Editorial: Teaching as Defiance

Originally published in Rethinking Schools VOLUME 29, ISSUE 4 — SUMMER 2015.Editorial1Recently, we posted an article at the Rethinking Schools Facebook page that listed reasons why parents should opt their children out of standardized testing, including “standardized tests narrow the curriculum.” The article went on:

What’s on the test is what’s taught. PARCC and Smarter Balanced [versions of the Common Core tests] only evaluate math and literacy, and thus science, social studies, and the arts are lost to spend maximum instruction time on the tested material. There is no time for creativity, collaboration, and curiosity.

A Rethinking Schools reader, Texas educator Noreen Naseem Rodriguez, wrote to say: not so fast. Rodriguez pointed out that teachers are still “creative and collaborative, and encourage curiosity in spite of the high-stakes testing environment.” She argued that we need to distinguish between what teachers are being pushed to do and what they are actually doing. Yes, the tests have made it more difficult to teach critically and authentically, but Rodriguez pointed out that simply because people in positions of power want something to happen, doesn’t make it so.

Rodriguez is right. Teachers continue to resist the high-stakes testing machine by teaching what matters, by doing everything possible not to narrow the curriculum to test prep. And when we say that the corporate school reform agenda has killed critical, imaginative teaching for social justice, we have declared defeat while the fight rages around us.

Since its inception almost 30 years ago, Rethinking Schools’ mission has been the defense and transformation of public schools. These go hand in hand. Yes, we need to fight the myriad ways that the forces of privatization and privilege seek to discredit and destroy public education. But one front in that defense is the effort to revitalize classroom life, to ensure that students’ time in school is worthwhile—for students personally, and for the larger communities and society they belong to. As we argued in the first edition of Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice, back in 1994, classrooms should be grounded in the lives of our students; critical; multicultural, antiracist and pro-justice; participatory and experiential; hopeful, joyful, kind, and visionary; activist; culturally sensitive; and academically rigorous. We set ourselves the task of creating curriculum and finding teaching stories to bring these principles to life.

Teaching to the Tests

Is this kind of teaching made much harder by today’s standardized testing mandates? No doubt. Valuable classroom time has been hijacked by the tests and test prep. New legislation and policies threaten teachers with bad evaluations or worse should their students fail to perform adequately on the tests. In some school districts, armies of clipboard-carrying curriculum cops circulate through classrooms to enforce scripted teaching strategies. These are tough times, and we do not mean to minimize the power of this bullying to stifle good teaching.

The corporate school reformers’ vision of a successful classroom was on display this spring in a front page New York Times investigative article on New York’s Success Academy, the charter school chain founded by Eva Moskowitz. Politicians and millionaire philanthropists have championed Moskowitz’s program as a model for education reform. The article, by Kate Taylor (“At Charters, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics”), paints a harrowing portrait of classroom life, with every teaching move subordinated to standardized tests. An email from an assistant principal (a “leadership resident”) at Success Academy Harlem 2 to her 4th-grade teachers in the wake of disappointing results on a three-day practice test offers a glimpse: “You must demand every single minute,” she wrote. “We can NOT let up on them. . . . Any scholar who is not using the plan of attack (test-taking strategies) will go to effort academy (detention), have their parent called, and will miss electives. This is serious business, and there has to be misery felt [by] the kids who are not doing what is expected of them.”

Teaching for Life

Since Rethinking Schools began publishing in 1986, there have always been odious requirements that teachers have confronted and resisted: basal readers, detailed “scope and sequence” instructions, “competencies” to be met, “anchor assignments,” required textbooks, and overbearing administrators. Indeed, in the very first issue of Rethinking Schools, RS co-founder Rita Tenorio described how she resisted the imposition of a Scott Foresman basal reader on her kindergarten students. Instead she provided experiential, playful, and collaborative literacy activities far more appropriate for young children than a dreary succession of worksheets.

And today, in the midst of the launch of Common Core tests, teachers continue the resistance. Sometimes this is an individual who defies the system to teach toward her ideals. During a dinner conversation, a 2nd-grade teacher in New Mexico told Rethinking Schools editors how she brings authentic literacy lessons to her classroom: “They have taken over our literacy block with a mandated, scripted curriculum, but I use read-aloud time to engage students in reading and writing that matters.”

Sometimes it’s a collective effort. In Portland, Oregon, teachers at several high schools are collaboratively constructing and teaching curriculum. Social studies teachers at one school, for example, created a unit on the Russian Revolution that was taught in 14 classes. At another school, language arts teachers developed and taught curriculum on local school desegregation as a follow-up to reading Warriors Don’t Cry when a student asked, “So what happened in Portland?” After they taught the unit, the teachers traveled to each other’s classrooms to discuss revisions and adaptations, and to look at student work. Two articles in this issue of the magazine, Jerica Coffey’s “Storytelling as Resistance” and Stephanie Cariaga’s “Research as Healing,” are the result of an inquiry group created by teachers at a school in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles (see Collaborating to Capture Community Resilience).

