In 1986, a group of Milwaukee-area teachers had a vision.
They wanted not only to improve education in their own classrooms and schools, but to help shape reform throughout the public school system in the United States.
Today that vision is embodied in Rethinking Schools.
Rethinking Schools began as a local effort to address problems such as basal readers, standardized testing, and textbook-dominated curriculum. Since its founding, it has grown into a nationally prominent publisher of educational materials, with subscribers in all 50 states, all 10 Canadian provinces, and many other countries.
While the scope and influence of Rethinking Schools has changed, its basic orientation has not. Most importantly, it remains firmly committed to equity and to the vision that public education is central to the creation of a humane, caring, multiracial democracy. While writing for a broad audience, Rethinking Schools emphasizes problems facing urban schools, particularly issues of race.
Throughout its history, Rethinking Schools has tried to balance classroom practice and educational theory. It is an activist publication, with articles written by and for teachers, parents, and students. Yet it also addresses key policy issues, such as vouchers and marketplace-oriented reforms, funding equity, and school-to-work.
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote that teachers should attempt to "live part of their dreams within their educational space." Rethinking Schools believes that classrooms can be places of hope, where students and teachers gain glimpses of the kind of society we could live in and where students learn the academic and critical skills needed to make that vision a reality.
Rethinking Schools attempts to be both visionary and practical: visionary because we need to be inspired by each other's vision of schooling; practical because for too long, teachers and parents have been preached at by theoreticians, far-removed from classrooms, who are long on jargon and short on specific examples.
The Common School
At a time when racial and class inequalities are growing in our country, we believe that any vision of schooling must be grounded in "the common school." Schools are about more than producing efficient workers or future winners of the Nobel Prize for science. They are the place in this society where children from a variety of backgrounds come together and, at least in theory, learn to talk, play, and work together.
Schools are integral not only to preparing all children to be full participants in society, but also to be full participants in this country's ever-tenuous experiment in democracy. That this vision has yet to be fully realized does not mean it should be abandoned.
There are many reasons to be discouraged about the future: School districts nationwide continue to slash budgets; violence in our schools and cities shows no signs of abating; attempts to privatize the schools have not slowed; and the country's productive resources are still used to make zippier shoes, rather than used in less profitable arenas like education and affordable housing.
There is a Zulu expression: "If the future doesn't come toward you, you have to go fetch it." We believe teachers, parents, and students are essential to building a movement to go fetch a better future: in our classrooms, in our schools, and in the larger society. There are lots of us out there. Let's make our voices heard.
Despite Rethinking Schools' growth since 1986, it remains a small nonprofit organization directed by editors and editorial associates who volunteer their time, aided by a small staff. We welcome your feedback, and encourage you to join us in rethinking our schools and our society.