Leave the World Better than We Found It

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Introduction to A People’s Curriculum for the Earth

Edited by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart

It’s hard to say where the idea for this book originated. It may have been in 2007 when we looked at Modern World History, the new global studies textbook our school district, in Portland, Oregon, purchased. The book began one of its three miserable paragraphs on the climate crisis with the statement: “Not all scientists agree with the theory of the greenhouse effect.” And it was buried on page 679. This was the best that Portland could offer its high school students? (This widely adopted book, published by Holt McDougal, still anchors the official curriculum for Portland high school students’ sole class on today’s world.)

Or this book’s origins may have been at an excellent teach-in sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization in Washington, D.C., that same year, called “Confronting the Triple Crisis,” about climate change, the end of cheap energy, and resource depletion and extinction. A number of the contributors to this book presented at this extraordinary gathering: Vandana Shiva, Frances Moore Lappé, Bill McKibben, Michael Klare, and Jeff Goodell. We came away from that weekend convinced of the enormity of the crisis, but we also understood how each supposedly distinct crisis linked to all the others, and then tied back to the fundamental problem of a global economy driven by the quest for profit. The teach-in was our introduction to Annie Leonard’s short film The Story of Stuff, which captures many of these connections with humor and common sense.

The decision to launch this book—and how we imagined it—was no doubt heavily influenced by the powerful and interconnected analyses offered by the speakers at this teach-in. But we were dismayed that there was no discussion about what this all meant for K-12 education. How should environmental justice movements partner with the educators who work daily with the millions of young people learning their ecological A, B, Cs—or, perhaps too often, not learning them? Implicitly, the conference suggested that this was knowledge to be shared among adults. We left inspired and informed, but weighed down by the immense burden of figuring out how to “story” the environmental crisis through curriculum.

Power of Green Curriculum

Back home in Portland we initiated what we called an “Earth in Crisis” curriculum group, and invited colleagues to discuss and test out teaching ideas with one another. This collective nurtured many of the activities included in this book, and also identified key themes that weave through the book. One of these is that our curriculum must confront the false dichotomy between the environment and people. It’s a theme that Van Jones addresses directly in his TED Talk on “Plastics and Poverty,” included in Chapter One (p. 4). Jones points out that people were rightly concerned about the damage to living systems in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the BP Oil Spill. But he notes that we often do not seem as concerned when that oil gets to where it is “supposed” to go: for example, to petrochemical plants that dot Cancer Alley between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where it then poisons the largely poor and African American people who live there. Yes, the “environment” is about polar bears, dolphins, redwood forests, and bees; but it is also about human beings—workers, consumers, families, and community members. We call this book a people’s curriculum for the Earth because we try to keep the focus on the inextricable link between nature and people.

And this suggests another theme that emerged in our Earth in Crisis curriculum work in Portland: Everyone on Earth is affected by the environmental crisis, but we are affected unequally—based on race, class, nationality, or location. This is maddeningly evident with the impact of climate change. Throughout the book we feature stories about individuals and communities—Matthew Gilbert and the Gwich’in (p. 74), Koleo Talaki in Tuvalu (p. 96), Anisur Rahman of Antapara, Bangladesh (p. 98), the Aymara people of Bolivia (p. 137), the Yup’ik teenagers of Kwigillingok, Alaska (p. 143), and too many others to list, whose carbon footprint is virtually non-existent and yet who are among the first to suffer from its ravages. Similar issues of race and class are at play when it comes to exposure to workplace pollutants (“Combating Nail Salon Toxics,” p. 280), lead poisoning of children in urban areas (“Teaching About Toxins,” p. 283), or the pollution from mostly foreign-owned manufacturing plants that blankets poor communities around the world with deadly consequences (“Reading Chilpancingo,” p. 288).