Throughout the country, teachers are constructing curriculum that challenges students to think instead of memorize, to connect their lives to broader social and ecological issues. Through this kind of engaged scholarship, students discover the joy of learning—joy that rarely accompanies a lesson that starts “Today, I will learn. . .”

This resistance is fueled by networks of social justice teachers in groups like Teachers 4 Social Justice in San Francisco, the New York Collective of Radical Educators, Chicago Teachers for Social Justice, the Educators Network for Social Justice in Milwaukee, Teaching for Change, the Oregon Writing Project, and Free Minds, Free People. These organizations, and many others, inspire critical teaching through conferences, workshops, and inquiry-to-action groups—defying the corporate push toward standardization.

Rethinking Schools’ two latest books, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis and Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice offer further proof that teachers across the country are working with one another to address vital social issues at the same time they strive to develop academic skills. Howard Zinn famously said that “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.” When it comes to the climate crisis, endless war, growing income inequality, and the disregard for the lives of people of color as shown by the regularity of police killings, the social train we’re on is headed off a cliff. Teachers need to do our part to stop and redirect that train.

As we oppose the hegemony of standardized tests, the budget cuts, the school closures, the pro-charter legislation, the infiltration of Teach For America, and other privatization schemes, we also should demand teaching and learning conditions that allow us to create an alternative vision of classroom life. In order to design curriculum that speaks to students’ lives, we need more prep time, more time for teacher collaboration, more professional development worthy of its name. We need to nurture a grassroots conversation about social justice teaching—one that refutes the notion that learning and high test scores are synonymous; and one that opts for joy over misery.

Rethinking Schools encourages teachers to continue to subvert the test-and-punish system by doing everything we can to teach for the benefit of our students—and the world. Every child-centered, socially aware lesson plan is a gesture of defiance to those who endeavor to make test scores the sole criterion of educational success. This kind of teaching that matters is part of the broader struggle to defend and transform public schools.

Magazine Call for Science Submissions

You asked and we listened! Rethinking Schools needs more articles that focus on science. We are looking for submissions from you that show what engaging students’ sense of equity and justice looks, sounds, and feels like through the teaching of science.  We seek justice-centered, equity-oriented, story-rich, and critical articles that describe science teaching and curriculum in PK-12 classrooms, community spaces, or PK-12 teacher preparation.

What we need and what to write

Science is more than worksheets, textbooks, and memorization. Science touches everyday lives of all people. We encourage stories from a diverse range of science fields such as natural, physical, earth, and life.We invite you to submit a story that shows science teaching that is sensitive to cultural, historical, environmental, and socioeconomic contexts. We want stories that show how learning science helps students better understand the forces that shape their world. We want educators of all types to share how they use science to enhance learning, promote critique, and address real-world social, cultural, political, and ecological problems. We are especially looking for articles that discuss:

  • teaching science in classrooms from a social justice/equity perspective
  • students and teachers working together to use science as a tool to enact social justice
  • science in everyday practices of various cultures, families, and communities
  • culturally relevant/culturally revitalizing/culturally sustaining science teaching 

How to write

Students’ voices are important; make sure we can hear them! Rethinking Schools is purposefully not an academic journal. We want the writing to be lively, conversational, and to avoid needless jargon. Please approach your story as a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, filled with anecdotes and the voices of students, teachers, parents or guardians, caregivers, family, and/or community members.

Before you begin writing, check out the writers’ guidelines. The best way to understand what works forRethinking Schools is to read through several issues ofthe magazine noticing how the authors show what they do and how they integrate information about the academic topic into the article. Specific models you might want to refer to include:

For additional details, review our call for submissions:

http://www.rethinkingschools.org/about/guidelines.shtml

When and where to send

Cycle 1 submissions due August 1, 2015. Submissions will be accepted on a rolling basis until August 1.

To submit your submission: http://tiny.cc/RSscience

For inquiries, email: science@rethinkingschools.org 

We look forward to receiving your submission!

RS Science Submissions Committee:

Amy Lindahl, Bejanae Kareem, Jana Dean, Jean Aguilar-Valdez, and Vera Stenhouse,

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

Black with a Capital B

 

Rethinking Schools began as a newspaper—a tabloid. Most newspapers followed the Associated Press Stylebook, so we did, too. That included a lowercase b when referring to Black culture or individuals. Over the years, that made various writers and editors uncomfortable, but we pointed to the problems with inconsistency in our archives as a reason not to change.

