Teach the Fossil Fuel Industry — Our Students’ Enemy

By Bill Bigelow

Photo: Joe Brusky

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

A while back, I was invited to lead a workshop on teaching the climate crisis at a teacher education program at a Portland-area college. I chose an activity I wrote called “The Mystery of the Three Scary Numbers” — included in the Rethinking Schools book, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth and at the Zinn Education Project’s Teach Climate Justice site. It’s based on a famous Bill McKibben article in Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” The terrifying math that McKibben lays out is simple: In order to keep the climate from warming more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial temperatures, the world’s “carbon budget” is 565 gigatons — carbon of all sources that, collectively, the world can emit and have a reasonable hope of staying under two degrees. The terrifying number is how much carbon is stored in the known reserves of fossil fuel companies and countries that act like fossil fuel companies, like Saudi Arabia: 2,795 gigatons — five times the amount of the world’s carbon budget. Yes, I know, there are lots of problems with this formulation. For example, two degrees is a horribly inadequate target, one that will condemn much of the world to climate catastrophe. And the 2,795 number grows every day, as profit-driven fossil fuel companies, and the governments they purchase, drill and dig and scrape the Earth for still more fossil fuels. But the core lesson remains: We cannot burn a substantial portion of known fossil fuel reserves and hope to survive.

In the activity, students receive short clues on strips of paper about different aspects of the three scary numbers — 565 gigatons, 2,795 gigatons, 2 degrees Celsius — and circulate in the classroom, finding people with other clues that connect with theirs. Following the activity, students write on the three numbers, what makes them scary, and the implications: What should we do?

The future teachers had lots of thoughts on this, but one was especially passionate: “We have to convince the fossil fuel companies to keep all these fossil fuels in the ground — it’s crazy to continue to explore for more and more when we already have too much.”

This was a well-meaning comment. But think about this for a moment. The climate crisis puts at risk the future of life on Earth. It is lunacy that humanity and nature should be held hostage by the fossil fuel industry, that we should have to — or even could — plead with them to exercise restraint. These corporations cannot be reasoned with; they cannot be talked into committing suicide as fossil fuel producers. An article in the Aug. 9, 2019 edition of the New York Times (“With Saudi Aramco Set to Disclose Earnings, Could an I.P.O. Be Next?”) underscored what’s at stake for these companies. Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, had 2018 profits of $111 billion, making it by far the most profitable corporation in the world. Said another way: The more this industry ignores the climate crisis, the richer it gets.

And yet, the threat the fossil fuel industry poses to the future of life on Earth makes almost no appearance in mainstream curriculum. Here in Oregon, where I taught social studies for almost 30 years, the state K–12 social studies standards, approved in May of 2018, include not a single mention of “fossil fuels,” “oil,” “coal,” or “gas” in the standards’ 27 pages.

The Next Generation Science Standards acknowledge that “Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming).” But the standards fail to acknowledge the fundamental contradiction between continued fossil fuel use and planetary survival. Instead, a middle school NGSS standard offers this meek (and convoluted) suggestion: “Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.”

No doubt, teachers can use this standard to teach critically, but this obfuscating language fails to acknowledge the obvious: We are in a climate emergency; our house is burning down and it’s urgent that we stop those people who are pouring fuel on the fire.

We need a curricular conversation about how we can teach about fossil fuels from the earliest grades through teacher education, and in multiple disciplines. At the Zinn Education Project, we feature simulations and role plays that can help students recognize how the fossil fuel industry jeopardizes life everywhere:

These lessons tell the truth about the deadly impact of fossil fuels, so as to engage students in the vital work of exploring alternatives — through organizing and activism. And teaching against fossil fuels is not just for older students. In a forthcoming Rethinking Schools article, Portland, Oregon, 2nd-grade teacher Rachel Hanes describes a Storyline project she taught with her students, in which citizens in their imaginary community of Happy Town receive a letter from the president of the Carson Environmental Oil Co., proposing a pipeline that will come through a part of their town and “bring many new high paying jobs to your area.” Student-citizens joined a town hall meeting to discuss the proposal, wrote persuasive letters to the mayor, and defeated the proposal in a community-wide vote. Rachel followed up by introducing her students to other young activists at Standing Rock and in the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit.

