Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free A Cauldron of Opposition in Duncan's Hometown

    An Interview with Karen Lewis and Jackson Potter

    translation missing: en.articles.interviewers Bob Peterson

    The new leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union explains how they won and where they're going.

  • Cover Stories
  • The Proving Grounds

    School 'Rheeform' in Washington, D.C.

    Authored By Leigh Dingerson

    Michelle Rhee is the exemplar of Duncan's school "reform." What's really happening to children and teachers in D.C.?

  • California’s Perfect Storm

    Authored By David Bacon

    Last year, demonstrations by students, teachers, parents, and staff erupted throughout California - with the potential to redefine the fight for public education.

  • Book Reviews
  • Free Teacher Layoffs and War

    Edited By the editors of Rethinking Schools
  • Features
  • Free Who Can Stay Here?

    Documentation and citizenship in children’s literature

    Authored By Grace Cornell

    Picture books about immigration and citizenship rarely portray the issues that children from immigrant families face every day. Here is a framework to help teachers choose books and open discussion.

  • Free Deporting Elena’s Father

    Authored By Melissa Bollow Tempel

    The story of one child whose father was deported casts light on a growing crisis.

  • The Other Internment

    Teaching the hidden story of Japanese Latin Americans during WWII

    Authored By Moe Yonamine

    A role play engages students in exploration of a little-known piece of history - the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps and back to Japan as POWs.

  • You Are Where You Sit

    Uncovering the lessons of classroom furniture

    Students analyze the impact of different seating arrangements in class, linking issues of power, space, and hierarchy to the world outside.

  • A Social Justice Data Fair

    Questioning the world through math

    Math is at the center of student-generated projects on environmental, social, and political themes.

  • Departments Free
    Action Education
  • Puerto Rican Students Win Major Victory

    Authored By Jody Sokolower
  • Good Stuff
  • Tricksters and Their Opposite

    Authored By Herbert Kohl
  • Review
  • Drop That Knowledge

    Recognizing and unlocking the wisdom of everyday people

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

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You Are Where You Sit

Uncovering the lessons of classroom furniture
You Are Where You Sit

Imagine the following scenario: Students enter a classroom with the desks and chairs neatly arranged in straight rows. They hesitate at the door, make a quick assessment of the room, and choose a place to sit. They work their way down narrow rows of chairs, careful not to disturb the tight arrangement of furniture. They sit quietly, deposit backpacks under their seats, place a notebook on the desk, and look straight ahead to the front of the room and the much larger teacher desk that stares back at them.

Shortly before the class is scheduled to start, an adult figure enters the room, writes his or her name on the front board along with the name of the class, and assumes a seat at the big desk or the podium standing by its side. School is in session.

Welcome to day one of your first lessons about power, pedagogy, and their relationship to physical and symbolic capital. I have watched students file into my classroom for 35 years. Never have I seen them try to change the arranged furniture, nor ask to do so. Instead, they arrange themselves according to a prearranged design.

I teach humanities at Portland Youth Builders, a high school completion school in one of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods. Normally, the chairs in my class are arranged in a large circle. This day, I arrange the chairs in rows. Students walk in the door, stop suddenly, look at me, and ask, “What’s this all about?”

I ask them to take a seat and offer no explanation for our newly arranged room. I take attendance and ask if anyone has any thoughts they want to share before we start class.

Delia says: “I don’t like this. I have to turn around to see who’s talking. Can we change the chairs back to the way they usually are, please?”

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