Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice

RR LC DW intro-hooked (1)

Our new book, Rhythm and Resistance edited by Linda Christensen and Dyan Watson, offers practical lessons about how to teach poetry to build community, understand literature and history, talk back to injustice, and construct stronger literacy skills across content areas and grade levels—from elementary school to graduate school. Rhythm and Resistance reclaims poetry as a necessary part of a larger vision of what it means to teach for justice.

Here is the introduction. Please purchase your copy today on our website.

INTRODUCTION

Most people understand creating a poetry book with the word rhythm in its title, but resistance?
Some folks might think we mean students resisting poetry, but we don’t. Students resist when poetry rustles in dusty tomes, when they are asked to bow before sacred texts, and memorize terms and spit them back on multiple-choice exams. But when students dive headlong into writing poetry, when they share the living, beating heart of their own words, when they hear the pulse of joy and rage from their classmates, they are hooked.

The opening chapters of Rhythm and Resistance demonstrate how poetry can build classroom community and develop students’ confidence in their writing. In order for students to feel like they belong, they have to feel both visible and valued. As Alejandro, one of Linda’s former students wrote, “It wasn’t until we began to write poetry that I started to feel comfortable with writing. Poetry provided me the freedom to start in the middle of my thoughts and finish wherever I wanted. It was circular and allowed me to express myself. After I nervously read a poem in front of the whole school, I finally understood the power and influence of words. The compliments that I received from other students also challenged my definition of what I believed was the only way to get respect.”

For us, the resistance in the title means defiance. We encourage teachers to resist making essays the pinnacle of all writing. Yes, essay writing is important and necessary and can be exciting, but the essay is only one genre of writing. Focusing almost exclusively on essay, as many districts encourage teachers to do, limits student ability to write with passion—and skill—across the genres. Even if the goal is to improve essay writing, we need to teach narrative and poetry. They provide the tools—story, sentence cadence, active verbs—that move students to write passionate persuasive/argumentative essays about issues in the world that trouble them.

We also encourage resistance to the narrowing of curriculum to serve the job market or college; we resist the focus of “drilling down” on facts and on what’s testable. Certainly, students should leave school prepared to enter the real world—the real world where hunger and poverty exist alongside immense profits snuffing out opportunities for family-wage jobs, the real world where wars continue year after year, where governments promise glory to soldiers, but return broken humans. Part of an education for the “real world” must teach empathy, must call attention to policies and actions that harm society’s most vulnerable.

Rhythm and Resistance encourages students to reflect on their own lives as well as the lives of others who people newspapers, literature, and history. We want them to cheer the triumph of Celie at the dinner scene in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple  or to care about Central American children as they brave “The Beast,” or “The Death Train” as it is called by these migrants searching for parents and hope. Through poetry, young people can breathe life into the voices of those who usually don’t find ways into classrooms or textbooks, including their own. This kind of education prepares them to meet the real world with a sense of humanity.

And by resistance, we also mean teaching students to talk back to injustice. When we open our classrooms for students to discuss contemporary issues, we encourage commitment to active engagement as citizens of the world by introducing them to poets like Martín Espada and Patricia Smith, Paul Flores and William Stafford, Katharine Johnson and Renée Watson, Lucille Clifton and Lawson Fusao Inada. We build a culture of conscience by offering students both a context and a vehicle for standing up and talking back when they witness injustice, encouraging them to add their voices to the choir of people who link arms and march in solidarity for a better world. Whether they recite their poetry on a stage framed by dusty blue curtains, as Alejandro did, or a makeshift bandstand at a protest in the park against budget cuts or police brutality, students need opportunities to voice their outrage, to spill their odes and hymns, sonnets and sonatas about the ways society needs to change.

As June Jordan wrote in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint:

Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter. I would hope that folks throughout the U.S.A. would consider the creation of poems as a foundation for true community: a fearless democratic society.

RR LC DW intro-title is invitationOur title is an invitation—asking teachers to join in and resist along with us, to help build this “fearless democratic society” that our students deserve.

