The Role Students and Educators Played Before NFL Players Protested on Sunday

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[This article first appeared in The Progressive in October 2016. We’re republishing it following Sunday’s unprecedented protests in the National Football League to highlight the role that students and educators played leading up to this moment. We also want to highlight the newest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine, which has five cover stories and and an editorial focusing on Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools. As educators returning to our schools this year, we must rededicate ourselves to building an education system and a society that values Black lives.]

By Jesse Hagopian

The jocks. The marching band. The cheerleaders. The Black Student Union. The teachers. And the administration. These disparate high school groups rarely come together.

But at times of great peril and of great hope, barriers that once may have seemed permanent can collapse under a mighty solidarity. The crisis of police terror in Black communities across the country is just such a peril — and the resistance to that terror, symbolized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem — is just such a hope.

On September 16th, the entire football team of Garfield High School, the school I teach at in Seattle, joined the protest that Kaepernick set in motion by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. While the Garfield Bulldogs were among the first high schools to have an entire team protest the anthem, it has since spread to schools around the nation. Their bold action for justice made headlines. Their photo appeared in the issue of Time that featured Kaepernick on the cover and CBS News came to Garfield to do a special on the protest. And in the New York Times, Kaepernick himself commented on the Garfield football team saying, “I think it’s amazing.”

It was a rejection of the rarely recited third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which celebrates the killing of Black people, the ongoing crisis of state violence against Black people, and an affirmation that Black lives matter. As the Garfield football team said in a statement they later released:

We are asking for the community and our leaders to step forward to meet with us and engage in honest dialogue. It is our hope that out of these potentially uncomfortable conversations positive, impactful change will be created.

And those conversations led them to analyze the way racism is connected to other forms of oppression and the way those forms of oppression disfigure many aspects of their lives, including the media and the school system. Yes, football players publicly challenging homophobia may be rare, but the Bulldog scholar-athletes aren’t having it.

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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.


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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As the School Year Begins, Open Minds to Equality Offers Ideas for Teaching Against Racism and Hate

By Nancy Schniedewind

oepn mindsAs­­­­ the school year begins, we social justice educators must work harder than ever to make Black lives matter in our schools and to educate students about racism — especially given the hateful rhetoric, racist practices, and unjust policies that abound in our nation’s communities and schools.

While clearly a challenge, it is also an opportunity.

[The latest issue of Rethinking Schools focuses on making Black lives matter in our schools.]

Here in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York, Trump’s victory has emboldened some white students to express a sense of racial superiority in various ways. Soon after the election, one student strutted down the hall of a local high school exclaiming “white power” and waving both arms high in the air. In a middle school in a neighboring district a group of white students surrounded a cafeteria table of students who had immigrated from Mexico and chanted, “Build the wall.” And some undocumented elementary school students were not even coming to school because their parents were afraid they would be picked up by immigration officials.

As educators we have a responsibility to combat white supremacy in our schools and can bring an anti-racist, pro-justice pedagogy and curriculum to our classrooms. We can work to build a classroom community where Black lives matter and where students can share their concerns and fears and get support not only from us, but from their peers. We can also better respond to teachable moments by bringing a social justice lens to our teaching, and in age-appropriate ways we can implement learning activities to heighten students’ understandings of racism and other “isms” and teach them skills they can use to challenge and change them.

Ellen Davidson’s and my book, Open Minds to Equality: A Sourcebook of Learning Activities to Affirm Diversity and Promote Equity, offers a wealth of resources toward these goals. [Also, the latest issue of Rethinking Schools focuses on making Black lives matter in our schools.]


Ideas for Anti-Racist Teaching Against Hate from Open Minds to Equality

Open Minds to Equality is a valuable resource for responding to teachable moments about racism; as well as Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant discrimination. It also provides a sequential series of learning activities to educate students about racism and other forms of discrimination so they can respond with deep understanding and critical perspectives to current manifestations of structural violence and be more able to act for change in their schools and communities.

Below are examples of some of the many learning activities in Open Minds to Equality that contribute to these goals. Noted are the chapters they come from and a brief summary of the activities. These activities focus in particular on racism, but some link learning to other “isms” based in gender, class, language, sexual orientation, religion, and ability.

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800,000 Reasons To Teach About DACA

Resources for Explaining the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program to Elementary School Students

By Grace Cornell Gonzales

“It just kind of sucks. I mean, going to college and getting financial aid are difficult. And I’m having a lot of trouble finding jobs. I’ve been here basically my whole life. And Yahaira was born here, so she won’t have these same problems. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life now that I’ve graduated from high school.”

“Yikes,” I said, shaking my head. I didn’t know what to say to Andrés, the 19-year-old brother of my 3rd-grade student, Yahaira. He was helping me chaperone a field trip to the Oakland Museum of Children’s Art and we were sitting on a bench watching the 8- and 9-year-olds chatter away while they ate their lunches in the courtyard.

I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t tell him I knew how he felt. I couldn’t even imagine.

It wasn’t just him, of course. About half of my 3rd graders in 2009 — those who had immigrated to the United States with their parents and were undocumented — would find themselves in the same situation once they finished high school. And as teachers we were motivating them to be readers, to be writers, to be scientists, to reach for their goals, to reach for the stars — all so that they could confront this same cold reality once they tossed their graduation caps in the air. No real access to college. No jobs. Sometimes even a driver’s license was out of reach. Getting pulled over for running a stop sign could mean deportation to a country most didn’t even remember.

