Saturday, July 29, 2017

A look inside the Assata: An Autobiography meeting at the Colored Girls Museum

The next meeting is on Tuesday, August 8 from 1-3pm at 5050 N. Sydenham 


Raising Race/Other People's Children; Final meetings coming up!

For our final 2 meetings, we will move on to bring our inquiry about race, racism, and white supremacy to our own schools and classrooms by exploring "Raising Race Questions" by Ali Michael. 

For our August 1 meeting, we will read the Intro, Chapters 1 & 2, with a specific focus on Chapter 2 about "White Racial Identity Development". 

For the August 8 meeting, we will read Chapters 3, 4, and 5 with a specific focus on Chapter 5, titled "From Theory to Practice".   

I also wanted to share out this article, "Black Teachers Matter" from Mother Jones, which informed some of the statistics we used in meeting to and does a good job placing Delpit's work, specifically around educators of color, in a local context.

Next meeting is on Monday, August 1 from 4-5:30 at 4722 Baltimore Ave

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Half Has Never Been Told, First two meetings

The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist

After our first two meetings we have covered about just about half the book. In week one we discussed how the book was written. The nearly 500 page history book can seem intimidating but we discussed how Baptist’s use of stories cuts through dense historical narrative. We reflected on his use of imagery that humanized those who were enslaved and the enslavers.  It really highlighted that slavery was done onto humans by humans. One of the most powerful stories in the first few chapters is of Charles Ball, who endured a forced migration of hundreds of miles, chained in dozens of other enslaved people a coffle. We also discussed how each of the chapters is themed, whether it be a metaphor to a part of the human body, or a topic – torture, culture, religion, etc.

By our second meeting we had finished the chapter on torture. We all agreed that this was a tough, yet deeply moving chapter to read. We also began to discuss the larger narrative of the book, how slavery in the American deep south rose hand in hand with the success of modern capitalism. The ability to use torture to increase efficiency in the production of cotton had deep influences globally. New markets were created and the ability to use credit led to dramatic increases in wealth. This wealth however was built upon a system of demonization and exploitation. We were also able to connect the themes in the book with the topics that we teach. Zac was able to provide some more context of the relationship between exploitation and capitalism from his background in teaching Latin American Studies, and Sonia shared a video on world population growth.

We are looking forward to finishing the book and delving deeper into our we can connect the stories in the book to our practice.

Our next meeting is Wednesday August 2nd 6-8pm at 7212 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19119. We are 2 blocks away from the Allen Lane train station on the Chestnut Hill West line (regional rail), and a half a mile away from the #23 bus stop at Allens Lane and Germantown Avenue.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Transformative Teachers, Meeting 1

Transformative Teachers: Teacher Leadership and Learning in a Connected World
Blog 1

For our first meeting we were asked to prepare the first three chapters of the book and to reflect on the following questions:
  • What stories resonate with you? Do they remind you of any personal "transformational" moments in your professional life?
  • What barriers have you faced in trying to be transformational in your practice?
  • What do you think about when you hear the word "connectedness"? In what ways do you see "connectedness" affecting your practice
We began talking about the concept and practice of connected learning.  As a group we decided that we would try to participate in the ConnectedLearningMOOC ( as a form of inquiry into action for our book group.  This would allow us to connect with other educators across the country who are also committed to creating learning spaces where educators and students (educators as students and students as educators, too) can work collaboratively to enhance learning. This would also provide us with the opportunity to be makers as part of our book group. Since “making is the vehicle through which connections happen” (group member) this is important.

We were asked to consider the following – as a teacher, what is your role in the life of your students? What do you want for your students?” One member stated: “I wake up in the morning and think about how will I help my students have the agency to make change in their lives?” This change can be on an individual level, family level, school level, community level, or societal level. In fact, we recognized that the practice of making change at the individual level helps a person develop agency and understand how they can be part of larger efforts of social change.

We also wrestled with the meaning of social justice.  We did not definitively define the concept, but one member thought that social justice is about “the things my students need in their lives” to improve their lives.  They are the manifestation of human rights.

We cycled back to the theme of connection.  We recognized that our students are connected in many ways to many people, often through social media.  But are those deep and meaningful connections?  We thought that we have to model various forms of connection for our students.

For our next meeting we will focus on Chapters 4 – 7 and the question – How can we collectively build agency to make change?  To prepare, we should think about times we successfully designed or organized a transformative experience, and what were the factors that shaped this success? How does this relate to what we are reading? Also, what are our reactions to the reconceptualization of teacher leadership presented in Part 2?

