Written and illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
(Penguin Random House, 2023)
As a young boy, popular children’s book author and illustrator Nikkolas Smith worried that “Sometimes the world that I see is not the world I wish to see, and the problems seem larger than life.” Already an avid painter, he realized he could use art to “hold up a mirror to the world” and to help people “look deeper” at the root causes of problems. Smith’s autobiographical picture book, The Artivist, will encourage young readers to consider how they can use art to expose problems and inspire solutions.
Beautiful Trouble Toolbox
As our students learn more about the enormity of injustice in the world, they need inspiring stories of activism to keep them from sinking into despair. The Beautiful Trouble website is, well, a beautiful site of principles, stories, tactics, and activist methods toward social transformation. “We believe in people power and the game-changing role that creativity, humor, joy, and mischief can play in the struggle for a better world. . . . We equip social movements with an ever-growing suite of strategic tools and training to help grassroots movements be more creative, effective, and irresistible.” Spending time at the Beautiful Trouble website can present students with countless examples of how people are making — and have made — a difference in the world. A visit to the site can be a part of any unit where we ask students: How can we make this better?
The Sum of Us
By Heather McGhee
(Higher Ground, 2022)
In her best-selling book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, Heather McGhee exposes the white supremacist divide-and-conquer propaganda by those in power “who seek to escape accountability for a massive redistribution of wealth from the many to the few.” In a podcast companion to The Sum of Us (now available in a young adult format), McGhee documents organizing campaigns based on collaborations across racial and ethnic lines. These could be paired with lessons on numerous topics: voting rights for returning citizens in Florida; reparations for a Black family in Los Angeles; living wage in Kansas City, Missouri; immigrant farmers in Lewiston, Maine; abortion access in Texas; blocking a pipeline in Memphis; and more. In each case, the organizing victories result from unexpected alliances that face and break the divide-and-conquer barriers. While many of the GOP anti-history education laws reference “divisive concepts,” their real concern are stories like these of interracial solidarity — stories that can help young people learn to overcome those divisions and work for a more just future.
By Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò
(Oxford University Press, 2022)
“Everything we experience happens in the flow of time from past to present to future . . . we are swimming in the currents of history.” This watery metaphor runs through Reconsidering Reparations, a book about world history, global justice, and the climate crisis. Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò offers a clear, new case for reparations as a “constructive,” future-oriented project: one that responds to the weight of history’s injustices with just distributions of benefits and burdens. Centuries ago, Táíwò explains, European powers engineered the systems through which advantages and disadvantages still flow. Colonialism and transatlantic slavery forged schemes of injustice on an unprecedented scale — a world order he calls “global racial empire.” The project of justice must meet the same scope. Táíwò describes how the global racial empire took up industrialism and fossil fuel burning that now fuse reparations with preventing runaway climate change. Environmental catastrophes echo past injuries. “If we don’t intervene powerfully,” he writes, climate change “will reverse the gains toward justice that our ancestors fought so bitterly for.” But this calculus discourages despair; it demands global resistance. Reconsidering Reparations suggests policies, goals, and organizing strategies. And it leaves readers with brilliant advice: Act like an ancestor. Do what we can to shape the world we want our moral descendants to inherit, and have faith that they will continue the long struggle for justice.
Voices of a People’s History of the United States in the 21st Century
Edited by Anthony Arnove and Haley Pessin
(Seven Stories Press, 2023)
What a marvelous resource. A follow-up to the original Voices of a People’s History of the United States, edited by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, this volume collects short poems, stories, speeches, news articles, and testimonies from people working to make this a better world — a “radiant multitude” of voices, as Jeff Chang says in his supportive blurb for the book. This is the “people’s history” that Howard Zinn celebrated — a festival of resistance since the turn of the century. The book features rebels and prophets from the movements organizing for a different country: antiwar, solidarity, immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, feminist, LGBTQ, workers’ rights, and more. Rachel Corrie describes her solidarity work in Gaza; Bree Newsome explains why she ripped down the Confederate flag outside the South Carolina State Capitol building; Winona LaDuke denounces the repression of Water Protectors in Minnesota and around the world; disability justice activist Luticha Doucette talks back to the daily indignities she encounters in “If You’re in a Wheelchair, Segregation Lives”; and Rethinking Schools’ own Jesse Hagopian delivers a powerful speech at a 2021 #TeachTruth rally. At a moment when the right wing seeks to crush any act or idea that leans toward equality and inclusion, this book offers teachers a thrilling compendium of classroom-friendly social justice readings.
War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine
By Norman Solomon
(The New Press, 2023)
Norman Solomon begins his fine book, War Made Invisible, with a discussion of propaganda — which requires repetition, repetition, repetition. Think, for example, of the everywhere-present term “defense spending.” The United States maintains 750 military bases throughout the world — three times the number of bases of all other countries combined. The United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined. And yet the very term “defense spending” emphasizes its necessity and discourages doubt. But propaganda is also silence, as Solomon writes, “what’s omitted pushes thoughts away, providing tacit cues as to what isn’t worth knowing or seriously considering.” The media numbs us to the on-the-ground meaning of invasion and war:
[T]he routine exclusion of people harmed by U.S. warfare conveys that they don’t really matter much. Because we rarely see images of their suffering or hear their voices or encounter empathetic words about them, the implicit messaging comes through loud and clear. The silence ends up speaking at high volume: Those people hardly exist. They are others. They are not our concern. They don’t particularly matter, while our country is causing their misery.
In his book, Solomon targets the media and the political establishment, but educators also should take his critique to heart. Too often, our curriculum “makes war invisible.” Too often, the ravages of U.S. militarism go unexamined in our classes. This excellent, fact-filled book insists: Teach about this; people’s lives depend on it.