Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free The Problems with the Common Core

    Authored By Stan Karp

    The rollout of the Common Core has seemed more like a marketing campaign than an educational plan. A look at the funders, origins, and uses of the new standards shows why the pushback is building.

  • Free La problemática de los Estándares Comunes Estatales

    Por Stan Karp | Traducido por Nicholas Yurchenco, Andreina Velasco

    La introducción de los Estándares Comunes se ha parecido más a una campaña publicitaria que a un plan educativo. Un análisis de los fondos, orígenes y usos de los nuevos estándares demuestra por qué la resistencia en contra de ellos está creciendo.

  • Free Martin Luther King Jr. and the Common Core

    A critical reading of close reading

    Authored By Daniel E. Ferguson

    The chief architect of the Common Core created a model lesson of a close reading of King's “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” A teacher from Birmingham compares that to King's own critical reading of the “word” and the “world.”

  • Features
  • Free Trayvon Martin and My Students

    Writing toward justice

    Authored By Linda Christensen

    President Obama's speech about the Zimmerman acquittal in Trayvon Martin's murder—and Cornel West's response—are rich sources for students learning how to analyze, evaluate, and critique.

  • Free Sex Talk on the Carpet

    Incorporating gender and sexuality into 5th-grade curriculum

    Authored By Valdine Ciwko

    Instead of leaving “the puberty talk” to the nurse, an elementary teacher incorporates age-appropriate discussion into her regular classroom routine.

  • Free Hablar de sexo en el salón de clases

    Incorporar el género y la sexualidad en el currículo de 5to Grado

    Por Valdine Ciwko | Traducido por César Peña-Sandoval

    En lugar de dejarle “la charla” sobre la pubertad a la enfermera de la escuela, una maestra de primaria incorpora a las rutinas de la clase discusiones adecuadas para la edad de sus alumnos.

  • Looking for Justice at Turkey Creek

    Out of the classroom and into the past

    Authored By Hardy Thames

    High school students embed themselves in a community's history and people when they study the impact of “development” on historically African American Turkey Creek in Gulfport, Mississippi.

  • Greed as a Weapon

    Teaching the other war in Iraq

    Authored By Adam Sanchez

    A high school teacher uses a role-play to explore the economic dimensions of the war in Iraq.

  • Departments Free
    Editorial
  • Connecting the Dots

    Authored By The Editors of Rethinking Schools
  • Good Stuff
  • Awareness of the Natural World

    Authored By Herbert Kohl
  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.

Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots

The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom this past summer produced some brilliant commentary about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. One of the sharpest of these was a short essay that Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, posted to her Facebook page. We want to quote at length from this essay because we think that it holds valuable—even essential—lessons for those of us working to defend and improve public schools.

Alexander urges us to look at King's trajectory following the march:

Five years after the march, Dr. King was speaking out against the Vietnam War, condemning America's militarism and imperialism—famously stating that our nation was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He saw the connections between the wars we wage abroad, and the utter indifference we have for poor people and people of color at home. He saw the necessity of openly critiquing an economic system that will fund war and will reward greed hand over fist, but will not pay workers a living wage. Five years after the March on Washington, Dr. King was ignoring all those who told him to just stay in his lane, just stick to talking about civil rights.

This is the lingering challenge that King posed: Get out of your lane. Our task, Alexander urges, is to begin connecting the dots between issues that we feel passionately about and other social wrongs that may seem far afield but that share the same systemic roots. Alexander does not wag a scolding finger at her readers; she is self-critical of what she considers her own too-narrow focus:

Yet here I am decades later, staying in my lane. I have not been speaking publicly about the relationship between drones abroad and the war on drugs at home. I have not been talking about the connections between the corrupt capitalism that bails out Wall Street bankers, moves jobs overseas, and forecloses on homes with zeal, all while private prisons yield high returns and expand operations into a new market: caging immigrants. I have not been connecting the dots between the NSA spying on millions of Americans, the labeling of mosques as “terrorist organizations,” and the spy programs of the 1960s and '70s—specifically the FBI and COINTELPRO programs that placed civil rights advocates under constant surveillance, infiltrated civil rights organizations, and assassinated racial justice leaders.

Alexander is not suggesting that we abandon the issues we know intimately and are engaged with, but that we deepen our work by connecting our concerns to issues that might at first seem disconnected yet, on more careful examination, are linked together. For example, President Obama brought the United States to the brink of bombing Syria because of President Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians, especially children. The actions of the Syrian regime are despicable; chemical weapons are horrific and immoral. Equally despicable, though, is the chemical warfare waged against children here at home. What about the documented birth defects of children living near mountaintop mining sites in West Virginia? What about the mercury poisoning of children here and around the world, thanks to burning coal for energy? Because of a host of factors connected to poverty and racism, deaths from asthma are two to three times greater for African Americans than for whites—and children are hit the hardest. And what about the ongoing toll in Vietnam from the toxic warfare waged by the United States, especially through Agent Orange, or the white phosphorous and depleted uranium that the United States used while laying siege to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004? In countless ways, it has been—and is—the unspoken policy of the U.S. government and multinational corporations to wage chemical war on children. The welfare of children is subordinated to the imperatives of corporate profits and making war—which, too often, go hand in hand.

So when we seek to defend children from the abuses of standardized testing, biased curricula, school closures, unequal and inadequate school funding, and the like, we also need to consider how these hurtful practices are part of a system that values profit and power over childhood—and is willing to use violence to secure its ends.

This may move us out of our organizational comfort zones, but the deeper we go, the more allies we'll find, and the greater the likelihood of effecting the kind of basic social changes we need to address the entire constellation of injustices we face. This is what Alexander saw in King's post-March on Washington work:

In the years that followed, he did not play politics to see what crumbs a fundamentally corrupt system might toss to the beggars of justice. Instead he connected the dots and committed himself to building a movement that would shake the foundations of our economic and social order, so that the dream he preached in 1963 might one day be a reality for all. He said that nothing less than “a radical restructuring of society” could possibly ensure justice and dignity for all. He was right.

Indeed he was. And this is our challenge as teachers, counselors, teacher educators, parents, and education activists concerned about schools and the welfare of children. Yes, we need to rethink schools; however, we really need to rethink our entire society. We need to recognize that the same interests that regard education as a business, schools as centers of potential profit, parents as consumers, and teachers' unions as an obstacle to corporate control, approach every arena of life with this same exploitative zeal.

As Michelle Alexander urges, we need to connect our grievances—and, as importantly, our hopes for a better world—with others who are also suffering under the weight of what Dr. King called the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.” We need to begin to see ourselves as part of one movement that is constantly connecting the dots, constantly seeking to imagine and enact a more just social and economic system.