Prompted in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, we decided to revisit our usage at a recent editorial board meeting. We based our discussion on a 2014 op-ed piece by Lori L. Tharps in the New York Times, “The Case for Black with a Capital B.” She builds a strong historical and political case:

Ever since African people arrived in this country, we have had to fight for the right to a proper name. Upon arrival in the “New World,” we were all collectively deemed Africans, even though we came from different countries, cultures, and tribes. Very soon after, British colonists borrowed the Spanish term for black, and we became negros, negars, nigras and blacks—anything oppositional to the supposed purity of whiteness.

After emancipation, as many individuals replaced their slave surnames with ones of their own devising, like Freedman or Freeman, they still bore the painful legacy of the labels they’d been given: black, negro, and colored. . . .

In the mid-1900s, W. E. B. Du Bois began a letter-writing campaign, demanding that book publishers, newspaper editors, and magazines capitalize the N in Negro when referring to Black people. . . . The New York Timesrefused his request, as did most other newspapers. In 1929, when the editor for the Encyclopedia Britannicainformed Du Bois that Negro would be lowercased in the article he had submitted for publication, Du Bois quickly wrote a heated retort that called “the use of a small letter for the name of 12 million Americans and 200 million human beings a personal insult.”

Tharps says that editor changed his mind, as did many other mainstream publications, including the New York Times. She then notes the changes that the Black Power Movement of the 1960s had on how African Americans see and name themselves. She concludes: “If we’ve traded Negro for Black, why was that first letter demoted back to lowercase, when the argument had already been won?”

We found her arguments convincing. Editorial board member Jesse Hagopian explained it well: “Black with a capital B was won through political struggle. If we lowercase the b, we’re minimizing the importance of that collective, historical struggle.” In this issue of the magazine, and henceforth, we will write Black with a capital B. As always, we’re interested in your comments.  

From Rethinking Schools latest summer issue.

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

Featured Image -- 1858

Resistance to High Stakes Tests Serves the Cause of Equity in Education: A Reply to “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”

Rethinking Schools:

Jesse Hagopian is a Rethinking Schools editorial associate and editor of “More Than a Score” published by Haymarket Books.

Originally posted on I AM AN EDUCATOR:

Twelve national civil rights organizations released a statement today in opposition to parents and students who opt out of high-stakes standardized testing–what has now become a truly mass direct action campaign against the multi-billion dollar testing industry.  I believe that their statement titled, “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts,” misses the key role that standardized testing has played throughout American history in reproducing institutional racism and inequality.  I wrote the below statement, with the aid of the board of the Network for Public Education, to outline the racist history of standardized testing and to highlight leadership from people of color in the movement against high-stakes testing. I sincerely hope for a response from the civil rights organizations who authored the statement and I hope that this dialogue leads to deeper discussion about how to make Black Lives Matter in our school system and how to remake American public education on foundation…

View original 3,051 more words

Rhythm & Resistance: New Book and Spring Magazine

Rhythm and Resistance

29.3 Magazine CoverThis month, Rethinking Schools publishes Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice, edited by Linda Christensen and Dyan Watson. Our spring issue features three articles from this new book.

At a time when the regime of standardized testing is squeezing poetry and narrative, social studies and the arts out of the curriculum, Rhythm and Resistance presents a vision of teaching and learning with our students’ lives at the center.

By Katharine Johnson

An early elementary school teacher combines a science lesson and poetry to encourage children to celebrate their own skin tone and that of their classmates.

By Linda Christensen

An introduction to persona poems, which ask students “to find that place inside themselves that connects with a moment in history, literature, life.”

By Bob Peterson

A 5th-grade teacher uses N. Scott Momaday’s brilliant imagery to inspire his students to write metaphoric “I Am” poems.

FEATURES

By Leanna Carollo

A teaching assistant working with students with autism realizes the behavior modification-based teaching strategies she is told to use are robbing her students of voice and independence. She tries something else instead.

Por Leanna Carollo, Traducido por Nicholas Yurchenco

Una asistente educativa que trabaja con estudiantes con autismo se da cuenta que la enseñanza para modificar el comportamiento que le piden que utilice les está robando a sus estudiantes su voz e independencia. Así que prueba una alternativa.

By Bill Bigelow

The Koch-funded Bill of Rights Institute cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home the lesson that freedom means freedom to make money.

A Tale of Two Districts: The Long Reach and Deep Pockets of Corporate Reform

By Stan Karp

A comparison of corporate reform strategies and popular resistance in two very different districts in New Jersey—Newark and Montclair—reveals the flexibility of the privatizers and the potential of solidarity across communities.

DEPARTMENTS

EDITORIAL

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

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

SHORT STUFF

Long Island Teacher Boycotts Common Core Tests

Charter Discipline Rules Don’t Meet Codes

Black Girls Matter

SF Catholic Schools Fight New “Morality Clauses”

New Mexico Students Protest PARCC

IN MEMORIAM

Remembering Harold Berlak

By Bob Peterson

RESOURCES

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

GOOD STUFF

Fairy Tales Retold

By Elizabeth Marshall