Table of Contents

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  • Free Celebrating Transgender Students in Our Classrooms and in Our Schools

    By the editors of Rethinking Schools

    What can teachers, schools, and districts do to meet the needs of trans students? To make them visible? To keep them alive? To celebrate them?

  • Free On Behalf of Their Name

    Using They/Them Pronouns Because They Need Us To

    By Mykhiel Deych

    The staff advisor for their high school’s Queer-Straight Alliance delves into the complexities of a student-led training for teachers on the importance of using students’ preferred pronouns. >>> Adrienne Rich’s quote illuminated the projector screen welcoming teachers as they entered the library for a 90-minute training on gender and sexuality acceptance led by the Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) — a student organization that I am the staff advisor for. Our large urban school holds about 100 staff members. Maybe 3 percent looked forward to this training. The rest sat with their arms crossed, present only because admin mandated their attendance. . . .

  • Free Teaching Them into Existence

    By Mykhiel Deych

    A high school English teacher (also the QSA staff advisor) wrestles with the suicide of a transgender student and calls on heterosexual and cisgender teachers to integrate LGBTQ authors, themes, and history into their classrooms. >>> Teaching isn’t supposed to include life-or-death consequences, but it does. When it comes to LGBTQ students, we fail to hold space for their existence. Heterocentric, cisnormative curriculum writes out the existence of LGBTQ lives. Campaigns such as Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better,” spur and go viral precisely because we aren’t actually reassuring youth that their existence is acceptable, real, normal. We need an “It Gets Better” campaign because high school is awful for LGBTQ kids, high school is fatal. . . .

  • Free Queering Black History and Getting Free

    By Dominique Hazzard

    A Black freedom organizer demands that teachers and activists radically change their frameworks around Black history by lifting up the stories of Black LGBTQ people like Marsha P. Johnson. >>> Queering Black history means canonizing Marsha P. Johnson as a matriarch of Black America. Putting her face on those calendars and poster collages right next to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Coretta Scott King, and Michelle Obama. It means studying her ACT UP campaigns in high school classrooms. It means mourning her too-early death just as we mourn the deaths of cisgender men like Malcolm and Medgar. It means examining why it took 20 years for the NYPD to investigate that death as a murder, and having conversations about the role of the Black freedom movement in bringing about trans liberation today. . . .

  • Free "What Kind Are You?"

    Transgender Characters in Children’s Literature

    By Lora Worden

    A school librarian describes children’s books with strong transgender characters and themes. >>> Some of those who wished to remove George denied that it was because of the book’s transgender protagonist, and instead cited concerns over passing references to dirty magazines and characters who erased their internet search history in order to hide that information from their parents.

  • Features
  • Free Teaching Social Activism in Prison

    The Leap Manifesto and Incarcerated Youth

    By Rachel Boccio

    A Connecticut educator who taught English to incarcerated young men for 20 years describes what happened when she introduced her students to the Canadian “Leap Manifesto.” >>> Manson Youth Institution is a maximum security correctional facility for adolescent males tried and sentenced as adults in the Connecticut Department of Correction. Its population is composed mostly of poor men of color with histories of abuse, detention, and truancy. Education is mandatory for the majority of Manson’s inmates: boys file up to school — right side of the yellow line, no talking, IDs out, shirts tucked, heads down — bearing the anger, frustration, fear, and loneliness that inheres to incarcerated life. . . .

  • Free You Need Rank and File to Win: How Arizona Teachers Built a Movement

    By Noah Karvelis

    An elementary teacher who helped organize Arizona educators to strike explains how their movement formed and operated, and how it can inspire other teachers’ movements. >>> Across the nation, from Puerto Rico to Kentucky and Colorado to California, a powerful teachers’ movement has been growing. The potential of this movement first became apparent when West Virginia’s teachers went on strike in February and ultimately won a 5 percent raise for all public employees. Following this, Oklahoma’s educators mobilized and won raises and additional funding. After that strike, teachers in my own state of Arizona went on a six-day strike and won $406 million in funding. . . .