 “Climate justice” education means a lot of things. But one key aspect is that we involve students in probing the social and economic roots of this crisis. The climate crisis is inexplicable without looking at the intersection of fossil fuels and the capitalist system. Students everywhere need to understand the role that the fossil fuel industry plays in jeopardizing their futures — and learn how to resist. Today, these should be basic skills.

A People's Curriculum for the Earth

Bill Bigelow (bill@rethinkingschools.org) is curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine, and co-edited A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis.

Black Lives Matter At School National Week of Action Feb. 4 – 8, 2019

We call on educators to make commitments to teach social justice, anti-racist curriculum and foster student conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement. We also call on educators to grow the Black Lives Matter movement in every school and union.

The National Black Lives Matter Week of Action is one month away. Rethinking Schools editors and staff endorse the week of action Feb. 4-8, 2019, and encourage all educators, students, parents, unions, and community organizations to sign on in support and participate.

Black Lives Matter At School is a national coalition of educators organizing for racial justice in education. Last year, during the 2018 week of action, thousands of educators in more than 20 cities participated to affirm the lives of Black students. Educators taught lessons about structural racism, Black history, and anti-racist movements during the week of action and beyond.

The Black Lives Matter At School demands are simple:

1) End “zero tolerance” discipline, and implement restorative justice
2) Hire more Black teachers
3) Mandate Black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum
4) Fund counselors not cops in schools

Below is a compilation of resources for educators who are committed to making Black lives matter in school. This is NOT white-washed, scripted curriculum. These resources are for educators determined to make classrooms sites of resistance to racism and anti-Blackness.

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The Official Black Lives Matter At School Starter Kit & Lesson Plans

 

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Teaching For Black Lives
Take 25% off your copy with code: GOT4BL25

 

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Rethinking Schools Magazine

 

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Coming Soon: Rethinking Ethnic Studies
Preorder for 20% off your copy + a free sticker with code: RES18L

 

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Free Rethinking Schools Archive Resources & Lesson Plans

 

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Zinn Education Project Week of Action Resources

 

 

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Teaching for Change #BlackLivesMatter Collection

 

Correction: January 7, 2019 A previous version of this post referred to Jazmine Barnes, a 7-year-old girl killed last weekend in what was believed to be a racially motivated attack. On Sunday, police arrested two African American men in connection with her death. Previously, witnesses identified a white man in a red pick up truck as the shooter. We believe these new details warrant a correction and apologize if our earlier post left an incorrect impression.

As activist Shaun King told the New York Times, “We live in a time where somebody could do something like this based purely on hate or race. That it turned out to not be the case, I don’t think changes the devastating conclusion that people had thought something like that was possible.”

You can read more about updates to the case here. 

While the details of Jazmine’s death have changed, our commitment to Black students remains the same.

Linda Christensen on the Second Edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up, What Role the Classroom Played in Revision, and What Needs to Change in How We Teach

Rethinking Schools published Linda Christensen’s Reading, Writing, and Rising Up in 2000. The original book, Linda says, was based on her first 20 years in the classroom at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon. Since then, Linda’s work has been recognized as an essential resource for integrating social justice into language arts classrooms. She followed the first edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up with Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-imagining the Language Arts Classroom and Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice, which built on her work of engaging students with writing by integrating their lives into the classroom.

The second edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up captures her imperative of bringing students’ lives into the classroom not just to build literacy skills, but to help students uncover the roots of inequality and meet real and imagined people and movements who have worked for change.

It’s been almost 20 years since the original Reading, Writing, and Rising Up arrived. Linda has spent several years — in between her work as director of the Oregon Writing Project and working with teachers locally and throughout the country — rewriting, revising, and reteaching the lessons in Reading, Writing, and Rising Up.

