Reviving Our Democracy and Revitalizing Our Schools and Communities: Reframing the Work of Teachers

(Book Preview!)

If you’re interested in checking out my new book, please take a look at my new post for Ethical ELA! The post is adapted from my forthcoming book, Civic Literacy in Schools and Communities: Teaching and Organizing for a Revitalized Democracy, from Teachers College Press.

Why I’m Supporting an Authentic Ethnic Studies Curriculum for CA Schools

As both a parent and an educator living and working in California, I see up close the need for an authentic ethnic studies curriculum in our K12 schools. While my two young children, who both attend their local public school, have great teachers and are lucky to attend a school with a diverse student population, they often come to me after their Zoom school sessions with questions about history and politics that go unanswered and unaddressed in the traditional, whitewashed curriculum being taught in our schools.

Their questions about race, inequality, social movements, gender, and injustice in our society are a reflection of the natural curiosity that all children possess and that our schools should nurture and support. As Ira Shor tells us, “People are naturally curious. They are born learners. Education can either develop or stifle their inclination to ask why and to learn.”

The question before us now (and before the State Board of Education on March 18) is the following:

Will we stifle the inclination to ask why and to learn or will we support and nurture this inclination in our schools?

Why Ethnic Studies and Why Now?

As you may know, controversy has recently erupted around the development of an authentic ethnic studies model curriculum (ESMC) for CA schools. On one side, you have a coalition of educators, community-based organizations, scholars, parents, and students from across the state who want to see the ESMC revised in ways that reflect the intentions of the original curriculum that was submitted to the SBE.

One of the groups, of which I am also a member, that’s supporting the development of an authentic ESMC is CARE-ED, the California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education, a statewide collaborative of education researchers. CARE-ED has released a research brief on the Benefits of Ethnic Studies and sent a petition (signed by more than 400 university professors) to the SBE in support of an authentic ESMC. We are now calling on our allies to contact the SBE by this Friday (see below for how you can leave public comments) in support of an authentic ESMC and the inclusion of the section titled, “The Benefits of Ethnic Studies” in the ESMC. Specifically, we are asking supporters to contact the SBE and ask them to retain and bolster the section on “The Benefits of Ethnic Studies,” and to ensure that decisions about Ethnic Studies centrally involve expert practitioners and scholars whose work centers in Ethnic Studies, including decisions about curricular frameworks and content and professional development and certification. We also urge the SBE to bring the final ESMC edits to a place strong and authentic enough that the original ESMC writers, advisory committee members, and Ethnic Studies expert practitioners and scholars can once again support.

On the other side of this debate, you have the defenders of the status quo, who claim that an ethnic studies curriculum is “divisive” and that ethnic studies is a form of political “indoctrination” and, worse, “anti-Semitic.”

What these critics leave unsaid, however, is quite telling:

1) The traditional curriculum is not neutral: it presents our history and society in a very limited way. Researchers, scholars, students, and parents have been arguing for decades that racism and other inequities have long existed in our society and cannot be undone until we rigorously investigate this history and its current and ongoing legacy. See here, for a statement in support of ethnic studies signed by more than 2,300 educators and organizations from across the US.

2) Ethnic Studies curriculum offers not only a more comprehensive, accurate, inclusive curriculum, but also, the ES curriculum has been proven to improve student learning and wellness for all students. Ethnic Studies responds to the exclusion that many students from minoritized groups (i.e., African American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Chicanx/Latinx, and Native American) contend with when being taught a biased K-12 curriculum that (based on analyses of textbooks) continues to represent white people exponentially more, and more complexly, than both the Native peoples of the land where the course is taught, and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) generally and specifically.

How Can You Help? Follow the steps below to make your voice heard!

Civic Literacy in Schools and Communities

I have a new book coming out this April. If you’re interested to learn more about, please check out this recent blog post:

In his new book, Civic Literacy in Schools and Communities: Teaching and Organizing for a Revitalized Democracy (Teachers College Press, 2021), U of R School of Education Professor Brian Charest reframes the teaching profession as a vehicle for social change. By providing teachers with the tools and strategies they need to delve into community-based work alongside their students, Charest argues that school and community involvement can be intertwined. Katie Olson of the Bulldog Blog spoke with Charest about how his career influenced his academic work, the importance of a holistic approach to education, and where educators can begin doing this work.

Navigating the Shores: Rethinking the Teacher as Researcher

This article in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy examines how graduate students in a semester-long research course, a capstone experience in a master’s program in teaching and learning, came to redefine what counts as educational research. The students were challenged to conduct a research project, while also exploring how their ideas about teaching and research delimited their work. This inquiry revealed a central paradox in education research—that by calling for more teacher voice in research we may liberate teachers and students to do their work differently, while also perpetuating narrow colonial conceptions of what it means to be a teacher and conduct teacher research. The author argues that in order to decolonize teaching and research, students need opportunities to develop a political analysis that will help expose the contradictions that abound in schools, universities, and society.

