Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 1

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Rethinking Our Classrooms
Volume 1

Rethinking Our Classrooms



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Introduction: Creating Classrooms for Equity and Social Justice

Rethinking Our Classrooms begins from the premise that schools and classrooms should be laboratories for a more just society than the one we now live in. Unfortunately, too many schools are training grounds for boredom, alienation, and pessimism. Too many schools fail to confront the racial, class, and gender inequities woven into our social fabric. Teachers are often simultaneously perpetrators and victims, with little control over planning time, class size, or broader school policies—and much less over the unemployment, hopelessness, and other “savage inequalities” that help shape our children’s lives.

But Rethinking Our Classrooms is not about what we cannot do; it’s about what we can do. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire writes that teachers should attempt to “live part of their dreams within their educational space.” Classrooms can be places of hope, where students and teachers gain glimpses of the kind of society we could live in and where students learn the academic and critical skills needed to make it a reality. We intend the articles in Rethinking Our Classrooms to be both visionary and practical; visionary because we need to be inspired by each other’s vision of schooling; practical because for too long teachers have been preached at by theoreticians, well removed from classrooms, who are long on jargon and short on specific examples.
We’ve drawn the articles, stories, poems, and lessons in Rethinking Our Classrooms from different academic disciplines and grade levels. Despite variations in emphasis, a common social and pedagogical vision unites this collection. This vision is characterized by several interlocking components that together comprise what we call a social justice classroom. In Rethinking Our Classrooms we argue that curriculum and classroom practice must be:

We’re skeptical of the “inspirational speakers” administrators bring to faculty meetings, who exhort us to become super-teachers and classroom magicians. Critical teaching requires vision, support, and resources, not magic. We hope the stories, critiques, and lesson ideas here will offer useful examples which can be adapted in classrooms of all levels and disciplines and in diverse social milieus. Our goal is to provide a clear framework to guide classroom transformation.

But as vital as it is to reimagine and reorganize classroom practice, ultimately it’s insufficient. Teachers who want to construct more equitable, more meaningful, and more lively educational experiences for children must also concern themselves with issues beyond the classroom walls. For example, if a school uses so-called ability grouping to sort students, then no matter how successful we are in our efforts to remake classroom life, many students will still absorb negative messages about their capacity to achieve. We need to confront tracking and standardized testing, the funding inequalities within and between school districts, and the frequent reluctance of teacher unions to address issues of quality education. Rethinking our classrooms requires inventing strategies so that teachers can make alliances with parents and community organizations who have an interest in equity. Toward this end we’ve offered a chapter, “Beyond the Classroom.”

As we go to press with Rethinking Our Classrooms, there are many reasons to be discouraged about the future: Districts across the country continue to slash budgets; violence continues to plague schools; attempts to privatize the schools have not slowed; and the country’s productive resources are still used to make more technological goodies, fancier athletic shoes, and more sophisticated weaponry, rather than used in less profitable arenas like education and affordable housing.

There is a Zulu expression: “If the future doesn’t come toward you, you have to go fetch it.” We hope Rethinking Our Classrooms will be a useful tool in the movement to go fetch a better future: in our classrooms, in our schools, and in the larger society. There are lots of us out there. Critical and activist teachers work all across the country. Let’s make our voices heard.
—the editors