This is not to say that people are not organizing in response to this toxic trespass, in the expression of ecologist Sandra Steingraber. They are. And some of them are featured in these pages: the Milwaukee students who blew the whistle on oil contamination in their neighborhood (p. 67), Maria Gunnoe’s passionate anti- mountaintop removal activism with communities in West Virginia (p. 210), the indigenous people described in Winona LaDuke’s “Uranium Mining, Native Resistance, and the Greener Path” (p. 321)—“resilient in the face of a deep history of genocide and destruction.” But there is a fundamental inequality at the heart of the environmental crisis—one that is central to the articles and teaching activities included in this book.

16Shorter Showers?

In our “Earth in Crisis” group, teachers kept returning to our students’ responses: They wanted to know what they could do personally. Early in our work, we concluded that we need to help students recognize the inadequacy of responding to the environmental crisis solely as individuals. As we mention in the teaching ideas for Chapter 3, “Facing Climate Chaos” (p. 174), there are entire books that urge students to consider their individual carbon footprints, suggesting that our personal patterns of consumption are a root cause of global warming. Students are urged to think about the frequency of their baths, their electricity use, the stuff they buy. Yes, of course, we want young people— and everyone—to be mindful of the Earth as we go through our daily lives. And we want students to recognize the power they have—collectively or individually—to make the world a better place. But it’s wrong to direct students primarily toward individual solutions to create change.

In his Chapter Five essay, “Forget Shorter Showers,” Derrick Jensen confronts this problematic celebration of individual action:

Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? As students’ awareness of the environmental crisis grows, this consciousness can be misdirected by social forces that have an interest in how young people respond. The energy industry would much prefer that our students change their light bulbs, recycle their soda cans, or even install solar panels than organize a demonstration at the state capitol to shut a coal-fired power plant, testify at a public hearing against fracking, or otherwise gum up their fossil fuel machinery.

And there is another way that this celebration of the individual needs to be questioned in a people’s curriculum for the Earth. Individual property “rights” have long been seen as synonymous with “liberty.” “Liberty! Property!” was a cry of the American Revolution. But there were other more democratic cries as well, like Benjamin Franklin’s famous assertion that “Private Property…is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing.”

What happens to the Earth if we respect the “right” of the fossil fuel industry to manage their assets however they please? More and more, the headlines are filled with the answer to that question: superstorms, drought, heat waves, melting glaciers, ocean acidification, species extinction, floods, drowning islands. A curriculum on the climate, and the environmental crisis more broadly, needs to address patterns of ownership and decision making. Our curriculum needs to confront the myth that private property is, in fact, private. The fate of the Earth “belongs” to us all.

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Capitalism

Helping students acquire a critical consciousness about the environmental crisis means we need to consistently encourage them to ask “Why?” Why is it that the future of life on Earth has been put at risk? It seems an impossible question to answer unless weengage students in thinking about the nature of global capitalism. Throughout the book, we draw students’ attention to this broader systemic context within which the environmental crisis is unfolding. Activities like “The Thingamabob Game” (p. 147) and the trial role play, “Who’s to Blame for the Climate Crisis?” (p. 163), explicitly confront students with the fundamental clash between an economic system that prizes wealth accumulation above all else and people’s need for a healthy environment. Capitalism insists that key productive decisions be made on the basis of what will yield the greatest profit. It grants God-like powers to unelected elites whose livelihoods depend not on creating a world of equality and environmental sustainability, but on making the most money. If we’re going to help our students not just describe, but explain, the environmental crisis, it is essential that educators name this elephant in our classrooms.

Joy amid Crisis

As this book heads to the printer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about to release what news outlets indicate is its most dire report to date—another in a string of reports, each with more urgent language and frightening scenarios than the one before. The new IPCC report warns that at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we are to avoid a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degree Celsius) rise in global temperatures over pre-industrial times (see “The Mystery of the Three Scary Numbers, p. 180 and “A Matter of Degrees,” p. 192). The consequence of exceeding these limits would “almost certainly have catastrophic effects, including a mass extinction of plants and animals, huge shortfalls in food production, extreme coastal flooding, and many other problems,” according to the New York Times, which received a draft of the report.

