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.

Women of the Day

Women of the Day

Yuri Kochiyama
Recy Taylor
Sylvia Plath
Artemisia Gentileschi
Jeannette Rankin
Audre Lorde

In the 5th grade, I had to write a report on Abraham Lincoln. As I pored over my musty-scented, yellow-paged, cellophane-covered books from the Metropolitan Learning Center library, I became fascinated with Mary Todd. In fact, I spent so many words on Mary that I had to end my report before Abe even became president, hence my title: “Abraham Lincoln: The Early Years.” If you asked 5th-grade Ursula about this fascination, she might have said, “Mary was from a slave-owning family and yet her husband went on to free the slaves!” (Like most white American children, I was being miseducated about who freed the slaves.) Or I might have said, “She was crazy!” (Mental illness was a term I neither knew nor yet understood.) But today, 35 years on, I wonder if it wasn’t something else: Mary Todd was a woman.

Jeanne de Clisson
Hedy Lamarr
Viola Liuzzo
Helen Keller
Edith Windsor
Billie Jean King

Three years ago, Veronica Sackville-West, a quiet and brilliant sophomore U.S. history student, asked me if she could come in at lunch to talk about something. “Sure!” I answered, offering my standard response to the common student request for a little time to talk about anything ranging from grades to anxiety, classwork to family. When Veronica came in with two other classmates, Rachel Bard and Meg Smith, it turned out they wanted to talk about curriculum, and more precisely, about the lack of women they encountered in the pages of textbooks, classroom handouts, short stories, and novels. They were outraged and coming to me for advice about how to demand a change.

Fannie Lou Hamer
Joan of Arc
Carrie Nation
Misty Copeland
Marsha P. Johnson
Hannah Arendt

With some very light counsel from me, Veronica, Meg, and Rachel brainstormed two routes of activism. First, they considered lobbying for a district-wide inventory of women in the curriculum. The study would provide the data to demand more novels by and about women, more attention to women in history and science, more representation at all levels. While I loved this idea — its attention to how women are systematically underrepresented — I cautioned the students that this would be a slow-moving effort, unlikely to reap any tangible rewards while they were still at the school. Perhaps that is what led them to embrace the second route: a stand-alone course. I shared with them that Gender Studies was already approved by the board, an elective that had been taught for a few years before it fell out of rotation. I explained that if they wanted to advocate for the return of this course it would be relatively straightforward since there would be no need to go to the board. No, they said, Gender Studies isn’t what they wanted. They wanted Women’s Studies, a class that would be not just about social constructions of gender and identity, but also about women — their lives, histories, existence.

Sue Kunitomi Embrey
Sister Helen Prejean
Sarah Kay
Anita Hill
Lin Farley

The next year, as juniors, Meg, Rachel, and Veronica borrowed dozens of books from me, scoured university websites for course descriptions and reading lists, collected articles and slowly, methodically, built a course description that read, in part:

The course will study women’s contributions to history, civics, and the arts. In addition, it will examine how women’s historical experiences differ for individuals of different backgrounds, analyzing how race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, and gender nonconformity intersect with the overall concept of feminism.

With that in hand, along with their personal stories of educational alienation in the face of a curriculum reinforcing the invisibility and unimportance of women, the three young women headed to the school board, which approved the course. Laura Paxson Kluthe, longtime history teacher, agreed to teach it in its first year. She and the girls spent the rest of the year writing the syllabus for “Introduction to Women’s Studies,” which would be offered for the first time during the girls’ senior year.

Sarah Silverman
Kakenya Ntaiya
Wu Zetian
Lauren Cook
Janet Mock
Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner

When Ms. Paxson Kluthe announced her retirement, I pounced on the opportunity to teach Women’s Studies in its second year. As I dove into building units (gender and identity, gender and work, women in politics, etc.), I realized I wanted to add something else, something that would pay homage to the student founders’ original and most central concern: pure representation.

I decided each class would start with a Woman of the Day. I imagined quick introductions to a compelling and wide variety of women. About half of the women of the day were selected and presented by me, the other half by students. My only instruction to students was: Choose a woman of historical, social, political, economic, environmental, legal, artistic, religious, scientific, or personal interest. She can be from any place or time. Sometimes we watched a short YouTube clip of or about them; sometimes we read and discussed an excerpt of their work. It was basic direct instruction; nothing fancy. But as the year progressed, as my students and I felt the accumulating weight of the names and lives of the women we recognized, invoked, and honored, I couldn’t help but wonder if this simple daily ritual turned out the be the most important teaching choice I made all year.

Ella Baker
Lucretia Mott
Nikki Giovanni
Virginia Woolf
Clara Lemlich
Victoria Leigh Soto

Yes, I spent way more effort on our detailed unit on the gender wage gap, was far more careful in my curriculum on #MeToo, and spent more time orchestrating our rich reading and analysis of The Color Purple, but each of those units was in some way recognizable and familiar. The piling up of these women — so many women, day after day — was somehow more radical, more unexpectedly powerful.

Shirley Chisholm
Queen Lili’uokalani
Courtney Love
Angelina Grimké
Ava DuVernay
Celia (from the 1855 case State of Missouri v. Celia, a Slave)

It was the unexpected excitement of students like Senna, a nonbinary junior, who exclaimed after learning about Carrie Nation, “Oh my God, I love her! We just finished learning about the temperance movement in AP U.S. History and she wasn’t even mentioned. I am definitely putting her badass hatchet in my presentation next week.” It was the joy of serendipitous connections, like when you learn a new word and suddenly start hearing it everywhere. One day Angela, a soccer-playing senior, asked if she could make an announcement at the start of class, explaining, “You guys, do you remember when we learned about Marsha Johnson, the LGBTQ activist from the Stonewall riots? Well, I stumbled across a documentary about her on Netflix this weekend. It. Was. So. Good. I definitely recommend it.” It was the way we all started to notice more women who . . . well, needed to be noticed.

In my U.S. history class, I was teaching about Hawai'i and Emily said, “Ms. Wolfe, Queen Lili’uokalani should be one of our Women of the Day!” Even folks not in the class would offer ideas. I put a little box at the front of my room with note cards and invited anyone to contribute. I received suggestions from students, teachers, secretaries, and educational assistants. Go figure. There is a bottomless reservoir of women who matter, deserve attention, and who do not regularly show up in our classrooms and curriculum.

Emma Goldman
Hayley Kiyoko
Kimberlé Crenshaw
Christine de Pizan
Dolores Huerta

Woman of the Day is not the most creative teaching idea I have ever had, but it may be the most transformative in heightening my awareness of the paucity of women across the curriculum, even in my own U.S. history classes. The trick now will be to transfer the lens from Women’s Studies to other contexts, making sure there is a diverse array of women — not just cisgender white women — showing up in my curriculum, in my writing, in the articles and tweets I share online, in my daily references to popular culture, literature, and politics.

Right now 90 percent of Wikipedia editors are men, more than 75 percent of congressional seats are held by men, and more than 90 percent of the directors of top Hollywood films are men. If I do not use my classroom to proactively resist the overrepresentation of males in our dominant discourse, I will condemn another generation of students to sit in classes empty of women’s lives, voices, and vision. Thanks to my students — Veronica, Rachel, and Meg — that is no longer my fate.

Joy Harjo
Callie House
Michelle Alexander
Maya Lin
Allison Krause
and yes,
Mary Todd

Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (Contact Me) teaches at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon and is a Rethinking Schools editor. This year she is the Zinn Education Project organizer/curriculum writer.