The new volume is fully revised and features new sections, updated lesson plans, and exemplary student work. The book is a gift to a new generation of students and teachers. We sat down with Linda to talk about what readers can expect.

Rethinking Schools: What was the process of revising and putting together the second edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up?

Linda Christensen: I had a whole new body of material that I had been working on since the original Reading, Writing, and Rising Up came out, and a few people thought that some of the articles in Reading, Writing, and Rising Up (particularly the cartoon unit “Unlearning the Myths that Bind Us”) were dated.

That led me to think about whether I wanted to write a new book or if I wanted to update Reading, Writing, and Rising Up. I thought about it a lot, and there were so many teaching pieces in Reading, Writing, and Rising Up that I still used and that still resonated with other educators, so I decided to do a full revision of the book rather than creating a new book.

I talked to a number of teachers and professors who use the book and asked them what pieces they thought remained current and what pieces they thought needed to be revised. Then I went back through and looked at each of the articles. My production editor, Kjerstin Johnson, also examined the book for places that were dated. Then I retaught almost every lesson to see how they worked today, whether they were still relevant, and what needed to be changed.

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Educator Rosie Frascella from Brooklyn, New York, couldn’t wait to pick up the new edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up.

You said you retaught many of the pieces. What role did the classroom play in the second edition?

The classroom is my source of inspiration. Out of the classroom I can create curriculum, but I need to observe students, listen to their class talk, and read their pieces to determine whether the lessons land or fall with students. I needed to see how lessons resonated with students today versus students 20 years ago. I keep returning to the classroom because it’s where I find my joy. I can’t think about teaching in isolation, away from classrooms.

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Victory for Mexican American Studies in Arizona: An Interview with Curtis Acosta

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In 2010, state lawmakers in Arizona passed legislation that banned courses that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” But the legislation was, in reality, specifically targeting a Mexican American Studies program that started decades ago after Black and Latino students filed a desegregation lawsuit.

While Tucson initially kept the Mexican American Studies program, the school board caved in 2012 and ended it after threats that they would lose a significant portion of their state funding.

Part of ending the program meant banning the Rethinking Schools book, Rethinking Columbus, from classrooms along with Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America, and 500 Años del Pueblo Chicano/500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures by Elizabeth Martínez. In some instances, school authorities shocked students and confiscated the books during class.

After several legal challenges, a federal judge last week ruled that the state of Arizona violated the constitutional rights of students by eliminating the program, and further went on to say that those who targeted it were motivated by racism and political opportunism.

Ari Bloomekatz talked with Dr. Curtis Acosta about the ruling for the Rethinking Schools blog. Acosta taught for 20 years in Tucson with the Mexican American Studies program, was a plaintiff in some of the initial legal challenges to the ban, and was an integral part of the challenge that eventually prevailed. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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ARI BLOOMEKATZ: Were you surprised by the verdict?

CURTIS ACOSTA: Shocked is better than surprised. At the end of closing arguments, Judge A. Wallace Tashima made it pretty clear — he said it was going to take him a couple weeks and it took him a little bit longer than that. And so we knew it could be any day, and I wasn’t surprised when it finally came, but we were definitely shocked with the intensity, and the care, and the totality of the victory. Judge Tashima’s legal analysis was just exhaustive in how he connected all of the actions, both in the production and construction of the law as being highly motivated by racial animus, to the application, to the enforcement. It was amazing, so that’s the reason the word shocked comes to mind. Just an incredible moment in history and an incredible punctuation to a long journey.

BLOOMEKATZ: It’s been a really long journey. How did you feel as your lawyer was telling you about the verdict?