But when DACA passed in 2012, there was hope for young people like Andrés and the students in my 3rd-grade class. Since 2012, 78 percent of the 1.1 million eligible young people in the U.S. — almost 800,000 — have applied for and been granted protections under DACA, allowing them to study and work legally in the United States. My former 3rd graders are 17- and 18-years-old now, old enough to have applied for DACA but not old enough to have truly started reaping its benefits.

Those students are just some of the 800,000 reasons to be heartbroken about the Trump administration’s announcement yesterday to rescind DACA. But as educators, if we stopped teaching every time the political reality was heartbreaking, if we stopped coming up with creative lesson plans every time Trump and his racist administration did something that was, well, racist, we would never teach.

It’s time to start teaching our students about immigration, about deportation, and about DACA — now.

Teaching DACA Now
As teachers, we may be reeling personally from this week’s announcement about DACA, but we also need to figure out how to process the news and explain it to our students — and we need to do it right away. What is happening with DACA and with undocumented immigrants in general affects them all, with varying degrees of intensity. And our students deserve to be a part of this national conversation.


You can find Rethinking Elementary Education here:

So here are some resources I’ve put together to start teaching DACA and the DACA repeal in elementary school classrooms. These are tailored toward upper elementary classrooms — 4th and 5th graders — but could be adjusted down to lower elementary or up to middle school.

Children’s Picture Books About Documentation and Deportation
In order to understand what’s at stake with DACA, students first need to grasp what it means to live in the United States without documentation and how this limits a person’s opportunities. They also need to understand what deportation is and how it can tear families apart. If you teach in a context where many of your students have direct experiences with immigration and deportation, try to create space for them to share their fears and their own knowledge safely. “Qué es Deportar?” by Sandra Osorio that was published in Rethinking Schools is a valuable article that shows how a teacher used book groups and discussions to make space for tough conversations and really listen to her students. Remember, especially in this political climate, to never press students to share information about themselves and their families that they feel uncomfortable sharing or that isn’t safe to share in your school community.

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Outrage — and Resources for Teachers — After the Trump Administration Ends DACA

By Ari Bloomekatz

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was once dubbed a “champion of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremists” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, announced Tuesday that the Trump administration was rescinding DACA, an Obama-era program that allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth to live in the United States without the constant threat of deportation.

The blow to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides renewable two-year work permits to some 800,000 immigrants, reverberated across the country and there have already been protests in several cities. In many places, the protests have been led by students, young people, and educators.


“We are angry for all the young undocumented immigrants that haven’t turned 16 yet and are waiting to apply for DACA. We are angry, for all the DACA parents that could lose the job that supported their family. We are angry, for all the plans that DACA recipients had that now seem impossible. But we are also strong,” said Thais Marques, a spokesperson for Movimiento Cosecha, which organized a protest at Trump Tower in New York City that resulted in the arrests of nine undocumented youth. Other allies were later arrested demanding the release of those who are undocumented.

“Our strength and resilience have never depended on a work permit,” Marques said.

Educators across the country, many of whom have students who are undocumented, were also furious and decried the Trump administration’s decision.

“Undocumented students are welcome in my classroom. Teachers will build [a] movement to defend students from Trump #DACArepeal #NoOneIsIllegal” Garfield High School (Seattle) teacher and Rethinking Schools editor Jesse Hagopian wrote on Twitter.


Grace Cornell Gonzales, a former elementary school teacher who is an editor of Rethinking Bilingual Education, wrote that “the future of DACA and our undocumented students is the future of our country.”

“As educators, we owe it to these young people to do everything in our power to fight for them — and against this xenophobic administration that is playing with their lives for its own political gain,” Gonzales said. Continue reading

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


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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As the Year Begins, the Burning Question on Every Teacher’s Mind: “What Should I Say About Charlottesville?”

By Deborah Menkart

What was troubling enough as 20th century history is happening in the present time. It is essential that we have discussions about Charlottesville in the classroom.

Charlottesville“What should I say about Charlottesville?”

It’s the burning question on every teacher’s mind as the new school year gets underway.

On Twitter, users add lessons and resources to the #CharlottesvilleSyllabus and #CharlottesvilleCurriculum pages; everything from identity charts to readings on the history of white supremacy to conflict resolution activities.

It’s all good stuff.

However, what is needed is not just day-after or week-after lessons, but a chance to reexamine what children learn about history — and themselves — all year long. This work needs to begin in elementary school, where students’ ideas about their place in the world are shaped.

“Young children’s minds are like sponges, soaking up the most obscure, profound (and sometimes erroneous!) things imaginable,” Rethinking Schools editors wrote in the introduction to Rethinking Elementary Education.

The Rethinking Schools editors add that for teachers, the challenge is to help young students to acquire the “critical dispositions and questioning” skills that “set the stage to encourage children to act on what they’ve learned — to have ‘civic courage,’ to act as if we live in a democracy.” The editors stress that they do not want to teach students what to think or “how their teachers think their parents should vote.” Rather, they aspire to “create a learning community that models and thinks hard about values of justice and empathy.”

Charlottesville has been a national wake-up call (sadly one of many) as to how important it is to create classrooms that model the justice and empathy values.

Here are some ways to do that in elementary school classrooms:

First and foremost, it is vital that young people have a place to process disturbing news and to be reassured that their lives matter and that they are safe. The images of Nazis and other white supremacists marching with guns and impunity are unnerving for most of us, but can be particularly traumatizing for students of color, Native Americans, Muslims and Jewish students.

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