Table of Contents

    Free Editorial
  • Free #SchoolsToo: Educators’ Responsibility to Confront Sexual Violence

    By the editors of Rethinking Schools

    The ongoing, persistent verbal and physical violence against women, youth, and LGBTQ communities has not been adequately addressed in most schools. Instead of educating children and youth about gender equity and sexual harassment, schools often create a culture that perpetuates stigma, shame, and silence. Student-on-student sexual assault and harassment occurs on playgrounds, in bathrooms and locker rooms, on buses, and down isolated school hallways. Students experience sexualized language and inappropriate touching, as well as forced sexual acts. And they encounter these at formative stages of their lives that leave scars and shape expectations for a lifetime. What isn’t addressed critically in schools becomes normalized and taken for granted.

  • Cover Story
  • Free What Students Are Capable Of

    Sexual Harassment and the Collateral Beauty of Resistance

    By Camila Arze Torres Goitia

    “We have something to tell you but we’re worried about getting you too involved. We don’t want to get you in trouble,” Baylee and Zaida whispered excitedly as they wiggled through the crack in my classroom door on my prep. I was confused to see them in such high spirits because earlier in the day they had been crushed by news from our administration. For more than two months they had been part of our Restorative Justice club that had been planning two half-day workshops around women empowerment for female-identifying students and toxic masculinity for male-identifying students. The club of 11 demographically diverse students had been urging adults in our building to do something about sexual harassment since October, when they made sexual assault and harassment their Restorative Justice club theme of the month and visited 9th grade classes to lead circles on the topic. This opened up a door for 9th graders to continue to reach out to upperclassmen about the harassment they were facing.

  • Cover Theme
  • Free #MeToo and The Color Purple

    By Linda Christensen

    During a recent conversation, a former high school classmate said, “I always wondered why you left Eureka. I heard that something shameful happened, but I never knew what it was.”

    Yes, something shameful happened. My former husband beat me in front of the Catholic Church in downtown Eureka. He tore hunks of hair from my scalp, broke my nose, and battered my body. It wasn’t the first time during the nine months of our marriage. When he fell into a drunken sleep, I found the keys he used to keep me locked inside and I fled, wearing a bikini and a bloodied white fisherman’s sweater. For those nine months I had lived in fear of his hands, of drives into the country where he might kill me and bury my body. I lived in fear that if I fled, he might harm my mother or my sister.

    I carried that fear and shame around for years. Because even though I left the marriage and the abuse, people said things like “I’d never let some man beat me.” There was no way to tell them the whole story: How growing up and “getting a man” was the goal, how making a marriage work was my responsibility, how failure was a stigma I couldn’t bear.

  • Free “Young Women Like Me”

    Teaching About Femicides and Reckless Capitalism on the Mexican Border

    By Camila Arze Torres Goitia, Kim Kanof

    Since 1993, the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez has been shaken by disappearances of teenage girls and young women. Officials say they have few leads. The murders in Juárez have received some international attention, primarily due to government inaction. Yet little has been done by the government to prevent violence against women and girls, as officials neglect to bring their perpetrators to justice.

    Residents do not let these deaths go unnoticed as hundreds of pink crosses — a symbol of these missing women — dot the border. An increase in these deaths coincided with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). A treaty between Mexico, the United States, and Canada, NAFTA sought to increase investment opportunities by eliminating tariffs and, like many other economic agreements, benefited the economic elites of the three countries while resulting in widespread unemployment, increased class stratification, and mass emigration. Most of the “disappeared” women work in assembly plants or maquiladoras, owned by the United States and transnational corporations that dashed to northern Mexico post-NAFTA to reap the benefits of lower wages and lax environmental regulation.

  • The Women of Juárez

    By Amalia Ortiz

    at the West tip of Texas
    a line divides us from them
    and on the other side
    they all look like me
    yet on my side we sit passively nearby
    while the other side allows a slow genocide

  • Free “I Believe You”

    Responsive Teacher Talk and Our Children’s Lives

    By Michelle Gunderson

    To all of my students: I believe you.

    Every Monday morning Lilly would walk into our 1st-grade classroom with downcast eyes and a heavy heart. She would wait for everyone to settle in and then quietly beckon me over to her seat and say, “My head hurts.”

    It became a routine. I would stroke her head and say, “I know you miss your dad. Let’s try participating in school and see if it helps you feel better.” This seems like a reasonable response from a seasoned veteran teacher in her 31st year of teaching. My message to Lilly was I understand children, I understand your life, and I know what is best for you.

  • "How Could You Let This Happen?"

    Dealing with 2nd Graders and Rape Culture

    By Zanovia Clark

    I was just about to finish my second year teaching 2nd grade. It was the first week of June and school was quickly coming to a close. The sun was out and everyone’s energy was extraordinarily high. We were in Seattle after all; when the sun comes around, you rejoice. One morning that week I came to work and noticed I had an email from a parent. This was a parent I had a good relationship with, and she often checked in to see how her daughter was doing. But this email was different. The mother explained that her daughter had been cornered at recess the previous day by some boys who were also 2nd graders. The boys grabbed, groped, and humped her. They told her they were going to have sex with her. Her daughter told them to stop and to leave her alone, but they persisted. As this sweet one told her story of shame, confusion, and hurt to her family later that day, she became so upset that she threw up in the car. Her mother knew this wasn’t a miscommunication or misunderstanding.