ACOSTA: Absolutely shocked and in disbelief that it went our way so decisively. We knew we had the truth on our side, we knew what we went through. We knew who these people were who did this to us, and it’s just after so many years of being told you’re crazy, and we have tinfoil hats, and down is up and up is down, it was just shocking to hear the clarity and the affirmation, the validity of our program, of my colleagues and me. Our integrity was restored through a 9th Circuit judge. This is the United States of America judicial system, it’s pretty amazing to think that Mexican American students and the Mexican American community and ourselves as Mexican American teachers

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could find this form of justice. We always believed in it, you have to, otherwise you don’t keep seeking justice and you quit and obviously we never quit. So the reaction was one of just exhilaration and disbelief. The disbelief part because that validation was never coming from the state of Arizona, and it certainly wasn’t coming from our school district who bent to the will of these racist actors. And it turned the tide of what was once a very beautiful community, a strong program that was leading the way for what we see now kind of catching fire throughout the nation, and so our humanity was restored to a large degree. I was just overwhelmed with excitement about the fact Judge Tashima saw what really happened and the evidence was overwhelming and he saw it clearly.

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Hoodies Up! Black Lives Matter!

By Moé Yonamine

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“I don’t understand why people talk about him like he’s a criminal. He was a 17 year-old kid,” Kiana said. Kiana was one of more than 100 students in my Mock Trial classes at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon. As the most diverse high school in the state, our students brought in stories and connections to the criminal justice system that could not—and should not— be ignored in critically analyzing the justice system.

Many of my students have expressed feeling excluded by the legal and criminal justice system in talking about what is truly “just.” From the first day of class, students made it known that they were hungry for the real education—one that was relevant to their lives, that empowered them with learning about fighters who looked like them, and that gave them tools to change systemic injustices that they have seen in their own lives. Learning about Trayvon Martin was an important example.

Many students who are now juniors and seniors, brought up Trayvon Martin’s name when offering examples of injustice in the criminal justice system. Even some of the youngest 9th-grade students could recall where they were as middle schoolers when they learned about George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict.

Students could see themselves in Trayvon or in someone they care about. The heartbreaking question that continued to surface was: If this can happen to Trayvon, what does it say about society’s love and value of our lives? We read, we wrote, and we shared about each other’s stories of a time they or someone they know or watched experienced racial injustice. Several students gave recent examples of being stopped or harassed as they wore their hoodie. Dave, a white freshman student chimed in compassionately, “But it’s not like everyone gets stopped,” he said. “I could probably walk around with a hoodie on all day long wherever I go and not get harassed. It’s just wrong.”

Through these first months of school, we continued to hear on the news about Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice. We watched Usher’s new music video, “Chains” and Janelle Monae and Wondaland’s recent performance in Portland of their song, “Hell You Talmabout,” that sings through a painful list of unarmed African Americans who have been killed nationally, and in the Portland area.

“Why don’t we know about any of these people?” asked Reanna. “What can we do? I just want to cry.” Over winter break, many watched the news, and learned that the police officers who shot and killed Tamir Rice would not face trial. At the chime of the bell to begin class on the first day back, Myia began, “I could not wait to come back to school and talk about this. What was so reasonable about shooting a 12-year-old kid?”

As a teacher, I want to create a community where students can feel embraced in their sense of justice and injustice, to be able to imagine a more just world, and to learn how to be agents in making change. We had to learn how to organize for action and it needed to start in our own neighborhood. I encouraged students to go back to the questions that we started the year with as we began to educate ourselves on the criminal justice system and the prison system: What is the problem? What is the solution? Whose voices are included? Whose voices are missing?

Our Mock Trial classes watched a speech by Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, who spoke at Maranatha Church in Portland last April asking the community to remember her son on his birthday with a special message to youth to be a part of taking action to creating a more just community. The students quickly reflected that their voices as youth from their North Portland neighborhood were missing. Our neighborhood is comprised of immigrants and refugee peoples with historically underrepresented African American and Latino groups, as well as low-income white families. Students were inspired to target February 5th, Trayvon Martin’s birthday, as a day of action to address systemic racism and racial profiling.

