Back-to-school season won’t be the same this year. Right-wing lawmakers continue to attempt, and in some unfortunate cases succeed, to pass legislation forcing educators to lie to students about the role of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and oppression throughout US history. Yes, the pearl clutchers are on the umpteenth leg of their Critical Race Theory Mass Hysteria Tour, even though it’s been pointed out that CRT is taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels, not in K-12 curricula. Which brings us to an important point.
The very foundation on which our education system was built needs to change if teachers are to be empowered to impart the actual histories the new generations need to understand how their country works. Just look at how vulnerable it is to fringe ideological trappings aimed at keeping our population ignorant and incapable of self-reflection. To this end, we’re recommending these titles that aim to re-envision key aspects of it at its core.
The theoretical edifice of school choice crumbles under the crushing weight of racism in the United States. Race is the key to understanding how school choice has failed to deliver its promises in any equitable way. The forces of racism, which Friedman relegated to a footnote in his seminal essay, now dominate the implementation of school choice. Choice is essentially all about race. . . . If choice works according to Friedman’s economic theory, then race is not supposed to motivate decision-making. Yet it does. It also illustrates the toxicity of the very culture around choice.
Serving a monolingual and non-diverse group of American students would already be a challenge for a teacher hoping to effectively educate while expanding the worldview of his or her students. In the culturally and linguistically diverse classroom, the prospect of successful teaching may be even more elusive. Regardless of the composition of the students in front of you, understand that each student has a unique set of attributes, and every year—occurrences within your students’ confined communities and daily lives will have a significant impact on what they bring to the classroom. Each of your students will be different, and your teaching must draw from those differences, meaning your curriculum and methods of instruction must be constantly reconsidered, revised, and renewed.—Patrick Sylvain
Religious minorities have faced much worse than graffiti and prejudicial remarks, both inside and outside classrooms. Children have yanked off the turbans of young Sikhs as they waited to board a school bus, and they have taunted Muslim peers on anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks. Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus live in my community and in nearby towns. So do atheists. All of those groups can easily be targets because their beliefs are rarely understood. Can education soften the divisions? What can schools do and what are they already doing to ensure the next generation will not need to hold forums to confront religious intolerance?
—Linda K. Wertheimer
Given the importance of newcomers to this country, a critical question for our future is: How do we ensure that immigrants feel safe, supported, and valued, with the chance to put down roots and build new futures—so that they can become full participants in their new home? In short, what does it take to make Americans? Nowhere is this question more important than in the nation’s public schools, because it is in schools that young newcomers often come to understand who they are and who they hope to become. In doing so, they start to author their own American identities.
Inclusion is irreconcilable with the foundational hierarchy and surveillance that higher education rests on. In order for higher education to be more inclusive, it would actually need to reckon with its history, its origins, and the ongoing nature of colonization and transform its ways of being.
This is the season for educators of all types and in all disciplines to claim power and teach youth to do the same. It is the season to be game shifters and norm shatterers. In an era in which schools perpetually assault those who society has pushed to the margins, the need for the philosophy of being ratchetdemic has become more urgent than ever before. We have not seen such blatant opposition to Black folks pursuing power and wholeness since Jim Crow laws mandated segregation and endorsed a state-sanctioned devaluing of Black life.
Because White people tend to categorize only explicit hate crimes or racial slurs as racist, we often do not recognize how all of these other manifestations either consciously or unconsciously find their way into how we engage in the world. It is often because of these ways Whiteness is masked that seemingly caring White teachers perpetuate racism in their curriculum . . . . Because of their own socialization and education, curriculum that perpetuates historic falsehoods align with teachers’ incomplete understandings of race. It follows that they would unquestioningly pass this along to their own students through the kind of viral racist curriculum examined in this book. Current racist curriculum should therefore be examined not by the educators’ individual intention but by the way it functions to maintain the permanence of racism both in and out of school.
Education catapulted me, in just one generation, from one of the lowest castes in the world to the middle class. . . . I doubt anyone at the orphanage recognized my potential during my stay, given my condition. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there the whole time. The same, I believe, is true of the impoverished children who arrive in America as refugees, undocumented immigrants, and unaccompanied minors. While they might arrive in the States penniless or nearly so, they are not worthless. They have all the potential one might hope for. All they need is a chance.
Engaging one’s spirituality is also about using it to address, break down, and work to abolish structures and conditions that hamper liberation and freedom for Black people. Such labor requires great creative force and energy. But I believe it also requires Black women teachers to (re)member who we are—our history, culture, and contributions—in ways that take into account the long history of Black life, resistance, knowledge, and culture.
—Cynthia B. Dillard
The reason behind the widespread interest in Madeline Morgan’s work from educators, scholars, and individuals like Pvt. Butler was that she had succeeded in spearheading one of the most profound educational efforts of the war years. Morgan had led a movement that resulted in the institution of Black history as part of the curriculum of Chicago’s public schools, then the second largest school system in the nation. Her work, The Supplementary Units for the Course of Instruction in Social Studies, constituted an intellectual campaign against the foundations of American racial prejudice as bold and as necessary as the military effort to confront fascism abroad.
Rather than deferring to the larger society’s monetized abstractions and sortings, young people are encouraged and taught how to meet their material and cultural needs through assertions of their own, writing their own historically informed script: “Here’s how we should get our work done so that we accomplish our concrete purposes. We don’t need to feel immobilized by someone else’s coercive, violence-saturated structures.” . . . . They do not need to seek approval from school authorities to undertake community-based projects or mobilizations. They do not need to comply with hierarchical standards on what constitutes learning. Where they are, what they do, and when they do it is not determined by a school schedule but is agreed on by their peer group and geographically situated community, based on the needs of the work they have decided to pursue.
—Jay M. Gillen