We will meet on 31 July, 7:00 – 8:30 pm at the Unitarian Society of Germantown: 6511 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia PA 19119 - Parking lot is in rear (to get to the lot, drive up Wayne Ave, and take a left on Johnson - go down half a block and look on your left for a road into the parking lot. This road/driveway is right before the train bridge).

Room: Assembly Room

This blog post was written by Rosemary Barbera.

Just Mercy, Meeting 1

The first meeting for the Just Mercy book group was small and intimate, so we had a pretty unstructured discussion. We agreed that it was a very heavy book. I very much enjoyed hearing everyone's personal connections with the topic and what surprised or didn't surprise them about the book.  We shared a lot of related resources including the books: The New Jim Crow, Dead Man Walking, Killers of the Osage Moon, Dog Whistle Politics, Undocumented, and Locking up Our Own; the film 13th, and the podcasts Undisclosed and 74 Seconds. 

We were heartened by the themes of resiliency, hope and redemption in the book. Nancy was amazed at the hope of the wrongfully accused people on death row and I echo that feeling. 
We discussed and disagreed about the root causes of the issues and talked about what we personally can do. I talked about how I am excited about the push for an end to cash bail and urged everyone to support that movement and the candidacy of Larry Krasner. Adding to this part of the discussion, right after the meeting Lynne sent us this link to stop Lynne Abraham from becoming Philly's interim DA.

 At the meeting, I forgot to mention the Youth Sentencing and Re-entry Project (YSRP), a local organization run by and for those incarcerated as youth. I learned about the organization and met some members through the Bread and Roses Community Fund. While searching Bread and Roses' website just now I found all these other organizations in Philadelphia that are working to reform the criminal justice system and empower those it has hurt. Here is the link to all the organizations

The next meeting is on Wednesday, August 2 starting at 5:00pm at 1575 Williams Road, Abington, PA 19001

This blog post was written by Kathy Cohen.

Other People's Children, Meeting 2

Meeting number two focused on Part 2 of Other People's Children. The focus of the first two chapters was on what Delpit learned from teaching/research in Papua New Guinea and in a Native Alaskan community. This lead us to opening the meeting discussing moments in which we have explicitly or subtly learned from a culture other than our own. Many of the conversations that were shared to the whole group highlighted how this learning can help us to reduce judgement and value other perspectives. Next we shared in the whole group about parts of the reading that stood out for us. 

We ended the meeting by looking at data about the Philadelphia school district student and teacher demographics. After talking in small groups about pieces of the data created visual and written interpretations of the data based on these three questions:

  • What stands out / sticks with you about the data?
  • What are the connections to the chapters or your own experience?
  • What are some potential solutions from Delpit chapters?

We shared back to the whole group what we had discussed. Some highlights include that money (the lack of it in the best and fairest places) was a major challenge for many reasons, and that there are many barriers that are not just financial for people of color in education. We discussed how, as a group of White educators we felt uncomfortable coming up with solutions, we could be fully hearing the voices of people of color and helping to implement those solutions.

Join us as we read the final section of Other People's Children on Tuesday, July 25th at the A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave, at 4:00.

Class War: The Privatization of Childhood, Additional notes from 1st meeting

Here are some more themes we discussed during our first meeting for Class War:

Stemming from that were questions of individual power at school. At a fancy private middle school, progressive ideals were embraced—service learning, an LGBTQ club, discussions of inequality—but how do we push ourselves and students to dig deeper into those concepts? And furthermore, who has the power to do the digging? Can a Black educator in a predominantly Black, working-class school discuss these issues without consequence? Experience says that, in many cases, discussions of inequality are easier to have in homogenously middle class to upper-middle class environments. This goes back, again, to questions of what is really best for other people’s children; in our experience, this critical and abstract questioning garnered outrage and anxiety from disadvantaged parents who wanted their students to succeed. However, in higher-tracked classes and in fancy private schools, these conversations seem to be open and engaging, and marginally contentious.

We also addressed STEM education. Often, in progressive education circles, STEM is pigeonholed as an enemy because it is so clearly funded by the Bill Gates of the world. Some of us argued that Erickson is guilty of doing the same type of unfair pigeonholing, and that STEM fields really are growing, and it is important to have women and people of color involved in those fields. However, there was also an agreement that the way STEM is often taught is not as exciting or creative or fun as it could and should be, and that is a problem. This problem is a result of an obsession with "college and career readiness" that sucks out the joy and creativity of learning and education. This conversation sets us up well for our next sessions reading of Edutopia.

If you would like to join next week but do not have the book, feel free to email for a .pdf of the chapter.