Encouraging Persistence in Writing

A great new blog post by Kate Sjostrom about the gifts we give our students when we invite them to write the stories that matter to them:
“Perhaps the greatest gifts we can give such students are the gifts Ms. Angela gives her students: an invitation to tell the stories they want to tell, an authentic audience, and the time to craft those stories they care about for an audience they care about, too. With those gifts, perhaps even the most reluctant of writers can learn to persist.”

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Kate Sjostrom

Who are these children sitting around me? Surely they are not my eight-year-old daughter and her classmates, though they look like them and go by their names. These children have just asked if they can skip recess to finish critiquing the story we have been reviewing for over two hours. These children have been only constructive in their feedback, never once dismissing something they “just didn’t like.”  

The one who looks like my daughter and whose story we have been reading begs, “Please, Mom.” I look at her—at the blue-grey eyes that I share, at the blue and green striped shirt I helped pick out this morning—and I cave. “Sure,” I tell her. “We can keep going.” But I watch her from the corner of my eye as she readies her pencil to take more notes on what is not yet working in her…

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Open Letter in Support of School Walkouts to Protest Gun Violence

If you’re a university educator in CA, please consider signing this open letter! Thanks.

Cloaking Inequity

This is just a short reminder to take a moment to read and then sign this open letter in support of administrators, teachers, and students in California who wish to participate in the national school walkouts to protest gun violence.
This letter will be submitted by a group of faculty in the CEJ (Center for Educational Justice at the University of Redlands in the School of Education) to the California Department of Education in response to the recent call for several National School Walkouts. All university-based researchers (including faculty, researchers, and administrators) throughout California are invited to sign their names in support of this letter.

Listed on the letter will be each signer’s Name, Title, and College/University/Affiliation.
To sign, please click below and submit information in the form fields below the letter by March 9, 2018.

The following letter was co-authored by the following faculty in the School of…

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Nurturing a Culture of Equality: The Nova Project

Is there room for democratically run, inquiry-based schools in today’s climate of test-and-punish accountability? Is it possible to create spaces where students follow their own interest and pursue inquiries that matter to them? And, if so, what would an inquiry-based high school look like in practice?

Well, I can tell you a few things about The Nova Project, a public high school in Seattle, where I currently teach: at department meetings there isn’t much talk about how to implement the Common Core; and, we don’t spend much time talking about test scores—except when we’re discussing our opt-out numbers (we had 100% last year); what you will see though, are teachers discussing how to best support students, how to partner with community organizations to get services and provide opportunities for students in school and out in the larger Seattle community; you’ll also hear teachers planning courses on the films of Kurosawa and Wes Anderson; or, courses on Dante’s Inferno and graphic novels, as well as Shakespearean tragedies; you’ll also see classes focusing exclusively on Young Adult Literature (YAL); as well as classes on African American Studies; spoken word poetry; writing blogs; novel and short story writing; courses on the history of skateboarding; courses on the history of the neighborhood; courses on math and music; courses on the environment; animation, dance, and music courses; and, classes on philosophy. What’s more, we don’t have grades at Nova; students demonstrate competencies through things like projects, performances, artworks, and critical reflections.

But my point in writing about all of this is not simply to brag about how great Nova is, and it’s certainly not to suggest that we’ve solved all the problems of education, or that we have somehow created a template for schooling, but rather I want to remind folks of what’s possible, even today in the age of accountability and standardization. I want to make clear that it is possible to make positive changes in public schools, to get involved, to opt out, to go on strike, to occupy, to push back, to demonstrate, and to adapt what we do in schools as well as how we do it. Ideas about inquiry-based and project-based education and research about democratic education aren’t new. So, the question is this: Why aren’t more of us organizing our schools around these ideas?  Why aren’t more of our education leaders pushing for real creative and innovative public schools and then giving teachers and students the space to explore what’s worth knowing and doing?

In this post, NCTE writer Bill Bystricky continues his investigation into The Nova Project, a public high school in Seattle that embraces democracy, equality, and freedom.

Putting Humanity Back at the Center: The Nova Project

In this post by writer Bill Bystricky on the NCTE blog Literacy & NCTE, Bill looks at The Nova Project, an alternative public high school in Seattle where I teach. Bill examines what it means when a school takes democracy seriously and involves students in all aspects of school decision making, including hiring, budget, and curriculum development.

The question I ask is this: Why aren’t more public school officials supporting the creation of schools like The Nova Project, particularly when we’ve known for such a long time that research supports inquiry-based education, that put students at the center of their learning?

Read more here: Democracy in a Public High School