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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 1. Introduction: (In)Sighting Teacher Activism


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In December 2008, after President-elect Barack Obama nominated Arne Duncan, Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, as U.S. Secretary of Education, Duncan released a statement proclaiming that “education is the civil rights issue of our generation.” He is not the only one to have invoked the U.S. Civil Rights Movement when talking about the issue of education and he certainly will not be the last. However, Secretary Duncan’s consistent framing of education as the civil rights issue of our time along with the federal government’s championing of education reform policies served to place the issue of education on the front burner of U.S. consciousness for the better part of the early 21st century.

This little school of mine, we’re gonna let it shine. This little school of mine, we’re gonna let it shine. This little school of mine, we’re gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

In January 2011, I attended a New York City (NYC) Department of Education (DOE) Panel for Education Policy (PEP) meeting. Among those present, one was a teacher activist named Lisa North. Lisa was a veteran elementary ← 1 | 2 → school teacher in Brooklyn with 20 years of experience. She started teaching only after her son was born and she decided not to go back to her job as an Entenmann’s delivery truck driver, a union job she had taken after leaving college to be more...

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