Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free The Green New Deal and Our Schools

    By the editors of Rethinking Schools

    So often, the climate crisis is presented in frightening, threatening terms: rising seas, superstorms, raging wildfires, unlivable temperatures, species extinction, disappearing glaciers, dying coral, climate refugees. These are real. But the paradox is that this dystopian possibility is forcing us to imagine an entirely different kind of society. Schools have a central role to play in devising new alternatives and equipping young people to bring those alternatives to life. This is the work we’ve been assigned.

  • Free Solar Power Comes to Math Class

    By Flannery Denny

    A math educator brings data from a friend’s solar panels — and the story to win them in their community — into her 7th-grade classroom to build a bridge between math and climate justice education.

  • Free "Because Our Islands Are Our Life"

    Column: Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms

    By Moé Yonamine

    A high school ethnic studies teacher describes how students in the Pacific Island Club used poetry to refocus the narrative surrounding climate justice onto frontline communities.

  • Features
  • Free How We Failed Nigel Shelby and Allowed the Abuse He Endured

    By Maximillian Matthews

    A writer interrogates school culture and our collective role in the suicide of a gay 15-year-old 9th grader in Alabama.

  • Free Creating Bias Detectives, Blowing Up Stereotypes, and Writing Essays that Matter

    By Linda Christensen

    “Part of the work of teaching students to read is teaching them to question not only the written word, but also the author,” Christensen writes in her article about teaching students how to confront writers whose stories erase the full truth and misrepresent people and places.

  • Free Time to Get Off the Testing Train

    By Stan Karp

    While high-profile tests like the SAT are problematic, Karp argues that we need to end the routine standardized tests that plague students and teachers.

  • Free Racial Justice Is Not a Choice

    White supremacy, high-stakes testing, and the punishment of Black and Brown students

    By Wayne Au

    High-stakes tests have not only failed to achieve racial equality in schooling, they’ve also made it worse for students of color.

  • Free "I Can't Make a Teacher Love My Son"

    A Black parent's journey to racial justice organizing

    By Zakiya Sankara-Jabar

    After teachers label her son’s behavior as problematic and try to have him evaluated by a psychologist, a Black parent uncovers why schools fail Black boys and begins organizing her community to challenge practices detrimental to them.

  • Free Making Room for Death

    By Katy Alexander

    Death happens regularly, but a special education teacher describes her own mother’s death to show how schools leave no space for grief and try to hide death from the school community.

  • Free Macaroni Social Justice

    By Ilana Greenstein

    A 3rd-grade teacher uses thousands of pieces of macaroni to facilitate a lesson about fractions and to spur classroom conversations about wealth inequality.

  • Departments Free
    Ed Alert
  • Rethinking Our Classrooms Among Race and Education Books Censored at Illinois Prison

  • The SAT's New "Adversity Score"

    A poor fix for a problematic test

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

Rethinking Our Classrooms Among Race and Education Books Censored at Illinois Prison

Rethinking Our Classrooms Among Race and Education Books Censored at Illinois Prison

Education Justice Project

In late January, authorities at the Danville Correctional Center in east-central Illinois removed more than 200 titles from the prison’s library. One of the books that was confiscated was the Rethinking Schools book Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice , first published in 1994 and edited by Bill Bigelow, Linda Christensen, Stan Karp, Barbara Miner, and Bob Peterson.

When she found out about the book removal, Rebecca Ginsburg, director of the Education Justice Project and a University of Illinois professor, said, “I felt sick.” Ginsburg’s program offers classes to men incarcerated at Danville through the University of Illinois. The prison library includes about 4,000 volumes in two rooms.

The censored titles fell into three broad categories: race, prison life, and education. Rethinking Our Classrooms was in good company. Other titles prison authorities stripped from the library included Cornel West’s Race Matters; Maya Schenwar’s Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better; Basil Davidson’s The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State and The African Slave Trade; Lerone Bennett’s Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America; and Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.

Along with Rethinking Our Classrooms, education materials pulled from the prison library included 16 issues of the venerable education magazine Radical Teacher; two of Jonathan Kozol’s books, The Shame of the Nation and Death at an Early Age; Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race; Venus Evans-Winters’ Teaching Black Girls: Resiliency in Urban Classrooms; and Ann Arnett Ferguson’s Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity.

Many of the authors of censored books made statements in solidarity with the Education Justice Project and the prisoners it serves. Illinois Newsroom’s Lee V. Gaines, who first reported on the story, interviewed a number of the authors whose books were removed from the prison.

“It seems to me that the books that are being removed . . . all of them deal with empowerment in some way. Certainly, my book does,” said Beverly Daniel Tatum. “It talks about understanding what racism is, how racism impacts us individually and collectively, and ultimately what we can do to break the cycle of racism. If for some reason you don’t want people to learn about that, you would remove that book.”

*** Buy banned books! Click here to purchase a copy of Rethinking Our Classrooms!  ***

Another of the removed books was Jacqueline Woodson’s Visiting Day, about a young girl who visits her father in prison.

“It’s heartbreaking. And it’s not surprising,” Woodson told Gaines. “I think we . . . live in a system where there is a prison industrial complex, and Black and Brown bodies are being used to manufacture stuff, and be cheap labor. And because of that, of course they’re not going to want them to be empowered; of course they’re not going to want them to learn more; of course they’re not going to want them to have the tools they need for the outside world; of course they’re not going to want them to see mirrors of themselves in literature.”

To defend the book removal, prison authorities directed reporters to their policy that bans material that is sexually explicit or otherwise “obscene,” encourages hatred or violence, or is “otherwise detrimental to security, good order of the facility.”

Ginsburg said that over the course of its 10-year existence, the prison program has enrolled 221 incarcerated students in 300- to 400-level University of Illinois courses in multiple disciplines, earning college credit or certificates in humanities or education studies.

The Education Justice Project has recently launched the Freedom to Learn Campaign, so people can express support for the education work going on in Illinois prisons.

Ginsburg told Rethinking Schools that “this incident has felt like an assault, but it has done so much good in bringing us closer to our allies and to people and work we admire.”

Find out more about the Freedom to Learn Campaign here:

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