  • Features
  • Free In Philadelphia, Teacher Book Groups Are the Engines of Change

    By Kathleen Riley, Shira Cohen

    On a chilly day in the late fall of 2015, in the pews of the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ in the Old City Neighborhood of Philadelphia near the Delaware River, we sat, excited with anticipation, among nearly 200 participants at the second annual Philadelphia Caucus of Working Educators (WE) daylong convention. The nine members of our slate who would challenge existing union leadership in the upcoming election had just been announced and Ismael Jimenez, the nominee for vice president of high schools, took the mic:
    We need to start shifting this paradigm. This paradigm that has us disengaged. Powerless. Beholden to interests that aren’t ours. They are treating us like objects. Things just happen to us. No longer can we sit in complacency. The victory that I’m talking about isn’t just a PFT [Philadelphia Federation of Teachers] election. This is a means to an end. And the end is justice.

  • Black Boys in White Spaces

    One Mom’s Reflection

    By Dyan Watson

    Right away I recognized her. Ruby Bridges. The courageous girl who defied white racists and became the first to integrate an all-white elementary school. My 7-year-old son pulled a handout out of his backpack with her face on it. He is in a bilingual, two-way immersion program at our local elementary school. As is our custom on Friday, we emptied his backpack and sorted the contents. We determined what needed to be recycled, what would be hung on our whiteboard, and what needed to be stored in my Things-to-take-care-of box by the fridge. I smiled, because as a former history teacher and lover of Black history, I was happy to see my son learning about this important historical moment. And then, I took a closer look and saw that it was in Spanish. I was elated as it dawned on me that my son truly is emergent bilingual. “Caleb, what’s this about? Did you read this in school?”

  • Beyond the Travel Ban

    Refugee Educational Prospects in the Era of Trump

    By Michelle Bellino

    In May 2016, while I was carrying out ethnographic research in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, a Form 4 (12th grade) history teacher asked me if I would teach his students about U.S. democracy. We flipped through the history and government textbook to one of the last chapters where the national curriculum outlined political systems in Kenya, England, India, and the United States. It was a peculiar moment to put the U.S. democratic system on display.

  • Free Ignoring Diversity, Undermining Equity

    NCTQ and Elementary Literacy Instruction

    By Katherine Crawford-Garrett

    NCTQ, which claims to “provide an alternative national voice to existing teacher organizations and to build the case for a comprehensive reform agenda that would challenge the current structure and regulation of the profession,” was created by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2000 and incorporated in 2001 as a policy response to a perception that colleges of education were not adequately preparing teachers. According to education historian and NCTQ critic Diane Ravitch, the conservative members of the Thomas B. Fordham foundation perceived teacher training as problematic due to an overemphasis on social justice and a lack of focus on basic academic skills and abilities. Thus, NCTQ was originally founded as an entity through which to encourage alternative certification and circumvent colleges of education. Indeed, early on, NCTQ was closely connected to ABCTE (American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence), which created a series of tests that potential teachers could pass in order to bypass teacher education programs altogether by paying $1,995.00.

  • Departments Free
    Education Action
  • The Teacher Uprising of 2018

    By Bob Peterson
  • Commentary
  • Climate Change, Gender, and Nuclear Bombs

    Column: Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms

    By Bill Bigelow
  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.

Climate Change, Gender, and Nuclear Bombs

Column: Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms
Climate Change, Gender, and Nuclear Bombs

In the spring 2011 issue of Rethinking Schools we editorialized about the immense gulf between our terrible environmental crisis — especially the climate crisis — and the adequacy of schools’ curricular response. Seven years later, we still see this gap between crisis and curriculum — which is why we are launching this regular “Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms” column: to offer encouragement and resources for teachers to help students explore the roots and consequences of the crisis and figure out how to respond.

At the urging of teachers, parents, students, and community activists, in the spring of 2016 the Portland, Oregon, school board passed a sweeping climate justice resolution. A key part of the resolution states, “All Portland Public Schools students should develop confidence and passion when it comes to making a positive difference in society, and come to see themselves as activists and leaders for social and environmental justice — especially through seeing the diversity of people around the world who are fighting the root causes of climate change.”

The resolution calls on teachers “to investigate the unequal effects of climate change and to consistently apply an equity lens as we shape our response to this crisis.”

As with so much else in the world, gender is one of the crucial variables determining how the climate crisis affects us.