Why Poetry? Why Now?
by Linda Christensen

You ask, “Why a book on poetry? Why now?”
Because we stand at the brink of public
education’s demise;
because funds from billionaires
control the mouths of bureaucrats,
who have sold students, teachers,
and their families for a pittance;
because curriculum slanted to serve the “job market”
carves away history and humanity,
poetry and narrative,
student lives and teacher art;
because teaching students to write an essay
without teaching them to write
narratives and poetry is like
teaching someone to swim
using only one arm;
because poets are truth tellers and lie breakers
wordsmiths and visionaries
who sling metaphors in classrooms,
in the narrow slices of school hallways,
on the bricks of public courtyards,
and cafés with blinking neon signs
without laying out a dime to corporations;
because new poets are rising up,
pressing poems against windows on Wall Street,
spilling odes down the spines of textbooks,
posting protest hymns on telephone poles,
bubbling lyrics on the pages of tests
designed to confine their imaginations;
because poems hover under the breath
of the boy in a baseball cap,
the girl with a ring in her nose,
the boy with his mom’s name inked on his neck,
and the silent ones in the back:
she’s the next Lucille Clifton
and he sounds like Roque Dalton, saying:
“poetry, like bread,
is for everyone.”

Here are additional quotes from the book. Please share this great resource with your network! You can find more in our twitter feed.

RR PS second throat

RR RW young people need space

RR AT construct a classroom

RR LC pain power

Black Students’ Lives Matter: Building the school-to-justice pipeline

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

Read the full article on our website: rethinkingschools.org.

David Bacon

We’re at a tipping point. The killings of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride—and far too many other African Americans—have put to rest the myth of a “post-racial” America. In death, these Black youth—shot down with impunity because of the color of their skin—have provided a tragically thorough education about police terror and institutional racism, and ignited the Black Lives Matter movement.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was originally created by queer Black women activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi as a call to action after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin in July 2013. Their battle cry went viral and then turned into a national uprising when Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager. The movement exploded when Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted for choking to death Eric Garner.

As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown, Black students have played a pivotal role. For example, at Seattle’s Garfield High School, some 1,000 students, led by the Black Student Union (BSU), walked out the day after the non-indictment of Wilson was announced. As 17-year-old Issa George, vice president of the Garfield BSU, told the Seattle Times: “This is our time, as youth, to speak. . . . The waking up that America has done in the past couple of months—something that us as youth get to witness and get to be a part of—has been extremely powerful.”

College, high school, and even middle school students have staged protests and school walkouts in cities around the country. According to reporting by the Nation’s George Joseph and others, student activists of the Baltimore Algebra Project held a die-in when their local school board voted to shut down the first of five schools. The board fled, and the students took over their chairs to lead a community forum on the closures.

Black students take these risks because they know their lives and futures are at stake—from police violence on the street; from the dismantling of their communities through foreclosures, gentrification, and unemployment; and from the destruction of their schools through corporate reform.

The School-to-Grave Pipeline

For the past decade, social justice educators have decried the school-to-prison pipeline: a series of interlocking policies—whitewashed, often scripted curriculum that neglects the contributions and struggles of people of color; zero tolerance and racist suspension and expulsion policies; and high-stakes tests—that funnel kids from the classroom to the cellblock. But, with the recent high-profile deaths of young African Americans, a “school-to-grave pipeline” is coming into focus. Mike Brown had just graduated from high school and was preparing to go to college when police killed him. According to a 2012 investigation by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a Black person is killed by law enforcement, security guards, or vigilantes every 28 hours. A recent ProPublica report found that “Blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.”

The Black Lives Matter movement inspires us to fight the school-to-grave pipeline as an example of structural racism, after decades in which anti-racism has been defined in excessively personal terms through anti-bias or diversity training. Anti-bias work focuses primarily, and often exclusively, on internal and interpersonal racism. In other words, if you strive to not be racist in your personal relationships, that’s good enough.