  • Free My First Year as a Teacher of Color

    Teaching Against the Grain

    By Juan Córdova

    A teacher of color writes about obstacles he faced during his first year in the classroom and the support he received — and did not receive — from other teachers and administrators. >>> Interviewing for my first teaching job out of school, I arrived excited in a suit and tie as I was walked to a sunny corner office to meet the principal. A charming middle-aged white woman with a bright smile, a bubbly personality, and contagious excitement, she seemed eager to get to know me and asked to hear my story and find out how this man of Color decided to go into teaching. . . .

  • Free Deportations on Trial

    Mexican Americans During the Great Depression

    By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

    A social studies teacher describes the role play trial she developed around a largely forgotten period: when during the Great Depression the United States deported thousands of Mexican American families. >>> From the late 1920s to the late 1930s, men, women, and children, immigrant and U.S.-born, citizen and noncitizen, longtime residents and temporary workers all became the targets of a massive campaign of forced relocation, based solely on their perceived status as “Mexican.” They were rounded up in parks, at work sites, and in hospitals; betrayed by local relief agencies who reported anyone with a “Mexican sounding” name to the Immigration Service; tricked and terrorized into “voluntary” deportation by municipal and state officials; and forcibly deported in trains and buses to a country some hadn’t lived in for decades and others never at all. . . .

  • Free Who Is Allowed to Teach Spanish in Our Public Schools?

    Documenting the Consequences of the edTPA

    By Sarah Jourdain

    The director of a world language teacher preparation program argues for an end to the edTPA because it bars native Spanish speakers from public school classrooms. >>> Maria found a position in a local private school, but she is still not eligible to teach in the New York state public school system even though her program’s teacher education faculty, as well as both of her cooperating teachers, were unanimous in deeming Maria qualified to begin her career as a Spanish teacher. . . .

  • Departments Free
    Commentary
  • Tax the Rich, Fight Climate Change

    Column: Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms

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

Tax the Rich, Fight Climate Change

Column: Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms
Tax the Rich, Fight Climate Change

Michael Duffy

Following the 2018 midterm elections, national media missed one piece of very good news. By a margin of almost two-to-one, tens of thousands of Portland, Oregon, voters approved an imaginative clean energy initiative that offers a model for the rest of the country — at the ballot box, but also in our classrooms.

Work on Portland’s Clean Energy Fund began in February of 2016 in a church basement when representatives of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), Verde (a community-based environmental organization), the Coalition of Communities of Color, the NAACP, and 350PDX (the local affiliate of 350.org) met to discuss how work to fight climate change could simultaneously address racial and economic justice and create living wage jobs. The initiative was the first ballot measure in Oregon’s history launched and led by people of color. And it’s what we need a lot more of: conversations, activism (including curriculum) that lead people to recognize that the “just transition” away from fossil fuels can also be a move toward a society that is cleaner, more equal, and more democratic.

The Clean Energy Fund will be supported by a tax — technically, a surcharge — of 1 percent on corporations with gross retail receipts nationally of $1 billion and at least $500,000 in Portland. Food, medicine, and healthcare are exempt. A 1 percent tax on the 1 percent. Corporations affected include big retailers like Walmart, Target, J. C. Penney, and Best Buy, but also the media behemoth Comcast, which dominates Portland’s cable market. Organizers estimate that the tax will raise $30 million a year. The money will go to a fund dedicated to clean energy projects — renewable energy and energy efficiency — targeted explicitly to benefit low-income communities and communities of color. The fund will also support regenerative agriculture and green infrastructure projects aimed at greenhouse gas sequestration and sustainable local food production.

An important component of the new initiative will be creating clean energy jobs that “prioritize skills training, and workforce development for economically disadvantaged and traditionally underemployed workers, including communities of color, women, persons with disabilities, and the chronically underemployed.” Workers will be paid more than $20 an hour, at least 180 percent of minimum wage.