Catherine Pearson’s short, classroom-friendly HuffPost article, “Why Climate Change Is a Women’s Issue,” summarizes how many of the key features of climate change — drought and uncertain rainfall, rising sea levels, more frequent superstorms, spread of new viruses, rising temperatures, and worsening air quality — often hit women harder than men. Women in poor countries spend more of their time finding water and collecting fuel. For a host of reasons, women are much more likely than men to be killed in natural disasters, and much more vulnerable to the rape and abuse that so often follow the trauma of climate-related hurricanes, floods, or wildfires. Most of the world’s farmers are women, and the ravages of climate change more quickly upend their lives. Rising temperatures worsen air pollution, which can cause respiratory distress for pregnant women and lead to low infant birth weight. And on and on. Of course, women are not only the victims of climate change, but also some of its most formidable opponents. Around the world, women activists are on the front line of the fight against the oppressive systems hastening our climate crisis.

For the past two school years, Portland’s Climate Justice committee, charged with implementing the school board’s resolution, has had the good fortune to partner with one of those activists, the Marshall Islands performance poet Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner. (See Michelle Nicola’s “Teaching to the Heart: Poetry, Climate Change, and Sacred Spaces,” Rethinking Schools, summer 2017.) Kathy has led two professional development sessions for teachers and community members. So far, she has given more than 30 presentations to about 2,000 students — all supported by the school district, thanks to the climate justice resolution.

Too often, climate change is framed as an environmental issue — about carbon dioxide, melting glaciers, ocean acidification, and polar bears. Kathy emphasizes that climate change is much more; it’s about the intertwined legacy of colonialism, racism, militarism, sexism, and a profit-driven economic system. And in the Marshall Islands, the climate catastrophe is layered onto the tragic history of nuclear testing, which has taken an especially harsh toll on women through its horrible legacy of miscarriages and birth defects.

Like other colonized people who have been invaded, bombed, abused, and lied about, the Marshallese have an intimate relationship with the violence of colonialism and the violence of climate change. As Kathy writes on her blog:

I have been passionately advocating against climate change because of my deep sense of fear that our islands will one day be wiped off the map, due to the rising sea levels. But I never realized that we, some of us more than others, have already known the pain of lost homelands. Three [Marshall] islands have been literally vaporized because of the power of the bombs. Bikini and Rongelap atoll are forever lost to our people because of high levels of radiation. This is a loss we’ve had to bear “for a greater good” — a reasoning that is very similar to those who are convinced that our need for consumption outweighs the livelihoods of others.

For an International Women’s Day blog post a couple years ago, Kathy wrote about the impact of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands:

From 1946 to 1968, 67 nuclear weapons were detonated, which is the equivalent of 1.7 Hiroshima bombs being exploded daily for 12 years in terms of radiation exposure. Just the Bravo shot alone, a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb, was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
Women disproportionately bear the burden of the trauma their society has been exposed to — in this case, they bear the burden of a nuclear legacy. It was women who found themselves with birth defects after exposure to the radiation and fallout. “Jellyfish babies” is what they call them. Tiny beings with no bones.

Kathy elaborates in her poem, “History Project”:

the miscarriages gone unspoken
the broken translations
     I never told my husband
     I thought it was my fault
     I thought there must be something wrong
     inside me

I flip through snapshots of American marines and nurses
branded white with bloated grins
sucking beers and tossing beach balls
along our
and my islander ancestors
crosslegged before a general
listening to his
fairy tale
about how it’s
“for the good of mankind”
to hand over our islands
let them blast
radioactive energy
into our lazy limbed coconut trees
our sagging breadfruit trees
our busy fishes that sparkle
like new sun
into our coral reefs
as an aurora borealis woven
beneath a glassy sea

An essential classroom resource on this hidden history is the film Nuclear Savage: The Island Experiments of Secret Project 4.1. The racism of nuclear testing is breathtaking. In 1956, Merril Eisenbud, director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission’s health and safety laboratory, described plans for sending Marshallese back to the atoll of Rongelap, just three years after the largest nuclear test in history: “That island is by far the most contaminated place on Earth and it will be very interesting to get a measure of human uptake when people live in a contaminated environment.” As if that were not outrage enough, he added, “While it is true that these people do not live the way Westerners do, civilized people, it is nevertheless also true that these people are more like us than the mice.”

In addition to “History Project,” Kathy’s poems “Dear Matafele Peinam,” “Tell Them,” “Fishbone Hair,” “Two Degrees,” “Utilomar,” — all available as video performances online — and the agonizing new poem, “Monster,” introduce middle and high school students to how climate change is embedded in a web of colonial and gender oppression. Kathy points out that the Marshall Islands society is matrilineal. “Our mothers bestow land rights and chiefly titles. We believe that it is through our mothers that we receive power. But what will happen to that power if there is no land to pass down?”

Our climate justice resolution in Portland talks about the importance of centering the lives of “front line” people in our curriculum — Indigenous peoples in the Arctic, sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, Pacific Islands, and throughout North America. Especially at this #MeToo/TimesUp moment, the work of Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner is a vital resource to remind students that women are in the front line of the front line — not just as the victims of colonialism and climate change, but as poets and protesters, actors, and activists. As Kathy reminds us on her blog — and as we see with each passing day —women are giving “birth to a new life, to fresh possibilities.” n

Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’s work can be found at her blog,, and in her book Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter (University of Arizona Press, 2017).