There is definitely a place for personal reflection and discussion of racist attitudes and beliefs. And there is no doubt that many individual police officers need anti-bias training and to be held responsible for their actions. But that’s not enough, as the statistics on police violence, incarceration, school suspension and dropout rates, inequitable school financing, and school closures make clear. These are all sharp indicators of structural racism. When Michelle Alexander says mass incarceration is “the new Jim Crow,” she insists that the racist structures that have existed since slavery have mutated and changed, but they have not been eradicated. We can’t understand, teach about, or change what’s happening in this country if we don’t face this fact. And our students know that. Being an effective teacher in today’s society means taking the Black Lives Matter movement seriously.

For all the “students first” rhetoric of the corporate education reformers—who claim their policies are directed at closing the “achievement gap”—they are conspicuously absent from the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, the corporate reform agenda is in direct conflict with the goals of the movement. In city after city, Black students are those most affected by the decimation of neighborhood schools, the “no excuses” discipline and rote teaching of charters like KIPP, the substitution of endless test prep for meaningful curriculum, and the imposition of two-years-and-I’m-gone Teach For America corps members on our highest needs students.

Black Lives Matter doesn’t just mean Black people don’t want to be shot down in the streets by unaccountable police. As anti-racist teachers and students, we need to expand the slogan to include:

  • Stop closing schools in Black neighborhoods.
  • Fund schools equitably.
  • Support African American studies programs and substantive multicultural curriculum.

When activists staged a Black Lives Matter die-in in Detroit last December, Will Daniels, from United Students Against Sweatshops, told the Nation: “As a Black student, my rationale for doing the die-in was that structural racism causes not only police brutality, but also the starving of majority Black schools. This is a subtler form of violence.”

Let Black Children Be Children

The murder of Tamir Rice exposes a connection between individual racism and structural racism with important implications for teachers. Tamir was only 12 years old when police showed up at the Cleveland park where he was playing with a toy gun and shot him down within two seconds of their arrival. When his 14-year-old sister ran over, she was tackled to the ground and handcuffed. The officer who called in the shooting described Tamir to the dispatcher as a “Black male, maybe 20.”

Overestimating the age, size, and culpability of Black children is a widespread phenomenon, according to The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children, based on research led by Phillip Atiba Goff and Matthew Christian Jackson of UCLA. One of their studies involved 264 mostly white female undergraduates who were asked to assess the age and innocence of white, Black, and Latino boys. The students saw the Black boys as more culpable and overestimated their age by 4.5 years. “Perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race and, for Black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said Jackson. “Black children may be viewed as adults when they’re just 13 years old.”

It’s not much of a stretch to see how this affects Black children in schools where the majority of their teachers are not African American. Any time teachers or administrators see Black children as older than they are, “just being teenagers” (or pre-teens, or little kids) becomes something threatening that has to be controlled or disciplined. How can children grow and learn if the adults around them see them as older and “guiltier” than they are? What will it take for school communities to eradicate this deeply embedded prejudice?

Why Not “All Lives Matter?”

As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown, some participants have questioned whether “All Lives Matter” is a more inclusive slogan. Although we recognize the serious impact of racism and other forms of oppression on many groups of people in the United States, we think it’s important to understand and talk with others about the historical and current realities behind this specific demand. As Alicia Garza, one of the movement’s originators, explains:

When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. . . . It is an acknowledgment that one million Black people are locked in cages in this country. . . . It is an acknowledgment that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families. . . . #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important—it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole.

A civil disobedience demonstration that closed down the federal building in Oakland during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend highlighted the connections. Behind a banner reading “Third World for Black Power,” protesters identified themselves as Arabs, Filipinas/os, Latinas/os, Koreans, Chinese, Palestinians, and South Asians “for Black resistance.” As Filipina activist Rhonda Ramiro said: “The wealth accumulated through the enslavement of Black people in the United States enabled the United States to go around the world and colonize countries like the Philippines. We see our struggle for independence as linked 100 percent.”

Within that framework, how teachers apply this understanding will obviously vary from classroom to classroom, depending on how old the children are, their experience and knowledge about the issues involved, and the level of community that has been built in the classroom.

