Good Stuff 20.3

By Herbert Kohl

For years, beginning in the 1960s, the only source I read that had a radical, intelligent, school-based, and sophisticated analysis of public education was the Canadian magazine This Magazine Is About Schools (now published under the name Our Schools/Our Selves). I made it my business to meet and get to know some of the people who developed and published it.

I can’t remember when I saw my first copy of Rethinking Schools, but it must have been almost 20 years ago. Those days a good part of the newspaper was devoted to events and struggles within the Milwaukee public school system. Several things struck me immediately: the quality of the writing, the bold and politically unambiguous stance of the articles, and the presence of what I call school knowledge — an awareness of the complex craft and insight that goes into teaching well and the sense of what the daily life of a teacher was. I was impressed by the way the practical, local, and national were merged in one journal and how dedicated it was to effect change in the Milwaukee schools. But it was also useful for anyone trying to create decent and progressive public education.

As is my wont, after a few years I contacted the editors, the great majority of whom were working public school teachers. I felt my initial reception was less than warm. The feeling I got was that these younger radicals wanted to go it on their own and that I should lay back. I had done the same thing with some older Deweyites when I begin teaching and writing about education. Those days I felt that times had changed from the 1930s and 1940s and we needed to forge our own path.

My first personal encounter with a person from Rethinking Schools was in 1988 or 1989 when I heard a lecture by Bob Peterson at a conference in Minneapolis. He was marvelous. Not only did he describe the journal and its history, but he laid out a radical vision of educational transformation with pedagogy and children at the center.

We had a chance to chat and I had the feeling that he was scrutinizing me and testing me. That was a delight.

I read every issue of Rethinking Schools over the next few years. I developed personal relationships with some of the editors and visited Milwaukee several times. We began what has become a very valued relationship and collaboration and I’ve loved the collective and critical spirit that goes into each issue.

It then occurred to me that I could make a modest, continuing contribution to the magazine. It would not be political nor controversial, just simple fun. If there’s one thing I found missing in Rethinking Schoolsit’s things that address the fun of learning. People have to develop a life where they can simply indulge in things they love. That’s why I proposed to do a very short feature called “Good Stuff.” Some is political for sure, but much of it is designed to help teachers get in touch with material that will delight their students. It’s important to create a free space for fun and pleasure to teach critically, politically, and well.

The same thing is true for teachers. I believe that in the midst of struggle we have to provide space to enjoy ourselves and indulge ourselves on occasion. Teaching should enrich our lives, not just through the political and social effect we can make, but also through the delight of doing things with students that are just done for their own sake. Otherwise, we are buying into an alternative version of No Child Left Behind, pushing kids and ourselves all the time.

I was honored that Rethinking Schools bought into the idea of me writing “Good Stuff,” a simple delight in my life.

It’s a pleasure for me to gather resources and try them out, and to be a small part of the larger work the magazine does. I believe Rethinking Schools provides the kind of intelligent, provocative writing that is necessary in education now more than any time in my teaching career. Whether I agree with what I read or challenge it, I know I know that we all need it.