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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 6. Lisa North: Building Solidarity


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Part I: Being Seen and Seeing Others

Lisa North’s memories of elementary school are sobering. Her elementary school was “a very typical rural Southern school,” where students were expected to sit with their hands folded and told: “Be quiet and don’t say a word.” For her part, in the elementary grades, Lisa “hated school” and found it to be “really boring.” She would “try to be sick” so that she could stay home and stay away from school, but her mother would only let that happen if she actually had a fever, something that Lisa found was hard to fake. Lisa frequently “got in trouble for talking” and often had to stay in for recess to write, “I must not talk, I must not talk, I must not talk,” over and over again on a piece of paper.

One time in fourth grade, Lisa was punished for turning around and talking to students sitting behind her. When she was turned around, her teacher came by and said, “Well, if you like to face the back of the room so much, you can turn your whole desk around and face the back of the room.” The teacher made Lisa turn her desk to face the back so that she actually had to twist in her seat to see what was happening at the front of the room. When Lisa arrived at school the next morning, she found...

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