How to Make Black Lives Matter in Our Schools

So what does all this mean in individual classrooms and schools? Here are a few ideas for bringing Black Lives Matter into our teaching:

>>Read the rest of the article on our website! 

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A People’s Curriculum for the Earth – book review

Education for Liberation wrote an excellent review of A People’s Curriculum for the Earth. One of our favorite quotes from the review, “This book offers plenty of ways to inspire without demoralisation, and empower with humility.”

Purchase your copy of APCE on our website.

Education For Liberation

Review by Nick Grant

A People’s Curriculum For The Earth
Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis
Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart Rethinking Schools 2014

At the heart of capitalist schooling the world over is a presumption that each learner is in competition with each other. From nursery to Ph.D learners are expected to

image assume a different and often aggressive set of goals separate from one another.

In the UK this is institutionalised in Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) given to 7, 11 and 14-year olds, which provide crude data for the compilation of performance league tables.

Likely progress in these tests determine functional arrangements such as patterns of student seating, and their access to additional teaching.

But the whole syllabi for GCSE, A Level, degree and post-graduate courses share a myopic belief that individuation is the prime purpose. There is a pragmatic assumption that employment is the quid pro quo…

View original post 1,049 more words

“The Agitator” at Rethinking Schools

HelenGymHelen Gym is a member of the Rethinking Schools editorial board, but that is only one of many hats she wears in her life as a mom, spouse, educator, and not-to-be-reckoned-with activist in Philadelphia.  The  Philadelphia Magazine recently ran this article about Helen, and the anecdote that best captures Helen’s passion and impact is this:

At A.S. Jenks, a quality K-4 school in South Philadelphia, only the kindergartners avoided enrollment in split grades. The parents were livid. But they had no idea how to actually change matters until they connected with Gym, who coached them in the art of activism. They filed complaints. They got in touch with the press. They organized a protest (in the rain) that lured the television cameras.

It worked. According to parents at the school, superintendent William Hite Jr. intervened personally. “I wrote on my Facebook page: ‘When I grow up, I want to be Helen Gym,’” says Jennifer Miller, a Jenks parent. “She really makes you want to fight for your children.”

We would argue that Helen makes us want to fight for all children, as do so many of our editorial board members-many of whom have been committed to social justice for decades.

Here’s more from the Philadelphia Magazine article. Read the full article about Helen here.

Helen Gym advances, and Mayor Nutter inches warily back. She waves a thick stack of papers at him, each sheath a complaint lodged by parents lamenting the calamitous conditions in Philadelphia’s reeling public schools. There’s the kid with dangerous asthma at the school without a nurse on hand. The dyslexic, orphaned high-school senior applying for colleges with no counselor to lean on. The bullying victim who fled Overbrook High only to find it impossible to enroll at another school.

“This is what we’re fighting against,” Gym tells Nutter. The Mayor is just a few yards from his office door, but he’s the one shifting his feet, looking to get away.

Minutes earlier, Gym had wrapped up a news conference in the ornate Mayor’s Reception Room, where, with the assistance of City Council, she’d usurped a podium usually used by Nutter and his invited guests. Gym and her allies were there to tout their latest pressure tactic: written complaints designed to compel the state to meet basic education standards and shake loose some badly needed dollars for the district.

“It would be nice to have your support, Mayor,” Gym tells him. Nutter issues a few noncommittal mumbles, cleans his glasses, and back-steps for the stairway. Gym shrugs. Powerful figures often look for the exits when she approaches.

That’s what happens when you develop a rep as perhaps Philadelphia’s preeminent public agitator. Relentless, whip-smart, meticulously prepared and utterly fearless, Gym—a private citizen who works without the heft of any meaningful institutional support—has managed to build herself one of the city’s largest bully pulpits . . .

A youthful 45, Gym is as ferocious as ever, and her public profile has never been larger. But these days, she’s laboring mightily not so much to remake the system as to preserve what’s left of it.

