Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free Why We Should Teach Reconstruction

    By the editors of Rethinking Schools

    Unfortunately, the transformative history of Reconstruction has been buried. First by a racist tale masquerading as history and now under a top-down narrative focused on white elites. It’s long overdue we unearth the groundswell of activity that brought down the slavers of the South and set a new standard for freedom we are still struggling to achieve today.

  • Features
  • Free 40 Acres and a Mule

    Role-playing what Reconstruction could have been

    By Adam Sanchez

    A high school teacher uses a role play so students can imagine life during Reconstruction, the possibilities of the post-Civil War era, and the difficult decisions that Black communities had to wrestle with.

  • Free The School Formerly Known as LeConte

    A debate in Berkeley about the power of a name

    By Lauren Markham

    Across the United States, we are toppling monuments and former heroes. Past icons are rightfully crashing — in esteem and in our public and private spaces — as we begin the overdue process of reckoning with history. Contemporary heroes are being lowered, too. This vogue of name controversies might be seen as a petty preoccupation by detractors, but what could be a more powerful symbol than what we choose to name a school?

  • Free How Should We Sing Happy Birthday?

    Reconsidering classroom birthday celebrations

    By Kerry Elson

    A kindergarten teacher looks at birthday celebrations in her classroom and whether all of her students’ home languages and rituals are being uplifted.

  • Free Women of the Day

    By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

    A high school teacher looks at how a daily activity focusing on the representation of women helped transform her classroom.

  • Free When Showing Up Isn't Showing Up

    By Julia Kirkpatrick

    A language arts teacher describes a school board debate in which she merely showed up, instead of showing up and fighting for communities of color.

  • Special Section: The third edition of The New Teacher book is out now
  • Free Introducing the New, New Teacher Book

    By Linda Christensen, Stan Karp, Bob Peterson, Moé Yonamine

    We need teachers who want to work in a place where human connections matter more than profit. We also wrote this book because we have had days — many days — where our teaching aspirations did not meet the reality of the chaos we encountered. We have experienced those late afternoons crying-alone-in-the-classroom kind of days when a lesson failed or we felt like our students hosted a party in the room and we were the uninvited guests. We wrote this book hoping it might offer solace and comfort on those long days when young teachers wonder if they are cut out to be a teacher at all.

  • Free Honor Their Names

    By Linda Christensen

    Students’ names are the first thing teachers know about the young people who enter our classrooms; they can signal country of origin, gender, language. Students’ names provide the first moment when a teacher can demonstrate their warmth and humanity, their commitment to seeing and welcoming students’ languages and cultures into the classroom.

  • Departments Free
    Commentary
  • Our House Is on Fire — Time to Teach Climate Justice

    Column: Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms

    By Bill Bigelow
  • Education Action
  • 'Billionaires Can't Teach Our Kids'

    Why the Los Angeles teachers' strike was historic

    By Eric Blanc
  • Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action

    An uprising for racial justice in education

    By Jesse Hagopian
  • Children Deserve Classrooms, Not Cages

    A “Teach-In for Freedom” is organized by Teachers Against Child Detention.

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

Letters

Letters

Celia Jacobs

To the Editors of Rethinking Schools:

In the Fall 2018 issue, the article “The Importance of Goodbye: When Students Leave Midyear” spanned three pages and lamented the loss of three students. Ursula Wolfe-Rocca wrote that when she doesn’t speak of students who “belong to some of the United States’ most vulnerable groups” who leave midyear, she feels “dangerously complicit in reinforcing a social narrative that these lives don’t matter, that their education, their presence in our classrooms is expendable, inconsequential.”

I write this letter with a similar intent; I feel I would be complicit in the same social narrative if I don’t draw attention to the fact that teachers who work in urban, segregated schools lose so many students we cannot count them, let alone capture tidy stories of their goodbyes.

In the last recorded year, my school — 99 percent African American, 85 percent free and reduced lunch, a “vulnerable population,” as Wolfe-Rocca would say — had a churn rate of 38 percent, and we’re on track for similar statistics this year. I teach five classes, some of which have lost upwards of 20 students. And as I write this, it’s only November.

Saying goodbye is a luxury withheld from classrooms fractured by expulsions, transfers, absenteeism, incarceration, and, in the most extreme of cases, death. If it is dangerously complicit to refrain from telling the stories of three “vulnerable” students, it is downright life-threatening to exclude the stories of schools who bleed these students daily.

I don’t doubt the importance of goodbye; I doubt its feasibility in inequitable contexts.

Rose Peterson
High School English Teacher
Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education
Milwaukee

Response from Ursula Wolfe-Rocca:

Rose Peterson makes crucial points that my article clearly did not make forcefully enough. I teach in a very specific context — a wealthy, suburban city in Oregon — and the stories I share about that context are not universal.

I am sorry that my piece felt like an erasure of the much more widespread disruptions that systematically assault schools like Ms. Peterson’s and make saying goodbye literally impossible. 

Peterson suggests that the piece itself is indulgent, a kind of privilege, since it only captures the “tidy stories” of my three students, not “the stories of schools who bleed these students daily.” But those stories — the stories of Rose’s students — are not mine to tell. This was not a policy piece; it was an account of one teacher’s evolving classroom practice in a specific social location. But I could have done a better job emphasizing how deeply the racial and economic context of my school shaped the story I was telling.

* * *

To the Editors of Rethinking Schools:

I wanted to bring to your attention that there is an error in your transgender editorial (Vol. 33, No. 2 — Winter 2018–19). In the discussion of bathrooms, you correctly state that the Obama administration took the position that transgender students should be able to pick the bathroom of their choice. But then you go on to suggest that a solution to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of that policy is to designate gender-neutral bathrooms that can be used by transgender students.

In fact, the litigation over bathrooms (which spurred the Obama administration policy) involved students such as Gavin Grimm who wanted to use the bathroom that conformed to their gender identity and not a segregated gender-neutral stall. Grimm’s psychologist testified that it was important to Grimm’s gender transition to be able to use the boys’ bathroom rather than a gender-neutral bathroom that was otherwise used by staff.

The solution you propose is the one rejected by Grimm. My article on the subject, “Public Restrooms: Flipping the Default Rules” in the Ohio State Law Journal, provides a discussion of the history of the public restroom debate. I propose that all bathrooms should be “all comers” bathrooms. That proposal, of course, is far more radical than the one proposed by the Obama administration. But I don’t think Rethinking Schools should be endorsing the position taken by Grimm’s conservative Virginia school district.

It was great to see Rethinking Schools focus on the rights of transgender students and I really enjoyed Mykhiel Deych’s article. Thanks so much for your important work.

Sincerely,
Ruth Colker
Distinguished University Professor
& Heck-Faust Memorial Chair in Constitutional Law
Moritz College of Law
The Ohio State University
Columbus