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The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism

Portraits of Four Teachers for Justice


Keith Catone

Through the artful science of portraiture, The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism presents the stories of four teacher activists—how they are and have become social change agents—to uncover important pedagogical underpinnings of teacher activism. Embedded in their stories are moments of political clarity and consciousness, giving rise to their purpose as teacher activists. The narratives illuminate how both inner passions and those stirred by caring relationships with others motivate their work, while the intentional ways in which they attempt to disrupt power relations give shape to their approaches to teacher activism. Knowing their work will never truly be done and that the road they travel is often difficult, the teacher activists considered here persist because of the hope and possibility that their work might change the world. Like many pre-service educators or undergraduates contemplating teaching as a vocation, these teacher activists were not born ready for the work that they do. Yet by mining their biographical histories and trajectories of political development, this book illuminates the pedagogy of teacher activism that guides their work.

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Chapter 5. Kari Kokka: Playing the Game


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Part I: The Rules

When Kari Kokka graduated with her master’s degree and teaching certification from Stanford in 2001, her decision to move to New York City was impulsive. She found a cheap summer sublet apartment and only planned on checking out New York for a couple of months. Instead, Kari stayed through that first summer and found a job teaching math at Vanguard High School, a small, progressive school in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. Ten years later, this is the same school where I visit Kari’s classroom for the first time.

Vanguard is housed within the Julia Richman Education Complex (JREC), which is also home to five additional autonomous schools. Including Vanguard, three of the schools located at JREC are members of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a statewide consortium of 27 schools that oppose the use of high-stakes tests and have been granted waivers to employ performance-based assessments in lieu of New York State Regents Exams for high school graduation. I walk up the wide stone stairway to a set of large doors, which give way to a grand foyer of open space with vaulted ceilings and an expansive marble floor marked with columns that stretch out overhead. The security desk is set back toward the wall across from the entryway, almost ← 77 | 78 → an afterthought between two sets of swinging doors that lead into the auditorium. The two security...

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