Philadelphia has become a premier battleground in a high-stakes national debate over the future of K-12 education. On one side are the self-styled reformers, a group with not much patience and a thirst for bold experimentation. On the other sit the teachers unions and, more interestingly, activists like Gym, whose opposition to the reform agenda is layered and nuanced but boils down to an aversion to the dismantling of traditional public schools and a deep-seated mistrust of the reformers’ motives.

Read more…

Articles by Helen Gym in Rethinking Schools:

School Closures Rock Philadelphia

Tiger Moms and the Model Minority Myth

Hot Enough for You? Time to Teach Against Fossil Fuels

by Bill Bigelow

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve been spared most of the brutal weather experienced in the rest of the country. Throughout the United States, in the month of June alone, 3,200 daytime high temperature records were broken or tied. In Washington, D.C., an 11-day stretch of temperatures above 95 degrees is the longest since records have been kept. The weird and deadly mid-Atlantic storm—the “land hurricane”—took the lives of 23 people and left 4 million without electricity. Colorado has suffered through the worst forest fires in the state’s history. And the fire still burning in southeastern Oregon is the biggest one the state has seen in 150 years.

As climate scientists will tell you, there is no way to link any single weather event to global warming. But as Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground website, said recently on Democracy Now!, “What we’re seeing now is the future. We’re going to be seeing a lot more weather like this, a lot more impacts like we’re seeing from this series of heat waves, fires, and storms. . . . This is just the beginning.”

And yet, the fossil fuel industry continues to lead the climate change denial parade. On June 27, a day when almost 200 high temperature records were broken, Rex W. Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, pooh-poohing climate change, saying that the problem was activist organizations that “manufacture fear.” Tillerson said that the problem was an “illiterate public,” which needed to be taught that all environmental risks were “entirely manageable.”

And conservative pundits proudly wave the same flat-earth flag. Arguing with E. J. Dionne on ABC’s This Week, George Will said, “You asked us—how do we explain the heat? One word: summer. . . . We’re having some hot weather. Get over it.”

In our editorial, “Our Climate Crisis Is an Education Crisis,” in the spring 2011 issue of Rethinking Schools, we wrote that the climate crisis is “arguably the most significant threat to life on earth,” and urged educators to respond with the urgency that the crisis deserves. The events of this summer have added an exclamation point to our editorial.

A new article by Bill McKibben in the July/August 2012 issue of Orion Magazine, “A Matter of Degrees: The Arithmetic of a Warming Climate,” holds profound implications for educators. McKibben begins with the reminder that there is a global consensus that if the planet warms more than 2 degrees Celsius, we enter the “guaranteed-catastrophe zone.” (And McKibben acknowledges that even 2 degrees may be too generous of a climate allowance.)

So McKibben does the arithmetic. To remain under the 2-degree threshold, we need to emit no more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide over the next 40 years. As he puts it, “It’s like saying if you want to keep your blood alcohol level legal for driving, you can’t drink more than eight beers in the next six hours.” But here is the problem. Analysts have calculated that all the claimed reserves from fossil fuel—coal, oil, and natural gas—companies add up to 2,795 gigatons, five times more than the maximum allowable, even in a scenario that itself is fraught with climate danger.

“Here’s another way of saying it: We need to leave at least 80 percent of that coal and gas and oil underground,” McKibben writes. “The problem is, extracting and burning that coal and oil and gas is already factored into the share prices of the companies involved—the value of that carbon is already counted as part of the economy.” This would be the equivalent of these companies writing off $20 trillion.

For those of us who take climate science seriously, I think that we’re left with an inescapable conclusion: It’s not enough to teach about fossil fuels, we have to teach against fossil fuels. Any curriculum discussion that fails to address the threat posed by fossil fuel consumption to humanity and the future of all life on earth is profoundly irresponsible.

To illustrate the criminal full-speed-ahead approach of the fossil fuel industry, here in the Northwest, coal companies are pushing plans to export between 150 and 170 million tons of coal a year from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana through six different Oregon and Washington ports to Asia.

