Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom

A Community of Students, Teachers, Researchers, and Activists

by Nancye E. McCrary (Volume editor) E. Wayne Ross (Volume editor)
©2016 Textbook XII, 270 Pages


What were once distinct professions for serving others and building knowledge are now communities of workers struggling against a tide of increasingly unregulated capitalism that is being fed by human greed. Teachers have become education workers, joining a working class that is rapidly falling behind and that is increasingly being silenced by the power elite who control nearly all the wealth that once supported a thriving middle class. Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom delivers critical counter-narratives aimed at resisting the insatiable greed of a few and supporting a common good for most. The book is dedicated to hopeful communities working against perpetual war, the destruction of our natural environment, increasing poverty, and social inequalities as they fight to preserve democratic ideals in a just and sustainable world. Written by some of the most influential thinkers of our time, this collection is a tapestry of social justice issues woven in and out of formal and informal education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Community of Teachers, Researchers, and Activists
  • Part I: What’s Going On?
  • Chapter One: The Last Teacher
  • Chapter Two: What Is to Be done?
  • Chapter Three: Against Obedience
  • Chapter Four: Pearson, Inc.: Slashing Away at Hercules’ Hydra
  • Part II: Relation of Theory and Research to Practice in Social Justice Education
  • Chapter Five: On the Urgency and Relevance of Research for Marxists
  • Chapter Six: Reclaiming Our Indigenous Worldview: A More Authentic Baseline for Social/Ecological Justice Work in Education
  • Chapter Seven: Why It Is Possible and Imperative to Teach Capital, Empire, and Revolution—and How
  • Chapter Eight: Class Struggle and Education: Neoliberalism, (Neo)conservatism, and the Capitalist Assault on Public Education
  • Part III: Social Justice Education in the Classroom
  • Chapter Nine: Social Justice in the Classroom? It Would Be a Good Idea
  • Chapter Ten: Poverty, Politics, and Reading Education in the United States
  • Chapter Eleven: Counter-Narratives in State History: The 100 Years of State and Federal Policy Curriculum Project Educational Thought and Sociocultural Studies
  • Chapter Twelve: Broadening the Circle of Critical Pedagogy
  • Part IV: Social Justice Education Outside the Classroom
  • Chapter Thirteen: “Putting First Things First”: Obligation and Affection in Ecological Agrarian Education
  • Chapter Fourteen: “Barely in the Front Door” but Beyond the Ivory Tower: Women’s and Gender Studies Pedagogy Outside the Classroom
  • Chapter Fifteen: Our Pass-Fail Moment: Livable Ecology, Capitalism, Occupy, and What Is to Be Done
  • Chapter Sixteen: Youth-Led Organizations, the Arts, and the 411 Initiative for Change in Canada: Critical Pedagogy for the 21st Century
  • Editors
  • Contributors
  • Series index

← viii | ix →


What were once distinct professions for serving others and building knowledge are now communities of workers struggling against the tide of increasingly unregulated capitalism fed by human greed. Teachers have become education workers, joining a working class that is rapidly falling behind, increasingly silenced and becoming part of an underclass working for the benefit of a power elite who control nearly all the wealth that once supported a thriving middle class. Yet, many continue to resist and work for a just and sustainable world.

One such community that has endured for 20 years is the Rouge Forum, a group of educators, students, parents, organizers, and activists who persist in working for social justice, democratic education, and a common good. Founded by social education teachers, scholars, and activists, the Rouge Forum moves like waves that, once set in motion, are unstoppable. This remarkably inclusive group exemplifies the power of community and the urgency for dialogue among us. It prevails with hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Rouge Forum website, annual conferences held throughout the United States and Canada, and many of the original founders continuing to ride the waves of change.

This book is written in memory of Adam Renner and dedicated to hopeful communities exemplified by the people of the Rouge Forum who fight for democratic ideals and work against perpetual war, the destruction of our natural environment, and increasing poverty and social inequalities. These people who have been part of the conversation that is the Rouge have long stood together to deliver important counter-narratives to resist the insatiable greed of a few and support a common good for most.