The news is bad. But despite the dimensions of the environmental crisis, students can approach this frightening content in ways that are lively and playful. Not long ago, we participated in a weeklong teach-in for 6th through 8th graders about energy issues at Sunnyside Environmental School, a public school here in Portland. Throughout the week, students heard speakers and participated in activities about everything from mountaintop removal coal mining to catastrophic oil spills to the civilization-threatening consequences of climate change. They also encountered people working on solar and wind power, local food initiatives, and other innovative responses to environmental challenges; but the week definitely offered an adult dose of planetary crisis. Nonetheless, in classrooms we visited during the concluding activist projects that students worked on, these middle schoolers were anything but grim; and their small- group work was electric with idea sharing and laughter. As with adults, we’ve found that students are able to live with contradiction; students grasp the sadness and injustice at the heart of the environmental crisis while finding joy and humor. For the book, we’ve selected activities that address key environmental concerns, but these activities do not invite despair. They are engaging, and feature collective work that triggers student playfulness and imagination.

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Interconnections

Throughout the final stages of working on this book, we collaborated with Portland teaching colleagues Chris Buehler, Julie Treick O’Neill, and Matt Plies on a role play about La Vía Campesina. Despite the fact that La Vía Campesina may be the largest social movement in the world—with more than 200 million small farmers in its affiliated organizations—it’s pretty much impossible to find its work described in today’s mainstream textbooks. We conclude A People’s Curriculum for the Earth with La Vía Campesina’s efforts because we think that it highlights the way a deep response to any one crisis—for example, how to feed a world populated by perhaps a billion hungry people—addresses other social and environmental crises.

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La Vía Campesina’s presents a grassroots, “agroecological” challenge to agribusiness’s globalized, free market, chemical-drenched, genetically modified prescription for the world’s food production. The peasant movement shows that addressing hunger can simultaneously address climate change, inequality, public health, unemployment, forced migration, and much more. These are the kind of interconnections that infuse our curricula with hope— offering students the sense that fundamental change is not only desperately needed but also possible.

Challenging Curricular Apartheid

The teaching we observed at Sunnyside Environmental School showed us what happens when teachers collaborate across disciplines. Unfortunately, in too many schools, the environmental crisis seems to have become a kind of curricular hot potato. No discipline wants to claim the crisis as its own. We get it. We are both high school social studies teachers and we often bump up against our own shaky grasp on scientific concepts, trying to recall details from past biology and chemistry classes. While teaching one climate lesson at Lincoln High School, a student made an assertion about the impact of methane versus carbon dioxide that stumped us both and sent us combing through IPCC reports that evening. We try not to let these moments force us to retreat into the silo that traditionally has been considered social studies. And we’ve spoken with science teachers who feel that analyzing the social causes and effects of climate change reaches beyond their curricula or of their own knowledge. Similarly, teachers in language arts, mathematics, world languages, business, physical education, or art may wonder, “What does this have to do with my class?”

But in this moment of crisis, it’s imperative that we reject artificial barriers between disciplines. Throughout this book we’ve featured stories from educators who consciously cross conventional curricular boundaries—see for example, “Carbon Matters” (p. 110), “Science for the People” (p. 273), “Measuring Water with Justice” (p. 297), and “Facing Cancer” (p. 309). Throughout the curriculum, educators can collaborate to help students become the scientist-activists they need to be. Confronting the toxic injustice that has become one of the defining features of our time requires us immediately to begin constructing a fossil fuel-free world built on principles of ecology and justice, rather than profit and endless growth. No matter which classes we teach, educators need to find ways to help young people develop the analytical tools to understand the causes of the environmental crisis and to exercise their utopian imaginations to consider alternatives.

