afraid. You are beautiful.

Y’all please pray for us.

Yes, of course. Of course.  

We have to do so much more. We have to do so much more. If you are forced to keep walking, keep walking, keep walking we have to walk with you, we have to kneel beside you, we have to walk and walk and walk and I want you to know that I will be walking. I will be listening carefully until the powerful pistol-holders who call themselves Gods are blinded by the dust from our tracks. It is only by wiping their eyes clean that they will be able to see. I, and we, will be here walking until you get to rest.