The Rouge Forum is uniquely inclusive. Educators, scholars, students, writers, union organizers, artists, and many more gather each year for dialogic interaction and learning together. Membership crosses cultural, national, racial, and class boundaries in the struggle for a just and sustainable world. Conferences aim to foster dialogue among participants rather than stand-and-deliver speeches. Panel ← ix | x → and roundtable discussions are encouraged. As one student said after presenting with a panel of college students at the 2014 Denver Conference, “As we went one by one, you could tell that our confidence continued to rise. When we completed our panel, the crowd kept the conversation going with questions…about our ideas…on how to have dialogic discussions and [build] communities.” She continued, saying that the participants were not asking questions about what they knew or how well-prepared they were. Instead, they wanted to hear their ideas. She ended by saying “…this experience was one for the books.”

We want to thank all of the contributors to this book for sharing their ideas and building community inside and outside the Rouge Forum. We also want to thank all the people who, over many years, have made the Rouge Forum what it is. What follows is an incomplete list of those who have made extraordinary contributions to the cause.

Thanks to all the members of the Rouge Forum Steering Committee; these are the folks who make our conferences, special events, websites, and publications happen, especially: Amber Goslee, Greg Queen, Gina Steins, Doug Morris (Rouge Forum Music Director), Doug Selwyn, Joe Cronin, Bryan Reinholdt (Financial Manager), Joe Wegwert, Joe Bishop, Travis Barrett, Marc Pruyn, Gregg Jorgensen, and William Boyer (Rouge Forum Resident Peformance Artist), and Elishia Smith.

Thanks to all who have directed Rouge Forum meetings and events: Greg Queen, Amber Goslee, Bill Boyer, Michael Peterson, and Rich Gibson have directed many of our Detroit events; David Hursh (Rochester); Stephen C. Fleury (Syracuse); the late Adam Renner (Louisville); J. Joe Bishop (Ypsilanti, MI); Faith Agostinone-Wilson (Williams Bay, WI); Brad J. Porfilio (Chicago); Stephen Petrina (Vancouver); the late Dennis Carlson (Oxford, OH); and C. Gregg Jorgensen (Denver).

We appreciate our collaborators and conference cosponsors over the years including the Whole School Consortium, the Whole Language Umbrella of the National Council of Teachers of English, Syracuse Center for Urban Education (at Le Moyne College), PrESS Network, the journal Cultural Logic, Institute for Critical Education Studies at the University of British Columbia and its journals Critical Education (criticaleducation.org) and Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor (workplace-gsc.com).

Thanks to the universities and departments that have helped make our conferences possible including Wayne State University, Warner Graduate School of Education at the University of Rochester, SUNY Albany (and United University Professions), University of Louisville, Syracuse University, Bellarmine University, Eastern Michigan University, Aurora University, University of British Columbia, Lewis University, Miami University, and Metropolitan State University of Denver.

We have been honored to have a long list of keynote speakers and other special guests at Rouge Forum meetings including, Josh White, Jr., Ed Sanders, M. L. Leiber, Detroit Storyliving, The Uprising, The Movement, Billy X. Curmano, Sandra Mathison, Susan Ohanian, Richard Brosio, Cate Fosl, Kenneth J. Saltman, Kevin D. Vinson, Dave Hill, George Schmidt, Michael Peterson, Rich Gibson, Milton Brown, Staughton Lynd, Dennis Carlson, Gustavo Fischman, Stephen Petrina, Jill Pinkney-Pastrana, Alan Spector, Brad Porfilio, Vincent Emanuele, Julie Herrada, Mike Prysner, Paul Street, Monty Neil, and Roy Rosenzweig to name a few. Since 2011, the Rouge Forum has presented the Adam Renner Education for Social Justice Lecture, which has been delivered by Peter McLaren, Susan Ohanian, Patrick Shannon, and David Barsamian.

← x | xi →


Chapters 2, 3, 6, and 14 were originally delivered as keynote addresses at the Rouge Forum. Chapters 3, 8, 14, and 15 appeared in different forms in the journal Critical Education and are republished here with permission. ← xi | xii →

← xii | 1 →

Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Community of Teachers, Researchers, and Activists

Nancye McCrary and E. Wayne Ross

This book represents a tapestry of social justice issues woven in and out of formal and informal educations and written by some of the most influential contemporary thinkers. While such a text might or should begin with a clear and singular definition of social justice, it is not possible because there is such a wide array of understandings of what it means to be just and socially responsible. In speaking about education in large research universities, Wendell Berry (2012) said, “…we are promoting a debased commodity paid for by the people, sanctioned by the government, for the benefit of the corporations” (para. 5). As you will see, the contributors to this book take aim at social justice and education in varied ways, yet intersect by articulating ideals worth weaving into the fabric of our collective consciousness.