Political and Educational Context

In an article in the Guardian, Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, laments the “bad timing” of the climate crisis:

Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude—that moment being the tail end of the go-go 80s, the blast-off point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate change is a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

That same war has been waged in the education arena. At the precise moment we need our schools to educate and engage the next generation about the historic global challenges we face, public education is under attack from the same private and corporate interests that have polluted our natural and social environments. Curriculum is being standardized and narrowed to what can be poorly measured by bubble tests. Decisions about what schools should teach and children should learn are being moved away from classrooms and communities to the same politicized bureaucracies and monied interests that are undermining democracy. This too is “bad timing.” At a time when we need an urgent national conversation about how schools and curriculum should address the environmental crisis, we’re being told that the problems we need to focus on are teacher incompetence, government monopoly, and market competition. The reform agenda reflects the same private interests that are moving to shrink public space—interests that have no desire to raise questions that might encourage students to think critically about the roots of the environmental crisis, or to examine society’s unsustainable distribution of wealth and power.

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This book is not so much “a people’s curriculum for the Earth” as it is an invitation to begin to build that curriculum. And it’s encouragement to educators to demand the right to effect a curriculum that honestly and deeply addresses the environmental crisis. Some of this work will go on in our classrooms; in meetings with other teachers; in teacher social justice conferences in San Francisco, New York, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Chicago, and Seattle; in our professional organizations; in the pages of Rethinking Schools magazine; and at the Zinn Education Project and This Changes Everything websites. And some will go on in our unions, community organizations, and other activist organizations where we fight to teach about crucial issues in the world.

The intertwined social, economic, and environmental crises that confront humanity require us to be audacious. As Naomi Klein writes, this is “the fight of our lives.” For educators, this is the curriculum work of our lives. And, yes, it is a fight, too. We need to demand and organize for the right to teach about what really matters, and not be forced to toe the textbook line or obey “rigorous” standards, developed afar, that may or may not help students appreciate and act on this moment in history.

We educators need to imagine, cooperate, create, hope—and at times, defy and resist. And we need to see ourselves as part of a broader movement to build the kind of society that is clean and just and equal and democratic. One that seeks to leave the world better than we found it.

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29.4: Teaching as Defiance, 4-Year-Olds Discuss Marriage, +more!

29.4 Cover

COVER STORY

FREE 4-Year-Olds Discuss Love and Marriage

By A.J. Jennings

An early childhood educator shows how far-ranging discussions can open children’s eyes to a broader understanding of relationships, including same-sex marriage and not getting married at all.

FREE Los niños y las niñas de 4 años hablan sobre el amor y el matrimonio

Por A. J. Jennings, Traducido por Nicholas Yurchenco

Una maestra de preescolar demuestra cómo una variedad de conversaciones pueden ampliar el conocimiento de los niños sobre las relaciones interpersonales, incluyendo los matrimonios del mismo sexo y las parejas que no se casan.

FREE Baby Steps Toward Restorative Justice

By Linea King

A middle school teacher tries to implement restorative practices in her classroom. It’s harder than she thought.

SPECIAL SECTION: COLLABORATING TO CAPTURE COMMUNITY RESILIENCE

Collaborating to Capture Community Resilience

By Stephanie Cariaga and Jerica Coffey

Teachers form an inquiry-based study group to support each other as they look for ways to build on the resilience of their students.

Storytelling as Resistance

By Jerica Coffey

After a critical look at how their community is described by others, high school students interview and tell the true stories of people in their Watts, Los Angeles, neighborhood.

Research as Healing

By Stephanie Cariaga

As 9th graders focus persuasive letters on community issues, their teacher realizes she must be open about her own pain to empower students to be open about theirs.

FEATURES

FREE Can We Rescue the Common Core Standards from the Testing Machine?

By Peter Greene

Would the Common Core be OK if it weren’t for the tests? An activist/blogger says no.

Learning About Inequality

By Linda Christensen

A master English teacher uses dialogue poems to develop empathy and connect history to literature.

