Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free What's Your Story?

    Student identity on the walls in Philly

    By Joshua Kleiman, Charlie McGeehan

    A high school English teacher and a media arts teacher team up to teach a unit on identity. Students combine personal writing with vivid photography, creating large banners that become public art.

  • Features
  • Free Uchinaaguchi: The Language of My Heart


    By Moe Yonamine

    Returning to her home country of Okinawa at 13, Moé Yonamine was hit by a teacher for speaking her Indigenous language. She reflects on the history of colonial oppression in Okinawa and the importance of keeping culture and language alive.

  • Language Is a Human Right

    An interview with veteran activist Debbie Wei on language education in the Asian American community

    By Grace Cornell Gonzales

    Educator Debbie Wei, co-founder of a folk arts-based school in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, describes her journey—from growing up as the child of Chinese immigrants who never spoke to her in their native language, to advocating for heritage language programs.

  • Sabrina's Story

    Parents and teachers work together on inclusion

    By Kate MacLeod, Julie Causton, Nelia Nunes

    Third-grader Sabrina isn’t thriving in her self-contained special education classroom. Her parents believe that she would do better in an inclusion classroom, and they collaborate with teachers and staff to make it a success.

  • Medical Apartheid: Teaching the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

    By Gretchen Kraig-Turner

    Students in a bioethics class are horrified to learn about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, during which African American men were denied treatment for syphilis. They draw connections to other medical injustices and write their own codes of ethics for medical research.

  • Push Out: Racial Dynamics at a Turnaround School

    By Christopher B. Knaus

    A teacher educator is hired as a mentor by a turnaround school’s new principal. He soon realizes he is being asked to cover for getting rid of an excellent teacher of color.

  • Free All American Boys

    An interview with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

    By Renée Watson

    Two authors collaborated to write a nuanced novel from the perspectives of two young men—Rashad, who is Black, and Quinn, who is white. The novel gives teachers a powerful tool to discuss police brutality and racism with students.

  • Departments Free
    Editorials
  • In Our Hands

    By The Editors of Rethinking Schools
  • "Water Is Life" Teaching for Solidarity with Standing Rock

    By the editors of Rethinking Schools
  • Education Action
  • Betsy DeVos: Swamp Denizen Named Secretary of Education

  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.
  • Good Stuff
  • My Night at the Planetarium

    Reviewed By Rachel Cloues

My Night at the Planetarium

My Night at the Planetarium

My Night in the Planetarium: 
A True Story About a Child, a Play, and the Art of Resistance
By Innosanto Nagara
Seven Stories Press, 2016

In difficult times, stories are vital. They are tools we can use to fight against systemic oppression. Now, more than ever, we need to hear and tell empowering stories of resistance. We must share these stories with children, especially in classrooms, where group discussion can be encouraged and perspectives respectfully exchanged. My Night in the Planetarium could not have come to us at a better time; it is just the kind of story children need to hear. Right away.

Nagara, who also wrote and illustrated A Is for Activist and Counting on Community, told Britni de la Cretaz at the Washington Post that his exquisitely illustrated picture book is about many things: “the role of art in social change movements, an introduction to colonialism, an exposure to Indonesia, an understanding of how cycles of power corrupt, and the idea that we all have agency to make change.” As a child in Indonesia under the iron-fisted rule of General Suharto (in office 1967–98), Nagara enjoyed playing roles in the popular political theater his father wrote and presented all around the country. He grew up observing and participating in peaceful defiance of systemic injustice.

The title of Nagara’s true story refers to a night when he was 7 years old. His father’s theater troupe got word that the police were going to arrest the actors after their show—so they all sneaked out with the audience. Nagara and his mother spent that memorable night in the Jakarta planetarium watching the stars, safely hidden from the police. His father stayed in hiding for a while, then returned to his family and continued to speak out against Suharto’s “New Order” through stage performances and poetry.

“Only three countries in the world have more people than Indonesia. Do you know what they are?” asks Nagara at the beginning of his story. In just a few pages, we learn that Indonesia is a country of 17,000 islands, with 300 different ethnic groups and 750 distinct languages and dialects. They were colonized by the Dutch: “We Indonesians are really nice, so we let them stay. They stayed for 350 years.” And we learn about revolution, too: “[The Dutch] hadn’t been very good guests. They stole our spices. They took our government. And they put people in jail if they complained. So people from all across the Indonesian islands decided to UNITE and kick them out.”

With engaging art, humor, and a warm, colloquial style that lends itself to being read aloud, the author spins a short, age-appropriate—but not watered-down—historical tale of his homeland. The story will remind readers of many other historical and current events around the world.

My Night in the Planetarium is published by the independent Seven Stories Press. It is heartening to read Seven Stories’ credo: “Publishers have a special responsibility to defend free speech and human rights, and to celebrate the gifts of the human imagination wherever we can.” Certainly, Innosanto Nagara’s latest book is one such gift, helping parents and educators explain complex issues to our children—and, I hope, inspiring us all to be activists. ◼