This book is organized in four sections. In Part I, What’s Going On?, Nancye McCrary sets the stage by discussing the education and the day-to-day work of teachers, examining some of the reasons teachers, as we know them, are rapidly becoming extinct. Staughton Lynd, a well-known leader of the Freedom Schools during the Civil Rights Movement, provides an historical perspective that informs much of what is happening today and “What is to be done.” Susan Ohanian writes “Against Obedience,” explaining that teachers are being pushed to prepare their “students to be commodities in the Global Economy.” Ohanian insists “Either you join the revolution or you stand against the needs of children, and you aid the destruction of your own profession, not to mention democracy.” And finally, Alan Singer and Eustace Thompson conclude Part I with “Pearson, Inc.: Slashing Away at Hercules’ Hydra,” in which they deconstruct the means and ends of the corporate education reform. Pearson, the multi-headed mega-publisher, has inordinate influence over education in the United States and around the world, yet it also has serious vulnerabilities. ← 1 | 2 → Singer and Thompson argue that: “For all its claims about valuing education, the only thing Pearson appears to value is profit.”

In Part II, Relation of Theory and Research to Practice in Social Justice Education, Faith Agostinone-Wilson writes her chapter “On the Urgency and Relevance of Research for Marxists,” providing an eloquent analysis of the politics of research methodology, arguing that class must be the central unit of analysis in a capitalist society because Marxist research aims, not only to document the world, but to change it. In Chapter 6, “Reclaiming Our Indigenous Worldview: A More Authentic Baseline for Social/Ecological Justice Work in Education,” Four Arrows and Darcia Narvaez offer a hopeful paradigm for reclaiming indigenous perspectives to guide our work toward social and ecological justice. Rich Gibson, a cofounder of the Rouge Forum, follows with, “Why It Is Possible and Imperative to Teach Revolution—and How,” using the analogy of the Spider and the Fly in urging revolution that interrupts the trend toward educating for war and detaches public education from the production of capital. Dave Hill, in “Class Struggle and Education: Neoliberalism, Neo-Conservativism, and the Capitalist Assault on Public Education,” provides a more global perspective on education, in which he examines the neoliberal alliance with conservative forces in Turkey. He says the Erdogan government is pushing forward with Islamicization of society using the repressive apparatuses of the state, reminding us that the takeover of public education in the United States is not unique.

Parts III and IV, Social Justice Education in the Classroom and Social Justice Education Outside the Classroom, converge on teaching and learning formally and informally. Doug Selwyn, in Chapter 9, “Social Justice in the Classroom? It Would Be a Good Idea,” examines the terrible toll of stress and poverty on public school students, insisting that teachers cannot be held accountable for the injustices in our society. In “Poverty, Politics, and Reading Education in the United States,” Patrick Shannon details the catastrophic consequences of poverty on the learning lives of children. He says, “Neoliberals’ promotion of innovation [in education] contradicts their enthusiasm for a single testing regime.” Following Shannon, Glenabah Martinez examines the deculturalization of Indigenous Peoples in the state of New Mexico in her chapter: “Teaching Counter-Narratives: Indigenous Peoples, History, and Critical Consciousness.” She articulates the importance of integrating Pueblo core values and the gifts of the Creator in school curriculum as a means to control the destinies of Pueblo people and preserve their culture. Martinez outlines a framework for curriculum that includes Pueblo core values such as love, respect, compassion, faith, understanding, spirituality, and balance, as well as gifts of the Creator, land, language, way of life, laws and customs, governance, family, community, and natural resources. Part III concludes with “Broadening the Circle of Critical Pedagogy” in which E. Wayne Ross argues for a critical pedagogy that “…is not about showing life to people, but bringing them to life.” He notes contradictions in Freire’s critical pedagogy, while artfully weaving Dewey’s ideas on democracy with John Holt’s argument that attempting to change society through schools evades “personal responsibility because authentic meaning cannot be cultivated en masse.” Ross asserts that the aim of critical pedagogy should be getting students “…to speak for themselves” in order to reach for “…an equal degree of participation and a better future.”

