Teaching for Hope and Activism

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

Illustrator: Eric Hanson

Illustration: Eric Hanson

How do we bring the fight to protect and transform public schools into our classrooms? How do we connect our classrooms to the struggles in the streets? As the crisis over public education escalates, activist teachers are experimenting with new approaches.

Two of the articles in our cover section are by Wisconsin elementary teachers who helped their students grasp key aspects of the political storms in their state—often teaching with little sleep after nights of camping out in the state Capitol building. Each used the Civil Rights Movement as a point of reference. Both Kate Lyman and Dale Weiss know that children invariably try to make sense of the world around them. Of course, teachers can attempt to ignore the social turmoil, but this means missing an incredible opportunity to support our students in critical thinking about the issues as well as about the rumors, chunks of (mis)information, and media images. As these teachers demonstrate, even young children can think clearly and act wisely.

In the third article in this section, New York City drama teacher Brian Pickett guides high school students in creating their own version of Antigone as a way to protest the closure of their school. It takes a national campaign to overcome administrative attempts to stop the students from performing their play publicly.

Our students at every grade level need to understand what’s happening to public education. We want them to feel empowered to play a role in the historic events of the day and to feel hopeful about the future. Our challenge as teacher activists is to guide students to think critically, discover their own truths, and find their own way to respond. Our job is to give light and have confidence that our students will find their way.

Kate Lyman, Dale Weiss, and Brian Pickett offer exciting examples of doing just that. We hope you find these articles thought-provoking and inspiring.

—the editors