FREE Climate Change and School in a Yup’ik Fishing Village

By Jill Howdyshell

In a small village in southwestern Alaska, climate change is a current reality, not a distant fear. But it’s not in the curriculum or discussed at school.

Blood on the Tracks

By Amy Lindahl

Science teachers at a Portland, Oregon, high school ask how they can make their science classes more welcoming to Black students.

Colonizing Wild Tongues

By Camila Arze Torres Goitia

A teacher vividly describes her own experience of English-only schooling.

DEPARTMENTS

FREE EDITORIAL

Teaching as Defiance

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

FREE LETTERS

FREE SHORT STUFF

Seattle Students Vote with Their Feet

Poets Start Young

Schoolchildren Targeted in Baltimore

Global Teacher Unions Protest at Pearson Meeting

Teacher Fired for Get-Well Letters to Mumia Abu-Jamal

FREE RESOURCES

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

FREE GOOD STUFF

Thinking and Playing Under Pressure

“The Library That Target Built” and other articles from our Summer Issue

Summer issue coverThe Library that Target Built,” by teacher-librarian Rachel Cloues, reveals what happened when Target donated a library “makeover” to a San Francisco elementary school: the district’s anti-branding policy wasn’t enough to keep the students from being engulfed by corporate messaging.

Rethinking Schools’ summer 2014 issue, “Targeting Books and Films.”  asks how are media affecting students, and how can we engage students to explore social justice themes?

In “‘May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor’: Teaching Class and Collective Action with The Hunger Games,” Elizabeth Marshall and Matthew Rosati base a role play on the wildly popular novel in order to deepen students’ understanding of social class and its impact on alliances and resistance.

Then Linda Christensen shows how she uses Myrlin Hepworth’s  poem “Ritchie Valens” to teach cultural history, “raise the bones” of a biographical poem, and inspire students to write their own poetry. You won’t want to miss her article, “Singing Up Our Ancestors.”

On the policy front, we are honored to share “Colonialism, Not Reform: New Orleans Schools Since Katrina.” This interview with parent activist Karran Harper Royal is a disturbing warning for parents and educators everywhere.

Other articles in this issue include:

Disarming the Nuclear Family” by Willow McCormick. Most children’s books-even those with animals as the protagonists–portray families with two heterosexual parents. A 2nd-grade teacher has her students create a book that represents their own more diverse families.

Image for Disarming the Nuclear Family

Illustration: Christiane Grauert

12 Years a Slave’: Breaking Silences About Slavery” by Jeremy Stoddard. A teacher educator puts the award-winning 12 Years a Slave in the context of other films used to teach about slavery.

Independence or Catastrophe? Teaching Palestine through multiple perspectives” by Samia Shoman. A social studies teacher uses conflicting narratives to engage students in studying the history of Palestine/Israel, focusing on the events of 1948.

Carbon Matters: Middle school students get carbon cycle literate” by Jana Dean. A 6th-grade teacher uses the carbon cycle to help students understand climate change. Along the way, she deals with a parent who wants her to give equal time to “climate change is a myth.”

Articles in Spanish

Three articles in this issue also appear in Spanish:

La biblioteca que construyó Target  Por Rachel Cloues, traducido por Nicholas Yurchenco. Cuando Target le donó a una escuela primaria en San Francisco la remodelación de su biblioteca, la política del distrito en contra de las marcas no fue suficiente para impedir que los estudiantes fueran bombardeados por mensajes corporativos.

El desarme de la familia nuclear Por Willow McCormick, traducido por César Peña-Sandoval. La mayoría de libros para niños–hasta los que usan animales como protagonistas–retratan a las familias con dos padres heterosexuales. Una maestra de 2do grado pide que sus estudiantes creen un libro que represente la diversidad de sus propias familias.

“Que las probabilidades estén siempre a su favor” Enseñar sobre las clases sociales y la acción colectiva a través de Los juegos del hambre (The Hunger Games)Por Elizabeth Marshall y Matthew Rosati, traducido por Shireen Cotterall. Los juegos del hambre se usa como base para una dramatización que profundiza el conocimiento de los estudiantes sobre la clase social y cómo esta impacta las alianzas y la resistencia.