The students busily designed not just one project, but six projects leading to their day of action: creating fliers calling on a school-wide wearing of hoods, drafting letters to teachers and administrators, developing a student survey to ask about peer experiences, reaching out to the media about the day of action, and organizing a panel of prominent fighters from the African American community. Students in my three classes composed this letter:

Dear Teachers,

When we learned about Trayvon Martin, a lot of us were very impacted by his story. He was 17 years old from Miami. He, like us, had many dreams; one of which was to attend the University of Miami to study aviation and become a pilot. He was known for wearing his hoodie all year round even on the hottest summer days and was wearing a hoodie on his last day. What got to us also was the way that he was described in the trial and in a lot of the media as if he was “suspicious” or bad because he, as a young Black man, walked around wearing a hoodie. This is something that many of us can relate with and we want it to stop.

We put on a trial back in the fall and learned a lot about what happened on that last day. We also have been paying attention to reactions from around the country and learned about how “Black Lives Matter” began as a response by one of the founders in hearing about the verdict of George Zimmerman. Even since that verdict, we still keep hearing stories like Trayvon’s and we want to take a stand… We ask you, our teachers, to stand with us by wearing your hood. We also ask you to support your students in keeping their hoods on during class. It is a silent statement but a loud statement we hope to make together. He could have been someone we know or someone we care about.

Having our school united on this day with our hoods up will send a message that Black Lives Matter and our lives matter here. Our school may be the first one to have a school-wide Hoodies-Up Day in Portland and can lead our community by making this an annual reminder. We hope to inspire our neighborhood to take action by taking this stand against racism and racial profiling. If there is one thing we have taken away from this organizing for this day, it is that we will be active participators in making history and not passive bystanders watching it all happen.

Their statement was read over the intercom the morning of the Hoodies-Up day this past Friday. As students and staff flooded the halls in hoods, students boldly sought solidarity in their stand to end systemic racism and racial profiling.

In the afternoon, the students were met with a dynamic presentation on “Justice Is…” by educators, activists and community organizers: Julian Hipkins of Washington, DC’s Teaching for Change (via skype), Nyanga Uuka and Llondyn Elliott of the Portland Urban League, Kayse Jama of the Center for Intercultural Organizing, CJ Robbins of the City of Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights and Black Male Advancement, and Renée Mitchell, a prominent slam poet of Spit/WRITE who teaches journalism and storytelling at Roosevelt. Panelists spoke passionately about their own experiences with racial injustice, sharing stories of taking action individually and collectively, while commending this day of action and students’ courage.

As more than 120 students leaned in hungry to take in the panelists’ every word, a sophomore student of mine, Miley, leaned over to me and said, “This is just the beginning.” She smiled proudly, adding: “We’re never going to forget this day.”

To the media, the students had a strong message. “A hoodie doesn’t define me,” said TJ, signaling his resistance to the prejudice and discrimination he sees around him. “Know the person under the hood,” echoed Carter, demanding the world to see the humanity in the child that Trayvon was. Roosevelt’s Mock Trial students hope that this will be the first of many events where they as youth will be central in the vision and action for the changes they want in our community and society.

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Roosevelt Black Lives Matter Panel–View more photos from the day of action on Portland Public Schools flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/41430185@N08/albums/72157664399122315

Moé Yonamine teaches at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon. She is a Rethinking Schools editor.

Help Rethinking Schools Abolish Columbus Day

Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

Christopher Columbus was the first European to send enslaved people from the Americas to Europe, as well as the first to promote the enslavement of Africans in the Americas. And yet we still honor him with a national holiday? Please donate now to help Rethinking Schools teach a new generation of students the truth about Columbus and the people who were here first.

Almost 25 years ago, Rethinking Schools published our first booklet, Rethinking Columbus. We believed there were teachers besides us who would be eager for an alternative to the rah-rah Columbus-discovered-America textbook fare. We had no idea just how eager teachers were: Rethinking Columbus sold a thousand copies a day, seven days a week, for the first three months the booklet was in print. And, thanks to Native American organizations, teacher unions, social justice education groups, and progressive teacher education programs, Rethinking Columbus has gone on to become a resource in classrooms throughout the country.