Illustration: Erik Ruin

Put aside for a moment the horrible toll that coal mining takes on the land and water and people in Montana and Wyoming.

Put aside the coal dust pollution that destroys lungs and kills people.

Put aside the violation of Native fishing rights along the Columbia River, where all the coal would travel by train and barge.

Put aside the noise pollution and disruption from as many as 60 mile-long, diesel exhaust-spewing trains a day.

And instead think only about the climate implications of the hundreds of millions of tons of coal that will be burned if these export routes are opened—a yearly figure, by my calculations, of between 240 and 270 million tons of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of 65 coal-fired power plants. (Of course, anti-coal export activists are busy making sure this doesn’t come to pass.)

Educators need to do our part. We have to continue to create—and teach—curriculum that through role play, simulation, experiment, projects, art, story, media, and activism helps students explore the causes and consequences of climate change—and imagine economic arrangements that can stop hurtling us toward the “catastrophe zone.” This work is already under way.

We concluded our climate crisis editorial: “The fight for a climate-relevant education is part of the broader fight for a critical, humane, challenging, and socially responsive curriculum. It’s work that belongs to us all.”

It’s also work that has never been more urgent.

Bill Bigelow (bill@rethinkingschools.org) is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine.

Summer Reading Recommendations

It’s summertime, and who doesn’t need a few good books to take to the beach or park?

Listed here are some of the books we’ve recommended in Rethinking Schools magazine in the past year, and we think they would make fine choices for your summer reading list.

Our own Rethinking Schools titles also make for great summer reading.  Take 25% off any of our titles with discount code 5BSummerG12 until August 1, 2012.

I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters

Edited and introduced by Michael Long. 522 pp. $18.95

Although Rustin was the logistical genius behind the historic 1963 March on Washington, this was just one of his accomplishments over many decades. Textbooks have left Rustin in obscurity, no doubt in part because he was gay and for a period of time a socialist. Rustin was active in civil and human rights struggles dating back to the 1940s.  This book is a collection of more than 150 of his letters to fellow progressives including Ella Baker and Martin Luther King, Jr.


Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation

Edited by Jeff Bale and Sarah Knopp, 285 pp. $17

Bale and Knopp write as partisans in the struggles to transform schools in the process of transforming society—and they have invited contributors active in teachers’ unions, solidarity movements, and classrooms. The book’s foreword is an interview with Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow by teacher-activist Adam Sanchez.

What Teaching Means: Stories from America’s Classrooms

Edited by Daniel Boster and Marni Valerio, 235 pp. $20

At a time when everyone from computer geeks to talk show hosts pontificates about what should happen in the classroom, the press and the government ignore those who know schools best—teachers.  This collection of essays from the classroom reminds readers that what matters in our schools isn’t laws or standards, but the lives of students and the teachers who nurture them.  For the teachers in this book, classrooms are about the messy, painful, sometimes tragic, sometimes delicious work of teaching at a time when so many in our country struggle to survive. Readers will weep and laugh along with the teachers who crowd these pages.


Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage

by William Loren Katz, 254 pp., $19.99

This startling and readable new edition chronicles both the attempts to keep black people and Indians divided in the Americas, and their efforts to unite. Two lessons in the Zinn Education Project draw on Black Indians: “The Color Line,” about conscious efforts in early America to create divisions between the races; and “The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play,” which helps students explore events leading up to the Trail of Tears.


Crow

By Barbara Wright, 298 pp., $16.99

Crow is a historical novel about the brutal repression of African American voters that brought an end to the short-lived Reconstruction era. Shining a light on the 1898 Wilmington Massacre, Wright creates the character of 5th grader Moses Thomas, whose father is an alderman and reporter for the only African American paper in the South. Through young Thomas’ adventures and his conversations with his grandmother, who lived for decades in slavery, readers learn about day-to-day life in the black community.


