Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources 29.2

Elementary School Books

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
(Abrams Books, 2013)
32 pp.

Finally, here is a politically relevant book to read to young children about contemporary migration issues, including crossing the border without documents and family separation. Duncan Tonatiuh is a master storyteller, using allegory and animals to talk about these harrowing realities in an age-appropriate way. Illustrator as well as author, Tonatiuh has taken forms from Mixtec code and combined them with contemporary colors and textures. The result is an exquisite and crucial book for ages 7 and older.

The Price of Freedom:
How One Town Stood Up to Slavery

By Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
(Bloomsbury, 2013)
48 pp.

With powerful illustrations and historically accurate narrative, The Price of Freedom tells the story of townspeople in mid-19th century Ohio who resisted the inhumane Fugitive Slave Law. When “slave catchers” captured John Price in Oberlin and set out to return him to the enslavement he had escaped years earlier, a group of black and white abolitionists bravely sprang into action to defend their neighbor. They freed Price in what became known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. The Price of Freedom brings this important story in the history of the Underground Railroad and resistance to slavery to readers age 10 and older.

Curriculum Resources

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

By Naomi Klein
(Simon and Schuster, 2014)
566 pp.

Naomi Klein is author of the important critique of “disaster capitalism” The Shock Doctrine. Through meticulous research and compelling story, her new book describes the essential incompatibility between capitalism and climate stability. Why, she asks, if there is a scientific consensus about the certainty that human activity is causing the rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, do we continue to rely on fossil fuels? Her answer: “We have not done the things to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe—and would benefit the vast majority—are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”

Whether or not we are able to use the book in whole or in part with students, This Changes Everything should be read by all teachers. This is an analysis of our world that needs to shape the entire orientation of the school curriculum. As the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere creep up year by year, it’s our responsibility as educators to equip our students with the tools to understand the import and root causes of the problem. Reading Klein’s new book clarifies the crisis and also offers outlines for what we should do about it.

This Is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education

By José Luis Vilson
(Haymarket, 2014)
220 pp.

José Luis Vilson’s stories from his middle school math classroom give a clear picture of just how much we are missing when teacher voices are absent from mainstream films, articles, and news programs on school reform. Vilson offers a series of essays about growing up on the Lower East Side, teaching in the New York public schools, and writing a controversial blog. He writes with sharp analysis, experience, humor, and heart. As Pedro Noguera says in the afterword: “As a blogger, educator, and an activist, Vilson has found a way to express the outrage and frustration that teachers like him endure. For those who have lost hope about the possibilities of using education to create a more just and democratic society, this book . . . and [Vilson’s] ongoing work remind us that just as education can be used to dominate, control, and oppress, it can also be used to provoke and liberate.”

Creating Critical Classrooms: Reading and Writing with an Edge

By Mitzi Lewison, Christine Leland, and Jerome C. Harste
(Routledge, 2014) 386 pp.

Creating Critical Classrooms: Reading and Writing with an Edge is the one textbook literacy teachers need by their side. In the increasingly hostile terrain of public education, teachers need help imagining a different kind of pedagogy, as well as a moral guide, as they traverse standards, testing, and curriculum packets that treat them like cud-chewing cattle. Each of the first nine chapters includes a thought-provoking vignette, a “Voice from the Field,” by classroom scholars who discuss an aspect of their practice. These include Lenny Sánchez’ “Learning to Take a Critical Stance: A Lesson from D.J.” and Eliza Allen’s “Using Life Experiences: Finding Hope in Immigrant Stories.” These are followed by a discussion of the theories that underpin the vignette, a thought piece about the topic by one of the authors, a chart that outlines how critical literacy was enacted in the classroom, and our favorite piece: “Invitations for Disruption.”

Although this book will most likely be used in university classrooms, we hope it also finds its way into study groups and professional development in K-8 schools across the country.

Visual Resource

Charles Hamilton Houston Portrait

By Robert Shetterly
Americans Who Tell the Truth, 2014
11 x 17 poster

Although many students have heard of Brown vs. Board of Education and Thurgood Marshall, few have heard of the lawyer and brilliant strategist Charles Hamilton Houston (1895-1950) who laid the groundwork for the historic Brown decision. This is one of hundreds of portraits by artist and activist Robert Shetterly, who paints with the goal of bringing unsung heroes to light. The portraits, available as posters, can be used to introduce students to truth tellers in the past and today.


Good Morning Mission Hill

By Tom and Amy Valens
(57 min., goodmorningmissionhill.com)

Tom and Amy Valens’ film is a close-up look at the remarkable K-8 Mission Hill School in Boston, founded by Deborah Meier and colleagues. After watching Good Morning Mission Hill, one sits back and says, “Wow. Wouldn’t this be a different country if more schools were like this?” The Mission Hill captured in this fine film is serious, joyful, experiential, warm, interdisciplinary, loving, rigorous, play-rich—the kind of school we would like for our own children and grandchildren. But, more than that, it’s the kind of school we’d like to teach in. Teachers make real decisions. They collaborate. They make mistakes, but talk honestly about them. They support one another. The film would have been stronger if it gave us a clearer look at what Mission Hill students learn about social and ecological issues—how a critical consciousness is nurtured—but this doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a wonderful and needed film portrait. As too many schools become test-prep academies, Good Morning Mission Hill reminds us that we have alternatives.

Reviewed by Bill Bigelow, Deborah Menkart, and Linda Christensen