Recently, we’ve been gratified to see the explosion of activism with cities and school districts voting to abolish Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day: Albuquerque, N. M.; Seattle and Olympia, Wash.; St. Paul, Minn.; Anadarko, Okla.; Portland, Ore.;  . . . and the list continues to grow.

Rethinking Schools—in conjunction with the Zinn Education Project, which we coordinate with Teaching for Change—plans a major push this year to undermine Columbus Day and to build support for Indigenous Peoples Day. As Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow wrote in “Time to Abolish Columbus Day,” his most recent Zinn Education Project column: “If Indigenous peoples’ lives mattered in our society, and if Black people’s lives mattered in our society, it would be inconceivable that we would honor the father of the slave trade with a national holiday.”

Who we celebrate helps determine the lives and experiences that are most valued in our society. By working to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, we hope to eliminate the silence around the history and current reality of Indigenous People as a testament to the importance of Indigenous lives. Rethinking Schools relies on supporters like you to help us continue this important work. Please donate today to  help us continue to teach the truth and to help make our world more equal and more just.

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Cuentos del corazón (Stories from the Heart): Fall Issue

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Letter from the Editors

Nothing reveals our attitudes about our students more clearly than the stance we take toward their home languages. Do we advocate for students’ right to education in their home language? Do we welcome their multilingual “stories from the heart,” and use them to anchor our curriculum, or do we demand English-only conformity?

These articles are evidence that the movement for bilingual and bicultural education...

Stories from the Heart​​

An after-school writing project for students and their families
By Jessica Singer Early and Tracey Flores
​Second graders and their families write together, countering Arizona’s English-only, segregated, and anti-immigrant school policies.
Spanish VersionCuentos del corazón: Una clase de escritura después de la escuela para estudiantes bilingües y sus familias

Ground your curriculum in your students lives

English-Only to the Core

What the Common Core means for emergent bilingual youth 
By Jeff Bale
Is the Common Core better than current approaches to English language learners—or the next salvo in more than a decade of attacks on bilingual programs?

CCSS will further erode bilingual education and linguistic justice

“¿Qué es desportar?”

Teaching from students’ lives
By Sandra L. Osorio

An early elementary school teacher realizes she needs to dump the scripted curriculum and basal reader, find Latina/o literature in Spanish, and make space for her students’ thoughts and feelings.
“¿Qué es deportar?”: Enseñar a partir de las vidas de los estudiantes

Schools were and are one front in an anti racist battle

Rethinking Schools is celebrating our 30th year of publication. For 30 years, teachers and activist like yourself have helped us publish articles and books, attend workshops and conferences, and spread inspiration for communities everywhere to fight for social justice in education. Please consider subscribing or becoming a monthly sustainer today to help us continue to spread our mission.

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>>Features

Who Made the New Deal?

Part I: What Caused the Great Depression?
By Adam Sanchez​
High school students play the Widget Boom Game to understand how overproduction and underconsumption helped cause the Great Depression.

Baby Mamas in Literature and Life

By Abby Kindelsperger
Inspired by students’ responses to her own pregnancy, a high school English teacher develops a unit based on teen pregnancy and motherhood—rejecting the usual deficit-based narrative of teen parenting.

A Midsummer Night’s Gender Diversity

By Lauren Porosoff
Middle schoolers explore how Shakespeare plays with gender expression and expectations in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Hidden Agenda of High School Assemblies

By Jessica Richter-Furman
A high school teacher realizes that, despite her school’s diverse student body, the students on the stage at assemblies are virtually all white and male. She sets out to understand why and to change the pattern.

we need to do everything we can to defend public education

DEPARTMENTS

Education Action

Books and Authors​

​By Renée Watson


Good Stuff

Beyond Magenta

Reviewed by Melissa Bollow Tempel

Resource
Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.