Links we liked this week: April 20, 2014

We like sharing interesting news, insightful opinions, activist victories, and actionable curriculum via Facebook, Twitter, and of course through our magazine and books.

We thought why not collect some of our favorites ideas, opinions, and stories in one place each week. It gives you a peek at what piques our interest, and gives us the opportunity to revisit the news that’s shaping our profession and the public debate about education.

Let us know what you think of this idea in the comments, and feel free to add to our list there as well.

abolition-earthday-posters4An Earth Day Message: Take Heart from the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow. April 22 was Earth Day, and Rethinking Schools curriculum editor (and resident environmental justice expert), penned this column for our Zinn Education Project’s “If We Knew Our History” series.

DeColores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, maintained by Rethinking Schools contributor Beverly Slapin. A blog filled with astute reviews and essays. Teachers and parents — and anyone who reads — will find the blog to be a valuable resource.

Protecting Classrooms from Corporate Takeover: What Families Can Learn from Teachers’ Unions, by Amy B. Dean, via Yes! Magazine. The Milwaukee Teachers’ Union, led by its president and one of the founding editors of Rethinking Schools Bob Peterson, is prominently featured in this well done article.

Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, But Teach for America’s Expanding: What’s Wrong With That?, by Alexandra Hootnick, via The Nation. The Nation has reliably good coverage on big education issues. Don’t miss the special focus on Teach for America in the spring issue of Rethinking Schools, too.

Jim Crow in the Classroom: New Report Finds Segregation Lives on in U.S. Schools, via Democracy Now! This segment features an interview with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose multi-part investigation “Segregation Now: Investigating America’s Racial Divide” can be found at ProPublica.

Americans Who Tell the Truth: Dave Zirin portrait, by Robert Shetterly. Our favorite sports journalist Dave Zirin was deservedly honored by Americans Who Tell the Truth with one of Robert Shetterly’s incredible portraits. Read about his accomplishments and view the portrait at this link.

Duncan Withdraws NCLB Waiver from Washington State, via the inimitable Diane Ravitch. This news caused quite a stir when we posted it on our Facebook page on Thursday, and rightly so. Ravitch provides a good explanation of what this means and its implications for public schools nationwide. The corporate-led school privatization movement marches on…

Pearson Pays $7.7 Million in Common Core Settlement, by Lindsey Layton via The Washington Post. The entire Common Core enterprise reeks of corruption. Here’s another piece of evidence.

Scholastic and Big Coal Team Up to Bamboozle 4th Graders, by Joan Brunwasser, via OpEdNews.com. An interview with our curriculum editor Bill Bigelow about the successful campaign Rethinking Schools initiated to get Scholastic, Inc. to stop pushing pro-coal propaganda to 4th graders.

Minneapolis Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, by the staff of the Indian Country Today Media Network. Minneapolis is starting a movement. Let’s join them! (Also join the, um. . . . spirited conversation at our Facebook page about this bit of news.)

Call for submissions: A People’s Curriculum for the Earth

Bill headshotRethinking Schools is in the final stages of producing a book on teaching about the environmental crisis, called A People’s Curriculum for the Earth. If you’re a subscriber or regular visitor to our website, you have probably noticed that over the past several years Rethinking Schools magazine has featured increasing numbers of environmental justice articles. We are pleased by what we’ve assembled in the new volume–which is patterned after our 2002 book, Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World.

But we still need some help. We have a few “holes,” wishes, or would-like-to-have-mores. These are of two types:
  1. articles that describe classroom teaching (story-rich, replicable, critical)
  2. student-friendly readings: short articles, interviews, testimonies, stories, excerpts from novels, poems, graphics, and the like.

