Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Conscious Classroom and Social Justice

This year I have shifted my priorities from working mostly on union related matters to broader-based activities, like working with Sally Lee of Teachers Unite on the Privatization forums and other concerns. Sally has certainly given me a heightened awareness of social justice issues through the groups she is working with and I am proud to have been asked to join the TU steering committee (I accept the nomination.) Her goal is to bring teachers into greater touch with some of these core issues. Teachers Unite is dedicated to building an intergenerational movement of progressive and left teachers to fight in the larger struggle against injustice.

Reaching this group of teachers, which we have not been successful in doing in ICE, is part of the reason for my shift in direction. Many of these teachers either see the UFT as irrelevant or, worse, as an obstruction to good teaching, mistakenly assuming a defense of teacher rights is the reason. (Not that the UFT truly defends teacher rights.) But the UFT has been an obstruction to building a progressive movement for educational change. And always will be.

I have come to believe that change in the UFT and in the educational structure can only come from a core group of teachers committed to basic change and not just from people who are worried about narrow trade union issues. I've heard a lot of disparagement about young teachers, but I am pleased to have met many who are socially conscious and view teaching as a calling. Their fervor has created hostility amongst some vets.

Some of these teachers, however, view caucuses like ICE and TJC that address internal UFT politics as being part of the structure - the "new boss, same as the old boss" concept. (People joke in ICE that if the opposition ever won power, I would become part of a new opposition – The anarchy within me.) That doesn't mean I am not as involved as ever with the work ICE has been doing in the union, but have been freed from doing the day to day stuff I used to do. (Thanks to the ICE steering committee for a great job.)

Teachers Unite hopes to put together a coalition of people who want to reform education in the proper way by capturing the idea of "ed reform" from the likes of the Eli Broads, Michael Bloombergs, Joel Kleins, etc. We want to address questions as to why the protection of teacher rights is an important component of any movement for change. We want to hold "bridge the gap" meeting between newer and veteran teachers. The group we are working with includes ICE'ers and TJC'ers, amongst others, so working with Sally and TU has opened up a big tent. If you're interested in the work of TU, Sally can be contacted at

I met Sally through NYCORE (The NY Collective of Radical Educators) whose work I have admired. Over the years I attended some of their events and recently have worked with their Justice Not-Just-Tests group. They will also be working with the group doing the Radical Math conference in Brooklyn April 4-6. (See sidebar for details.)

In an article in The Nation, the story of social justice schools is told and NYCORE is mentioned.

With more education schools assigning the works of Freire and Jonathan Kozol, a growing number of teachers, with the help of local teachers' organizations, are infusing their curriculums with liberatory theories too. One such group is the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCORE), an organization of past and present public school teachers founded in 2002 that gives teachers the chance to discuss larger issues of social justice while formulating ways to bring those topics into the classroom. "We find that there are a lot of teachers who are highly politicized, but they are isolated in schools where they are being forced to implement curriculum or policies that are really antithetical to their own belief system," says Bree Picower, a NYCORE member and an assistant professor at New York University's Department of Teaching & Learning. "And we look to try and network those teachers."

This full article is worth reading and can be found on the web at

I unintentionally played a role in bringing NYCORE's attention to Sol Stern, who at the time I was on friendly terms with. He read my account of a meeting I attended and saw an opportunity to attack the idea of social justice movement in schools. He started bugging me for information and I put him in contact with Bree, who wisely, refused to talk to him. He actually contacted the superiors of some NYCORE members to see if they were "indoctrinating" the kids. He was probably concerned they were teaching kids about what's really happening in the world instead of pounding them with phonics. He actually attended the Radical Math Conference looking for bear. We ran into each other and engaged in a brief courtyard debate. The attendants were forewarned there was someone not there to learn anything about radical math but trying to find a story that could be used to fit the conservative agenda. What he did write was certainly not objective. But then again, nothing you will read here is either. Better to read all sides and figure out where to land.


  1. Norm,

    I am the Director of the Education for Liberation Network, a national network of educators and activists interested in social justice education (we were mentioned in the article in The Nation that you recently posted to your blog.) We are sponsoring an online discussion for educators on teaching about the military. The focus of the discussion is NYCoRE’s upcoming collection of lesson plans on the military and counter recruitment. I was wondering if you would be able to post information about this event in the events column on your blog. The eflyer is below. The link is

    Thank you for your help.


    the Education for Liberation Network presents

    talkin ‘bout…the military in our communities

    a public, online discussion focused on Camouflaged, a new collection of teaching resources on the military from the New York Collective of Radical Educators

    february 19 to 21, 2008

    talkin’ bout is an online discussion series that brings together educators, activists and youth to participate in a public conversation on the network website about timely and important topics in liberatory education. From Tuesday, February 19 to Thursday, February 21 a panel will answer questions posted to an online discussion board about teaching about the military. The conversation will take place on the website of the Education for Liberation Network.

    Now Available: Free excerpts from Camouflaged downloadable from the network website.

    This discussion is linked to the upcoming publication of Camouflaged: Investigating how the U.S. military affects you and your community, a curriculum collection developed by the New York Collective of Radical Educators. This resource guide features lesson plans created by teachers about the economic, social and psychological impact of the military on our society as well as counter recruitment strategies.

    Bill Bigelow, Editor of Rethinking Schools, says in his foreward to the book:

    This is a collaborative effort that seeks to provide students the kind of challenging curriculum that not only develops thoughtful citizens, but saves lives. Literally.

    Panelists include:

    * Pablo Paredes, a naval petty officer who was court martialed after refusing to deploy to Iraq and applying for conscientious objector status.
    * Seth Rader, a NYCoRE member and facilitator of the NYCoRE Counter Recruitment Project. He is currently a high school teacher at James Baldwin High School in NYC.
    * Edwin Mayorga, a NYCoRE member and facilitator of the NYCoRE Counter Recruitment Project. He is currently a doctoral student in urban education at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a former elementary school teacher in NYC public schools.
    * Bill Lamme, who teaches US History at Kelly High School, Chicago's second largest school, which is heavily recruited by all branches of the service. Bill advises the student club, Students for Social Justice, and has worked with a group of counter recruitment activists to influence the Chicago Board of Education's new recruiter policy.

    Additional panelists TBA.

    The network invites all those interested in this urgent issue to post their own questions and comments for the panelists and for each other. Anyone can read the discussion without registering. To post, first you must register to use the site. We hope this will be an enlightening and lively digital conversation.
    The Education for Liberation Network is a national coalition of teachers, community activists, youth, researchers and parents who believe a good education should teach people—particularly low-income youth and youth of color—to understand and challenge the injustices their communities face. Click here to join the network listserv. For more information contact Tara Mack, Director, Education for Liberation Network on
    Read about the Education for Liberation Network in The Nation magazine: (

  2. hi, i came across your blog today. very good stuff! thanks for posting. i put together a video about social injustices, if you're interested. check it out. thanks!


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