No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and
Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Artwork by Gregory Christie, 188 pp., $17.95

An honest and engaging story about Lewis Michaux, whose Harlem bookstore was a center of African American history, scholarship, debate, and activism from 1932 to 1974.  The book is full of diary-like chronological entries—written in the voices of Michaux, his family and those who frequented the store, including Malcolm X and Nikki Giovanni—interspersed with reports from Michaux’s FBI files, newspaper reports, photos and Christie’s gorgeous illustrations.


News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media

By Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres, 456 pp., $29.95

The book documents how the media have played many roles with respect to race and racism—from ignoring institutional racism to actually functioning as a key pillar of racism by stirring up hatred and violence against people of color. Also included are dozens of inspiring stories of the Native American, African American, Latina/o, and Asian American  journalists and news outlets that we rarely learn about in school.


The John Carlos Story

By John Carlos with Dave Zirin, 210 pp., $22.95

The image of John Carlos and Tommie Smith with their fists in the air at the 1968 Olympics is recognized around the world. Yet, as with so much of history, we know about the event but not the story of the organizing by athletes leading up to the Olympics, nor what happened to Carlos and Smith afterward. Read this beautifully written book and you will realize that the full story is as powerful and gripping as the photo.

Have you read any of these books?  Tell us what you thought in the comments.

Spotlight on Dyan Watson

Dyan Watson joined the Rethinking Schools team as an editorial associate last year. You’ve probably noticed her wonderful articles in the magazine: “What Do You Mean When You Say Urban” (fall 2011) and “A Message from a Black Mom to Her Son” (spring 2012).

What you may not realize is that she co-edited our new publication, Rethinking Elementary Education. We thought you might like to know a little more about Dyan, who is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education and Counseling at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

Q: How did you get involved with Rethinking Schools?

When I was a junior at Portland’s Jefferson High School, I had Bill and Linda as my teachers in a combined U.S. history/American literature class. They introduced us to Rethinking Schools and a new way of learning and teaching. At some point, they included a poem I wrote in Rethinking Our Classrooms. My first subscription came with acceptance of that poem and I’ve been hooked ever since. Then, this past year, the board invited me to participate. As an RS fan—and
someone who wanted to participate in making the positive difference in others’ lives that Linda, Bill, and Rethinking Schools has made in mine—it was an easy choice.

Q: How have you felt about being on the editorial board?

My writing and ability to give meaningful feedback have improved tremendously. Listening to others critique and praise the submissions makes me a better writer and a more compassionate reviewer. This spills over into the classroom as I provide feedback to my students. I often feel my brain growing.

Q: Which articles in Rethinking Elementary Education would you especially recommend to teacher educators?
I think that a teacher ed program preparing elementary teachers couldn’t go wrong with any of the pieces. Taken as a whole, Rethinking Elementary Education is a powerful work that helps teachers think deeply about the impact they have on kids’ lives.

Q: How did you come to write “A Letter from a Black Mom to Her Son”? Why do you think it has resonated so strongly with parents and teachers nationally?

I didn’t think we had enough pieces in Rethinking Elementary Education that addressed race. After some discussion, the co-editors of the book decided I needed to write a piece since this is my area of research. I tried to put what I’ve learned in laymen’s terms, but it was boring and flat. The piece started with a story from my childhood, and that’s what captured the other editors’ interest.

Linda said, why not write it as a letter? After many drafts and tears—some of the stories were hard to put on paper—I had
a letter to Caleb, my older son. In the letter, I explained that there were many things about my education that I loved and am happy to have experienced, but there were some lessons that were unnecessary and painful. I don’t want Caleb or his baby brother Nehemiah to have to go through those kind of experiences. So this is a letter to their future teachers as much
as it is to either of them or any of our collective children.

I think the letter resonated with folks because of the Trayvon Martin murder. Even though it was written before this tragedy, the message in the letter and the experiences described are not unique to me or a small group of people. Folks from all over the country have written me to express their gratitude and how it summed up what they felt. For many folks of color, my letter is their letter. Many white teachers and folks who work with them want all teachers to be better than the majority of the teachers I describe. As one principal told me, they struggle with how to broach the subject and, fortunately, my letter to Caleb helps.