Some areas for which we want more material, both for the book and for future issues of the magazine, include:

  • Indigenous struggles around environmental issues — e.g., the Idle No More movement
  • Teaching about oil exploitation and natural gas fracking
  • Rachel Carson and early work against pesticides
  • The “people’s history” of struggles against environmental racism
  • Teaching about nuclear issues — e.g., nuclear testing, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, uranium mining
  • Water issues, everything from the disproportionate impact of corporate practices on poor communities and communities of color to the implications of the decline of glaciers
  • Food sovereignty, and the activism of groups affiliated with La Via Campesina
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • The political economy of hunger
  • Stories of resistance and hope — how responses to environmental crisis can also be responses to economic crisis

Yes, these intersect and themselves are overwhelming. But we’re hoping that in putting out this final call that some of you may have pieces of your curriculum in hand that you’d be willing to let us consider for Rethinking Schools magazine and/or A People’s Curriculum for the Earth.

If so, please get in touch with me at bill@rethinkingschools.org.

Thanks for all your important work in these tough times. And thanks for your support of Rethinking Schools.

Warmly,

Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor

7 resources you can use to educate and engage students

In every issue of our magazine, our editors and contributors hand-pick a variety of books, films, websites, and other media for all ages.

Here are seven resources we recommended in our fall issue.

The Speech_frontThe Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream,
by Gary Younge
171 pp., $19.95

You may know Gary Younge from his fine columns on race and politics in The Nation magazine. Here Younge offers the riveting story behind one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address at the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The book includes a chapter on “the moment”—an especially valuable look at both the national and international context of 1963; background on the march; an analysis of the speech itself; and commentary on the legacy of the march and speech. As Younge wrote recently: “Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call [the March on Washington] off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one.” This is important background for teachers, but also readable by many high school students.

resources-staysolidStay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth,
edited by Matt Hern and the Purple Thistle Centre
319 pp., $20

There may be school libraries that would deem this book too risqué or soft on drugs. But Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth is a remarkable assembly of testimonies, stories, advice, poetry, cartoons, lessons, short essays, and “other stuff to check out” from more than 100 radical activists divided into diverse subjects, including family, race, gender, school, friends, sex, disability, indigenous struggles, ecocide, and “your physical body.” Sprinkled throughout are rich, evocative quotes. This is not a G-rated book. The text does not adhere to a “Say no to drugs” admonition, and it is joyfully sex-friendly. As one young Teaching for Change intern wrote in recommending this book, “These views are incredibly important in supporting youth to be agents of their own decisions and, at the same time, are radically different from mainstream views.”

EdActivistAlliesEducating Activist Allies: Social Justice Pedagogy with the Suburban and Urban Elite,
by Katy M. Swalwell
161 pp., $41.95

Katy Swalwell opens this unique book with a quote from the late Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire: “In the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, [the oppressors] suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.” For Swalwell, a Rethinking Schools contributor, critical teaching for social justice benefits everyone—even the very privileged. As such, this work contributes to building a more just society for us all. In this accessible, story-rich volume, Swalwell offers example after example of how educators in different elite contexts attempt to teach for social justice—described in many instances through her own careful observations of their teaching. Interviews with students offer a window into how this teaching was received. This is a valuable book for any educator trying to clarify what it means to teach for social justice, but especially for those who find themselves teaching the children of the wealthy.

resources-gaslandGasland II, directed by Josh Fox
125 min.

High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas—more commonly known as “fracking”—is one of the scariest technologies on the planet. A recent open letter from Pennsylvania residents described the effects of fracking: “In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish . . . and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime.” Josh Fox’s new film Gasland II illuminates this grim reality. With a blend of storytelling, outrage, science, and, yes, humor, Fox offers a student-friendly look at this technology from hell. The first Gasland film—which featured the now infamous images of residents lighting their kitchen tap water on fire—was nominated for an Academy Award. As Julie Treick O’Neill writes in her Summer 2012 Rethinking Schools article on teaching this earlier film, “Fox was a hit with my students: He was real enough, cool enough, and smart enough to take on fracking.” Gasland II is an important resource to help our students navigate the world’s disturbing new fossil fuel terrain. For middle school and high schools classrooms.

resources-asfastAs Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck,
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
32 pp., $18.95

Based on her father’s experience in 1960s North Carolina, Pamela Tuck tells how a family and community challenge racism where they work, shop, and go to school. The protagonist, 14-year-old Mason, is the letter writer for the local African American civil rights committee. In appreciation, they give him a typewriter. His typing skills help him open doors when he attends the formerly all-white high school. There is no sugarcoating of the racism Mason faces. In fact, when he wins a county typing competition, not one audience member applauds. Instead, Mason finds love, admiration, and strength from his family and community. This picture book could be used to introduce the history beyond the big demonstrations about the fight for civil rights. It would lend itself well to a group read and discussion, and could also be a wonderful source of prompts for writing from the perspective of different characters. For grade 3 and above.

resources-democracynow

Democracy Now! Hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez
(free podcasts)

We previously included Democracy Now! in the Rethinking Schools resources section. But, as we begin a new school year, we thought that it was worth reminding people that, in our judgment, this is the best Monday-through-Friday news broadcast in the United States. The news headlines that open each hour are a rundown of vital stories often ignored or distorted in the mainstream media. Headlines are followed by several in-depth reports, many of which make ideal classroom viewing: striking fast-food workers, conflict in Egypt, NSA revelations, stop-and-frisk policing, the true history of the 1963 March on Washington, drone strikes, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the climate crisis, and more. One recent episode that could and should be used in class is Cornel West’s critical commentary on President Obama’s talk on race relations following the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Each broadcast is available as simple audio or as audio/video. All are archived and available for free at the website.

resources-ifieverIf I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth
373 pp., $17.99

Eric Gansworth’s first young adult coming-of-age novel hits a home run. The main character, Lewis “Shoe” Blake, navigates relationships with family and friends on and off the upstate New York Tuscarora Reservation in the mid-1970s. Debbie Reese, editor of the website American Indians in Children’s Literature, alerted us to the novel. She explains that it offers “a rare but honest look at culture and how people with vastly different upbringings and identities can clash. And dance. And laugh. Gansworth informs readers about cultural difference, but he doesn’t beat anyone up as he does it.” Young adult author Cynthia Leitich Smith calls it “a heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family, and friendship.”

v28.1This collection of resources from our fall 2013 magazine was reviewed by Rethinking Schools curriculum editor Bill Bigelow and Teaching for Change Executive Director Deborah Menkart. Bill and Deborah are also co-directors of the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between the two organizations..

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Of Mice and Marginalization

We “soft-launched” our fall issue on our website over the weekend.  Perhaps you already checked it out, or if you’re a subscriber, you have the magazine in hand already.  If you haven’t seen it, here are a few highlights.

We are proud of this issue, and we hope you enjoy reading it!

v28.1Of Mice and Marginalization,” by English teacher Michelle Kenney, is the cover story. Under pressure from parents, Kenney assigns a classic: Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Her students’ reactions—from cutting class to lifting essays off the internet—lead to a deeper understanding of what’s wrong with “the canon.”

In “Standing Up for Tocarra,” Tina Owen describes her dilemma when a homophobic minister preaches about the “sin” of a transgender student at the student’s funeral.

Our curriculum editor Bill Bigelow uses a classroom mixer to introduce students to Bill McKibben’s important article on “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” Check out “The Mystery of the 3 Scary Numbers.”

In “Rethinking Shit: Excrement and Equity,” social studies teacher Noah Zeichner and his students explore the worldwide sanitation crisis.

Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education,” by Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp, puts the history of charter schools in context, then analyzes their current role and impact.

Our editorial is on school closings, “Clear-Cutting Our Schools

Let us know in the comments what you think, and which article(s) you like best or plan to use.

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