Part IV, Social Justice Education Outside the Classroom, begins with Leah Bayens’ chapter “‘Putting First Things First’: Obligation and Affection in Ecological Agrarian Education.” She details an innovative program that she directs at St. Catharine College in Central Kentucky. Working closely with the Wendell Berry Foundation and relying on Berry’s work as a fulcrum ← 2 | 3 → for the program, Bayens quotes Berry (2010) regarding our current system of postsecondary education as an “instigator of social instability, ecological oblivion, and economic insecurity” (p. 32, 33). This so-called upward mobility major, argues Berry, “has put our schools far too much at the service of what we have been calling overconfidently our economy” (p. 32). It has been preparing graduates for “expert servitude to the corporations” (p. 32) rather than for reciprocal community membership. Tara Tuttle follows with Chapter 14 “‘Barely in the Front Door’ but Beyond the Ivory Tower: Women’s and Gender Studies Pedagogy Outside the Classroom,” arguing that Women and Gender Studies is an interdiscipline where learning depends on enacting knowledge gained in the classroom. Tuttle makes a strong case that Women and Gender Studies necessarily goes “beyond the ivory tower” as a body of knowledge that requires praxis and interaction to be fully synthesized. In Chapter 15, Paul Street contends that the work of social justice encompasses so much that our energies can be diffuse in struggling against poverty, environmental issues, gender inequities, and so on. He offers the analogy to triage as separating the most urgent issue from those that can be addressed later. The most urgent are examined, giving priority to the ill most likely to cause immediate demise. In doing so, Street suggests environmental sustainability must be addressed first because destruction of the earth will render all other work of equity and justice meaningless. He says: “What good is it to inherit a poisoned Earth from the bourgeoisie? What’s the point of more equally sharing out a poison pie?”

And finally, Brad Porfilio and Michael Watz examine “Youth-Led Organizations, the Arts, and the 411 Initiative for Change in Canada” in the context of critical pedagogy for the 21st century. Porfilio and Watz critically examine how our youths’ “quality of life has …been denigrated by the implementation of commercialized and militarized practices in K-12 educational structures.” They discuss the fact that many urban schools in the United States and Canada are unsafe, unsanitary, dilapidated, racially segregated, and overcrowded institutions, where ill-equipped educators implement “drill and kill” methods of instruction. This chapter, however, offers hope by highlighting youth-led organizations, the motivation to establish and enact, the methods used to engage peers in social commentary and activism, and how members confront and overcome barriers in schools when implementing their pedagogical initiatives.

In sum, this book crosses intersections of community, place, and time through the environs of home, school, work, and our sacred earth in ways that honor histories, communities, diversities, and human rights. It is a collection of voices speaking from inside and outside classrooms, formal and informal education, the Rouge Forum, and beyond on issues of consciousness and common good. Nearly all of the writers are or have been teachers and, in this book, they teach by articulating disturbing practices and offering powerful ideas that can change the world. Indeed, they speak in concert on embracing community, resisting injustice, and protecting inalienable human rights. From the first chapter to the last, this collection of essays poses difficult questions, exposes inequities, and offers ideas for change.

In what follows, we begin in honor of the memory of Adam Renner, who was our friend, a scholar, teacher, musician, and the Community Coordinator of the Rouge Forum until his sudden death in 2010. Once rooted in Liberation Theology, Adam told a story of how he became aware of the complicit connections between his own privileged position and the relative consequences for those less fortunate. It was a summer job during high school when he became friends with a man who was homeless, displaced by the new construction on which Adam was working. It was a simple and familiar yet powerful story, as he told how that connection with ← 3 | 4 → just one different other, a casualty of his summer work, awakened his own critical thinking, a new kind of knowing, his questioning mind. From his roots in Freirean Liberation Theology, to a real-world human connection, and disillusionment, Adam Renner devoted the rest of his short life to the power of community and the interconnectedness of us all. The year before he died, he wrote an article that contributed in significant ways to the conversation started by Paulo Freire in 1970 with his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Teaching Community, Praxis, and Courage

Pointing toward our broken-down sense of community and dis-connectedness, Renner (2009) argued that rekindling concepts of “community, connectedness, and the collective is central to the thesis of social justice.” That is, “a hopeful path toward justice depends on the extent to which we can (re)invigorate solidarity and more active, participatory democracy” (p. 59). Using a series of early 21st century “shocks” (e.g., the Iraq War, the genocide in Darfur, Hurricane Katrina, the No Child Left Behind Act, and corporate globalization) as a springboard, Renner develops pedagogical possibilities from which resistance to these shocks might emerge and asks: How can educators use these events as part of an effort to build (or rebuild) community? After describing the background of each event he makes connections to a local context and then explores the event’s “pedagogical contexts.” Let’s take a look at just one of the “shocks” Renner deconstructs.