Khanh Pham, an organizer with APANO, recently spoke about why her organization helped create this initiative: “Asians and Pacific Islanders are the first and hardest hit by climate change. Many of our members, particularly our immigrant members, are struggling to find living wage work. This ballot initiative allows us to tackle both climate change and growing inequality at the same time.”

The tax targets rich corporations not just because they are rich, and can easily afford to pay — although that would be reason enough — but also because of their climate-hostile practices: selling heavily packaged non-recyclable products and their carbon-intensive shipping of goods long distances from factories often powered by the dirtiest fossil fuels. Levied only on giant retailers and not on local businesses, the measure also represents a way to favor local production and sales.

Classroom Implications
Portland’s successful clean energy campaign offers lots of lessons for how we can reframe the climate crisis in our classrooms. So often just the mention of climate change is accompanied by a sigh of despair. But the Portland initiative shows that we can shift from what often feels like a journey into dystopia to a narrative of social transformation. Yes, our curriculum should focus on the increasingly scary greenhouse gas trajectory, but our students are unlikely to be moved solely by horror stories of raging wildfires, melting glaciers, rising seas, monster hurricanes, and yes, dying polar bears. We also need to engage their imaginations, their hope for a better world. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report calls for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” which need to “go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.” This can and should be at the heart of a climate change, a climate justice, curriculum: imagining how a just transition away from fossil fuels can create a healthier and more equal society.

The multi-organizational conversation that led up to Portland’s clean energy initiative began from the standpoint of social justice — what has been called an “environmentalism of the poor.” Instead of a conservative curriculum that asks students to consider all they will lose as a result of global warming, which is an implicit embrace of the status quo, we need a radical curriculum that asks students to consider all they will gain from a just transition away from fossil fuels.

Portland’s campaign to establish the Clean Energy Fund had solidarity at its heart — people in diverse communities coming together to pursue a just transition that makes life better for the vast majority of people. Our “just transition curriculum” also needs to have solidarity at its heart. As we make activism common sense in our classrooms, we need to help students practice thinking about the ways communities can collaborate across historic borders toward a common future. This is what Adam Sanchez, Tim Swinehart, and I attempted in a role play we wrote, “Teaching Blockadia: How the Movement Against Fossil Fuels Is Changing the World,” posted recently at the Zinn Education Project. In the role play, we divide students into seven groups, all of whom seek to protect their communities from the impact of fossil fuels. For example, some of the groups include ecoCheyenne, Northern Cheyenne tribal activists in Montana, fighting coal strip-mining and methane development; Our Hamburg, Our Grid, the Hamburg, Germany, group that spearheaded the campaign to seize the electrical grid from private utilities; the “Warriors of Sompeta,” in Sompeta, India, who organized to shut down development of a coal-fired power plant in their community; and the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, struggling against tar sands oil development on their land in Alberta, Canada.

In the role play, students learn about the peculiarities of their situations, but also rotate from group to group to encounter different struggles and to figure out how they can work in solidarity with each other toward a green future — one not dominated by fossil fuels or the imperatives of for-profit corporations. Students-as-activists come together to demonstrate at a “Fossil Fuels for a Better Future” gathering, give speeches, and display posters they’ve created on the vision that unites their activism. Part of students’ assignment is to visually represent how at least two of the anti-fossil fuel struggles are connected and can support one another.

Portland’s just-approved clean energy initiative will help schools in some obvious and immediate ways. The fund can support the placement of solar panels on school buildings; it can support revitalized school gardening and farming programs; and support programs that train young people in green building design, weatherization, and solar installation. But it also offers teachers a paradigm shift on climate education. It shows that when we begin to explore the roots of multiple injustices — from climate change to income inequality — we can begin to imagine the outlines of a movement and a curriculum powered by solidarity.

Bill Bigelow (bill@rethinkingschools.org) is curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and co-editor of A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis. Artist Michael Duffy’s work can be found at duff-co.com.