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..

Find more of our recommendations on Pinterest.

Subscribe to our magazine to receive recommendations like this and much more in your mailbox with every new issue.

At the Movies with Rethinking Schools

Summer is the season of Hollywood “blockbusters.” Unfortunately, most films that come out during summer are duds, so here we propose some alternatives that will both entertain and educate.

These articles are free for all friends of Rethinking Schools.

Gasland-DVDSTKR-FFracking: In the End, We’re All Downstream, by Julie Treick-O’Neill
A 9th-grade social studies teacher uses the Academy Award-nominated Gasland to help her students explore the environmental and social impact of fracking natural gas.

Coal at the Movies
Classroom DVDs on coal and mountaintop removal mining, reviewed by Bill Bigelow.

Reviews: Videos with a Conscience, by Ryan Zinn
Resources to help teachers and students delve into the economics and politics of food.

Review: “But You Guys Wanted Us Here,” by Moé Yonamine
A film tackles the U.S. occupation of Japan. Teaching activities included.

If you’re a subscriber, you can access these articles.

(What are you waiting for? Subscribe today.)

King Corn: Teaching the Food Crisis, by Tim Swinehart
King Corn follows an acre of corn to market and a future as ethanol, food sweeteners, and animal feed. The journey anchors a curriculum on the international food crisis and how much choice we have over what we eat.

Review: Dignity and a Haircut, by Wayne Au
A review of the film American Pastime describes baseball under mass incarceration.

Who’s Crazy? Students Critique The Gods Must Be Crazy, by Chris Hawking, with Cresslyn Clay and Colin Pierce
Remember that cult classic The Gods Must Be Crazy? Posing as multicultural, the film supports the very biases that it claims to critique.

Review: ‘Our Dignity Can Defeat Anyone,’ by Julie Treick-O’Neill
A film about work and workers in Mexico, Maquilapolis inspires high school students. Finally, a film about sweatshops that views workers as more than victims.

We haven’t written an article about it yet, but another film idea is to check out the widely acclaimed and award-winning Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill, and use the teaching activities from our new book Teaching About the Wars (available as a PDF for only $7.99) to bring home the lessons from the film.

When we sent this list out to our e-newsletter list, we received a few more suggestions for films to use in the classroom, including:
What films have you used successfully in the classroom?  Please share in the comments.
If you want to write about your experience using film in your classroom or write a review for Rethinking Schools magazine, check out our writers guidelines.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Free access to Dirty Oil and Shovel-Ready Jobs

With the pending decision about the Keystone XL pipeline in the news–along with the recent huge anti-pipeline demonstrations in Washington, D.C.–we are sharing articles and resources from our archives about the proposed pipeline, coal, climate change, and environmental justice with you.

And in the spirit of taking black history beyond “Black History Month,” we’re also sharing articles that celebrate the role of African Americans in our history and today. We hope you will use these articles throughout the entire year.

Enjoy these articles, freely available to all friends of Rethinking Schools. 

Dirty Oil and Shovel-Ready Jobs:  A Role Play on Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline, by Abby Mac Phail

High school students learn about the conflict over the pipeline by participating in a role play.

Got Coal?  Teaching About the Most Dangerous Rock in America, by Bill Bigelow

Students play a game promoted by the coal industry-then dig beneath the surface to look at the realities of mountaintop removal mining.

Don’t Take Our Voices Away’–A Role Play on the Indigenous People’s Global Summit on Climate Change, by Julie Treick O’Neill and Tim Swinehart

Students learn about the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable cultures and geographic areas, then share their knowledge as they discuss strategy for saving the planet.

A Message from a Black Mom to Her Son, by Dyan Watson

An African American mother and teacher educator uses examples from her own childhood to describe how she hopes her child will be treated by teachers, and what she fears.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access!*

The Big One: Teaching About Climate Change, by Bill Bigelow

The environmental crisis requires a profound social and curricular rethinking.

A Pedagogy for Ecology, by Ann Pelo

Helping young children build an ecological identity and a conscious connection to place opens them to a broader bond with the earth.

“My Family’s Not from Africa–We Come from North Carolina!” Teaching Slavery in Context, by

Illustration by Robert Trujillo

Illustration by Robert Trujillo

Waahida Mbatha

An African American middle school teacher changes her African American students’ understanding of Africa and their own history.

Five Years After the Levees Broke: Bearing Witness Through Poetry, by Renée Watson

Students in the Bronx create startling poems after comparing the response to Hurricane Katrina with subsequent “natural disasters.”

Have you used any of these articles in your teaching?  If so, let us know about it in the comments.

In solidarity,

Kris Collett
Rethinking Schools

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.

Who’s talking about the summer issue?

by Kris Collett

Our summer issue is out, and many articles are already garnering positive attention.

We’re stoked that our editorial “The New Misogyny” spread on Twitter like wildfire. Thanks to Diane Ravitch for retweeting it to her 30,000+ followers! Read it now to see what the buzz is about.

Our friends at AlterNet and at Common Dreams posted Bill Bigelow’s article “From Johannesburg to Tucson.” I always learn something new about the people’s history when I read Bill’s articles, but it’s his insightful observations that make me pause and reflect on the kind of society I want to leave behind:

“The common denominator in these instances is the disrespect of those in power for students’ capacity to think critically and to take action based on their beliefs. When educational authorities consistently display such slight regard for students’ academic and moral capacities, is it any wonder that they match this contempt with an intellectually thin, idea-poor curriculum?”

The Institute for Humane Education has a very fine blog, Humane Connection. They dedicated a post to a brief review of the issue focusing on two articles they believe embody the principles of humane education.

The National Writing Project shared Linda Christensen’s article with their 7,300 twitter followers. “The Danger of a Single Story” is about an essay writing unit Linda completed with her high school students shortly following the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin.

In addition to directing the Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark College, which takes her into schools all around the Portland area, Linda also teaches a class at Jefferson High School (as a volunteer), where she taught for almost 25 years.

We also dedicated space in the magazine to teacher quality issues, including Stan Karp’s article “Taking Teacher Quality Seriously.”  The article was picked up by the Marshall Memo, a widely read “weekly round-up of important ideas and research in K-12 education.”

These are just a few highlights from the issue. Check out the entire issue, and consider a subscription if you like what you see.  (Use code 5PAYWALL12 for a 15% discount.)

Kris Collett is the Outreach/Marketing Director for Rethinking Schools.