Genocide in Darfur. As the echoes of “never again” become fainter and fainter; as more and more Darfurians are displaced; as more and more Darfurians are murdered by state sanction; and as the world community drags its feet (and considers who might get Sudan’s oil), one already imagines the horrific narratives that will be written about this era—wondering how it could have happened, why no one stopped it, and what the world community will do to make sure that this time it never happens again. This is the (ultimate) breakdown and disconnect of community, indeed—a world in which the relative wealthy receive the technical bread and circus of reality TV and the latest electronic gadgets, yet thousands of their brothers and sisters are murdered by relatively simple and unsophisticated implements: knives, machetes, and rifles.

Local context. Locally, like many other places, Save Darfur campaigns continue to pop up, lectures and films (at the Jewish Community Center, by Catholic Relief Services, at the Muhammad Ali Center, etc.) are given and shown, and awareness waxes and wanes. Likewise, many refugees from Sudan and from other African zones of displacement and devastation arrive in Louisville for a fresh start, corralled into the center part of the city and creating an interesting and segregated international camp. Perhaps more interesting, the children of these refugees are educated at a Newcomer’s Academy in one of the poorest high schools in Louisville, isolated from the general population by schedule and geography, residing in a formerly abandoned floor of this aging building.

Pedagogical context. Questions for teacher candidates and students in P–12 schools who reside in the city alongside these refugees include: Do they understand the context from which these immigrants come? Can the residents connect the holocaust recalled in the history texts to the subsequent genocides that continue to unfold and progress? Do teacher candidates understand anything about the holocaust on their own American soil? What work can be done to integrate students from the Newcomer’s Academy into the mainstream of area schools? As many of these teachers and students enjoy the festivities of the Kentucky Derby festival each year, which includes Thunder over Louisville—a fireworks and military exhibition—can they ← 4 | 5 → imagine of what the sound of these exploding munitions and roaring aircraft must remind the traumatized migrants? (Renner, 2009, pp. 64–65)

Where is the hope? Where is the resistance to these shocks; injustices in education? How do we move toward solidarity and more active, participatory democracy in schools and beyond? Renner (2009; Renner & Brown, 2006) offers us a framework that focuses on community, praxis, and courage.

First, he argues we need to connect ourselves, our students, and curriculum to communities. This means putting a human face on issues like war, poverty, and exploitation. Asking questions of and exploring connections and responses to “shocks” and their reverberations globally and particularly in our everyday lives. In short, this implies education conceived as community-building (rather than education for economic development), learning how we can live together in a global democracy, and

finding ways to connect students’ lives together, connecting curriculum with the world outside of school…and connecting students with real lives/stories/faces in local, national, and global communities [so] that teachers and students can both better understand our privileged positions and work for more level, equitable partnerships. (Renner, 2009, p. 72)

Second, along with community we need to work toward more radical (e.g., proceeding from the roots) understanding of class and injustice: “teachers must consistently seek to craft more nuanced lenses, deepen their consciousness, and develop a discourse of social justice,” what Renner labels praxis (p. 73). Teachers, for example, can craft these lenses through community activity that resembles critical service learning (e.g., Renner, 2011; Westheimer & Kahne, 2004), which asks questions about why such service may even be necessary and then students have the opportunity to “connect heretofore unseen dots.” These activities might lead them toward “noticing the corporatizing trends in education, the privatizing influences in our economy, and threats to democracy” (Renner, 2009, p. 73).

Teachers can do this through humanizing pedagogical practices which pose problems for their students, making the world a series of issues to be researched, resolved, and improved, rather than one that is given, static, and unchanging. (Renner, 2009, p. 74)


XII, 270
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
democratic ideals school reform counter-narrative
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XII, 270 pp.

Biographical notes

Nancye E. McCrary (Volume editor) E. Wayne Ross (Volume editor)

Nancye E. McCrary (EdD., Instructional Systems Design, University of Kentucky; B.S. and M.S., University of Tennessee) is Associate Professor of Education and Chair of Professional Studies at St. Catharine College. E. Wayne Ross (PhD., The Ohio State University; A.B. and M.A.T., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) is Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at University of British Columbia, Co-Director of the Institute for Critical Education Studies, and Co-Founder of the Rouge Forum.


Title: Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom