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.

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

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


Exploring World History and Current Events with David Rovics
A Musical Teaching Aid

The radical troubadour David Rovics has organized many of his songs into themed teaching modules, adding commentary and context. Fifteen modules include 10 to 15 entries on different events, each including a song, along with written reflections. David Rovics sings people’s history to life. His songs can be funny, poignant, or outrageous, but they never fail to inform and inspire. These provide a brilliant soundtrack for educators who seek to nurture students’ empathy — to bring them closer to the people whose lives we seek to illuminate in our classes.


Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner (University of Arizona Press, 2017) 81 pp.

Remarkably, Iep Jāltok is the first book ever published by a writer from the Marshall Islands — the 29 atolls and five islands that the U.S. government thought would make swell testing grounds for nuclear weapons in the 1940s and 1950s. The United States tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshalls, including the 1954 Castle Bravo test on Bikini Atoll, 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Marshalls are now ground zero for a different kind of colonial invasion — this time of rising seas and king tides, products of “development,” of climate change. In her poetry, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner (see “Climate Change, Gender, and Nuclear Bombs,” p. 61) confronts the intersection of colonialism, nuclear testing, climate change, and resistance. Her work is beautifully and painfully accessible to middle and high school students. See “History Project,” “Fishbone Hair,” “Lessons from Hawai‘i,” “To Laura Ingalls Wilder,” “Dear Matafele Peinam,” “Two Degrees,” and “Tell Them”:

tell them about the water
how we have seen it rising
flooding across our cemeteries
gushing over the sea walls
and crashing against our homes
tell them what it’s like
to see the entire ocean level with the land
tell them
we are afraid . . .
but most importantly tell them
we don’t want to leave
we’ve never wanted to leave
and that we
are nothing without our islands.


Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture
Edited by Gabriel Thompson
(Verso/Voice of Witness, 2017)
319 pp.

One of capitalism’s acts of magic is the supermarket. On any given day, one can walk into Safeway, Kroger, or Whole Foods and find oranges, peppers, avocados, lettuce, apples, and much more, laid out in piles of brilliant color. There are many hidden hands behind the splendor, but perhaps the most hidden of the hidden are those of farmworkers. This book seeks out the humanity behind the harvest. It features interviews with 15 individuals connected to migrant farm labor — some Indigenous, “the invisible of the invisible.” One admirable feature of the interviews is that people are not reduced to their labor; they are moms and students, athletes, and lovers. And the work is not merely described as a catalog of exploitation; farmworkers narrate “the pride in their work, the camaraderie of a crew, the tightknit families, the feeling of deep satisfaction that comes, as [farmworker and organizer] Rosario Pelayo says, from being in ‘a beautiful struggle.’” One way in which white privilege was baked into U.S. society was when Congress excluded domestic and farm work from the National Labor Relations Act. It’s up to us to make sure that the curriculum doesn’t mirror this discrimination.


Teacher Background

Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
(City Lights, 2018)
228 pp.

As we seek to develop a curriculum to help students probe the roots of gun violence in the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Loaded is a vital resource. Dunbar-Ortiz argues that the right to a “well-regulated militia” enshrined in the Second Amendment has been widely misunderstood and misrepresented. She writes: “The militias referred to in the Second Amendment were a means for white people to eliminate Indigenous communities in order to take their land and for slave patrols to control Black people.” She argues that today’s U.S. “gun culture” can only be understood as the product of the history of white supremacy in the United States.


A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History
By Jeanne Theoharis
(Beacon Press, 2018)
282 pp.

A More Beautiful and Terrible History is a must-read for any teacher of the Civil Rights Movement. Theoharis aims to provide a non-academic, popular historiography that can be used by teachers, students, and activists “to approach the task of racial justice today.” The preface and introduction brilliantly trace the creation of a “civil rights fable” that celebrates “individual courage, missing the collective struggle these victories took and forgoing national accountability by relegating history of inequality to the past.” From outlining the Civil Rights Movement in the North that preceded the Black Power uprisings of the mid-1960s to tracing the key role that young people — especially high school students — played, the nine chapters that follow outline “the histories we need.” The book challenges educators to revamp our curriculum to include a fuller, more critical history of the Civil Rights era.


AfricaFocus Bulletin
Edited by William Minter

If you teach about Africa, AfricaFocus Bulletin is an indispensable resource. Edited by longtime scholar and activist William Minter, the biweekly Bulletin compiles valuable articles and commentary on particular themes. Recent issues have focused on migration and refugees, green technology, and global inequality. Classroom-friendly graphics also help students visualize the dynamics described in articles.


What Matters: Reflections on Disability, Community and Love
by Janice Fialka

(Dance of Partnership, 2016)
233 pp.

Janice Fialka’s What Matters: Reflections on Disability, Community and Love recounts her three-plus decades of experience raising a son with intellectual disabilities. It can serve as a memorable introduction to the emerging disability movement that asserts that all forms of disability are not deficits, but instead expressions of the variety of ways that humans can exist in the world. Such an assertion challenges unexamined beliefs about normality and requires a shift in how we think about inclusion. Fialka’s story of her son Micah demonstrates the importance of setting high expectations, allowing people with intellectual disabilities to pursue their own dreams, and taking risks within a community of support that values interdependence over independence. This combination of factors has allowed a person initially slated for institutionalization to become a teacher in courses about special education at Syracuse University and a social justice activist in his own right. More educators need to embrace the vision of disability presented here.



Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika,
Gimlet Media

“The Civil War reverberates in both directions — all the way back to the original sin of the country and right up to whatever Trump tweeted yesterday.” So says Jack Hitt, who along with scholar-activist Chenjerai Kumanyika hosts the excellent Civil War history podcast Uncivil. Kumanyika and Hitt are smart and insightful guides who display powerful curiosity about the past and urgency about its relevance. By profiling everyday people whose current circumstances are inextricably tied to the war and its memory, Uncivil makes the past present. In the first episode, “The Raid,” we meet Fallon Greene, a descendant of Pa Shed, who escaped slavery, joined the Union Army, led a daring and successful raid with Harriet Tubman, and eventually bought the very land on which Fallon’s church sits today. In “The Deed,” we meet 83-year-old Nettye Evans, who is fighting in the 21st century to hold on to land her family acquired 150 years ago through General Sherman’s Special Field Order 15. The episodes are miraculous in their brevity (usually about 25 minutes), given the largeness of the history they reveal — perfect for the classroom.


Picture Books

Midnight Teacher — Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School
By Janet Halfmann
Illustrated by London Ladd
(Lee & Low Books, 2018)
40 pp.

This picture book for mid- to upper-elementary tells the story of Lilly Ann Granderson, an enslaved woman who taught hundreds of people in Kentucky and Mississippi to read. Her schools were held in secrecy and under threat of severe punishment. Readers learn not only about this little-known educator, but also of the profound commitment to education that prevailed among people held in bondage. Her students took what they learned and passed it on to others. The book ends with Emancipation and Granderson continuing to teach — publicly now — during Reconstruction.


Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song By Kathryn Erskine Illustrated by Charly Palmer (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2017) 48 pp.

“Music gets inside me and starts to shake things up,” says internationally acclaimed singer Miriam Makeba on the opening page of this picture book about her life. The story shows how her songs shook up the world — first in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and later by mobilizing international support for the anti-apartheid struggle while Makeba lived in exile. Readers learn about key events in South African history such as the jailing of Nelson Mandela and the Soweto Uprising. The story ends with Mandela walking out of prison and Makeba returning home to sing songs of celebration.


P Is for Palestine:
A Palestine Alphabet Book

By Golbarg Bashi
Illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi
(Dr. Bashi, 2017)
60 pp.

See Palestine through the eyes of a child with this delightfully illustrated alphabet book for young children. The letters introduce family members, places, food, and traditions. It begins with “A is for Arabic, my tongue, a language that’s the fourth largest ever sung.”


Graphic Novel

I Am Alfonso Jones
By Tony Medina
Illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings
(Tu Books, 2017)
176 pp.

I Am Alfonso Jones provides young readers with a narrative that not only addresses the complexity and history of police brutality, but also discusses climate change, gun control, the criminalization of Black males, the Black Lives Matter movement, youth activism, Afro-Latinidad, and so much more. Alfonso, a New York City teenager attends the prestigious Henry Dumas School of the Arts, a school for gifted youth. While shopping for a suit with his friend Denetta, a police officer, who mistakes a hanger for a weapon, shoots Alfonso. Joined by a train of ancestors, also killed through police violence, Alfonso goes on a journey that illuminates the circumstances of his death and the devastating impact his murder had on his friends and family. Written as a graphic novel, I Am Alfonso Jones can grasp the attention of middle school and high school students alike. Tony Medina’s use of New York slang can help urban youth to see themselves as intellectuals capable of having academic conversations using their own language to discuss literature.


Reviewed by Bill Bigelow, Deborah Menkart, Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, Adam Sanchez, Greg Smith, and Faye Colon.