Post written by: Diane Isser

Join us for the next meeting Wednesday, July 26 from 7-8:30 at 814 S. Sheridan St!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Fire Next Time; Video Screening of I am Not Your Negro

Video Screening of I am Not Your Negro will be on July 26 from 4:30-6:30 at 4951 Walnut St

More info here:

Discipline Over Punishment, Update & Next Meeting Tomorrow!

We are meeting tomorrow Thursday, July 20th from 4-6 pm at One PA, 5027 Baltimore Ave

We had a great conversation and a lot of interesting ideas raised. We look forward to delving even deeper this week. 

We will be discussing Chapters 3-5. Below are some discussion questions we will use to start off the conversation:

How does our education system set us up to reinforce putative/oppressive systems?
How can we build community and relationships to engage the creative maladjustment (definition on page 41) and righteous indignation we encounter in our students?
What are some successful relationship building models or techniques you have used to lay the groundwork for strong community?
What opportunities and challenges do you see in the Students Justice Panel? How could the model relate to your own setting?

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!
Tamara and Kendra

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No Shortcuts, Meeting Update

About 25 people met on Monday to discuss Jane McAlevey’s book No Shortcuts.  There were organizers affiliated with a wide range of organizations, along with many WE and PFT members.  McAlevy’s book told several stories of successful social movement labor organizing.  Two stories that we found particularly instructive were the Chicago Teachers Union strike of 2012 and the Smithfield Foods contract campaign in North Carolina.

From the CTU Strike, there was some energy around the question: How can non-teachers and community members be brought into the organizing? McAlevey critiques Alinsky-style community organizing, yet strong community organizing is what contributed to the CTU win.  Does Philadelphia have deep enough neighborhood community organizing to support a teacher strike? How can Philly move in this direction? It helped that everyone hated Rahm Emanuel in Chicago.  If you wanted to stick it to Emanuel, you should support the teachers. We don’t have that kind of mayor.  

We were also inspired by the successful Smithfield Foods strike against all odds in the South.  It’s such an important story, one that needs to be told, but there’s a gag order so the story can’t be public.  Workers NEED success stories in these times.  

We discussed how relationships are crucial to organizing (as opposed to mobilizing), which includes honest conversations about how bad things are and honesty about the struggle ahead.  Struggling together makes relationships and organizations stronger. And not just any struggle: class struggle, where workers are in a prolonged push-and-pull with owners. There may not be a win if you try, but there will definitely NOT be a win if you don’t try!  Someone noted how there were several points in some of the labor organizing stories in which the union could have backed off or gone harder, and it was inspiring to see them make the choice take risks and go for it.  

The philosophy of a democratic union is just different, and not something people are used to.  In the current PFT, people don’t tend to feel a sense of their own power and agency, but there is lots of potential at the building-level. A well-run building committee can make a lot of difference. Where the traditional structures feel like an obstacle to progress, groups of teachers can start by gathering together around making their school better, making a series of small improvements together, and eventually decide to call that “union work.”   

This post was written by: Dave Backer and Kathleen Riley

NOTE THE TIME CHANGE: We’ll be meeting Monday, July 31st from 7-8:30pm to talk about Direct Action by L.A. Kauffman. Join us at 441 W. Earlham Terrace 19144.

Other People's Children, by Lisa Delpit

On Tuesday, July 11th, we held our first meeting to discuss Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit. While the sections we read were originally published three decades ago, Delpit’s themes and concerns still resonate for many of us. We started by reflecting on why it can be difficult to talk about race, and why it’s important, especially as educators, to engage in this discussion. From there, our conversation touched on power dynamics in the classroom, teaching skills verses teaching process, and the different implications of more authoritative classroom management styles and flexible, student-centered approaches.

We wrapped up our conversation with lots of questions. How can our instruction both help students develop skills to access the language of power and also strengthen critical thinking skills so they are prepared to challenge it? How can you run a democratic, student-centered classroom that challenges students and teaches them concrete skills? How can we create space to have these discussions with other colleagues?

We’ll be meeting Tuesday, July 18th to keep the conversation going. Join us at the A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave, at 4:00.  

Class War: The Privitization of Childhood, Meeting 1

Here is a re-cap of our first meeting:

The first meeting of Class War was excellent! We touched on major themes of individualism versus collectivism in education; how schools perpetuate inequality—but are not the only mechanisms to do so; and how childhood became swindled and privatized through baseless fear-mongering and bipartisan legislation, and how in many ways this privatization hurts all of us—teachers and students, working class and middle class, and black and white. The privatization (or denial) of childhood comes at the detriment to everyone, but more clearly hurts and hinders historically marginalized populations.

We discussed the racialized and class dynamics of schools, drawing from our collective experiences in charter schools, traditional public schools, magnet schools, and the most bourgeois private schools. In so doing, we discussed how geography, city policy, and non-profits have shaped these experiences. We discussed the tension and anxiety that surround questions of school choice, and this NYT Magazine article was brought up as an example of how we all want to see the best for our children, but it is not always clear on how to reconcile that with our progressive missions to want the best for other people’s children and communities. Further suggested reading is Marketing Cities, Marketing Schools which is focused on Philadelphia and the Center City Schools Initiative.

The next meeting will be on July 26 from 7-8:30pm at 814 S. Sheridan St

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Undocumented: How Immigration became Illegal, Meeting 2

The book group reading Undocumented: How Immigration became Illegal has been identifying themes found in the book and unpacking those themes and applying them to present day.  

Some things we have discussed include:
  • The use of the law by those in power to develop, maintain, and enforce unjust social and economic structures
  • The inherent contradictions in the immigration issue in the US: 
    • On the one hand the economy relies on very low wage workers like immigrants, but on the other these workers are criminalized because of how they arrived
    • The US claims to be a nation of immigrants but has demonstrated hyper-xenophobia over the last 150 years 
    • For people from the US and Europe, freedom to travel is considered a birth right but freedom to travel does not apply to others
    • The United States government demanded that US citizens in China be subject to US law, instead of local law
    • Migration to the US has not really changed.  What has changed are the laws;
  • “Illegality is a way to enforce a dual labor market and keep some labor cheap, in a supposedly postracial era. Illegality uses lack of citizenship – that is, being born in the wrong place – to make workers more exploitable” (P. 39)
  • The cruelty of US policy across centuries: the treatment of Chinese and Filipino immigrants who built the railroads that produced incredible wealth for this country but who were then tossed aside; the use and abuse of Mexican migrants who engaged in circular migration to come to work in agriculture and who were lynched by the Texas Rangers (after whom we have named a baseball team); and the current policy of the Border Patrol to not search for migrants at the border but to wait until they are dehydrated and starving in the desert so that it will be easier to deport them are just some examples;
  • The role of hegemony in getting people to buy into the myth that immigrants are causing problems and that “our” ancestors immigrated “legally” when so-called illegal immigration did not exist until 1965.  Chomsky notes that Europeans ‘have used religion, race, and nationality – that is, countries and citizenship – as organizing principles to divide people into categories and castes. Each has been used hierarchically to justify social inequalities and differential legal treatment of different groups. Once status is inscribed in the law, this becomes an automatic justification for inequality: “It’s the law!”’ (p. 24).
    • The use of laws to justify covert racism. As with Blacks, criminalization could no longer happen because of race so immigrants of color were criminalized for their status (p. 15) and special laws were developed for them, not unlike the Rockefeller laws
    • The use of law, and the internalization of believing that law is good, makes the process of dehumanization easier
  • Immigration is the flipside of inequality

The third meeting will be on Thursday, July 13 from 3:30-5:00 in Center City. Location TBD

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Underground Railroad, Meeting 1

Here's a look into the first meeting for The Underground Railroad.

The second meeting will be on Thursday, July 27 from 5:30-7:00 at 2578 Frankford Ave.

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the US, Meeting 1

Here are some pics from the first meeting!

Join us for the second meeting on Thursday, July 20 from 1:00-3:00 in West Philly. Location TBD

Undocumented, Meeting 1

List of themes from the first meeting for Undocumented:

  • Abuse
  • Contradictions
  • Kindness
  • Racism
  • Money
  • 14th Amendment 
  • Visibility/Invisibility
  • History
  • Unification of identity groups
  • Education
The third meeting will be on Thursday, July 13 from 3:30-5:00 in Center City. Location TBD

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Class War: The Privatization of Childhood, Introduction!

We are so excited that you are all interested in a group reading of Class War. This book is super accessible and incredibly well researched. Erickson very concisely and coherently analyzes and critiques the causes and consequences of the neoliberal turn in education and childhood more generally. Erickson writes from the perspective of a teacher, activist, and social theorist--she is able to draw on personal experiences in order to critique the system as it is, but also outline a vision for a more equitable and just educational system by drawing on critical pedagogy and feminist theory.   

We're going to cover the book in 4 sessions beginning on July 12th. The schedule is as follows: 

7/12: Introduction and Chapters 1 & 2 (Public Schooling: Who Listens, Who Speaks? and A Nation at Risk? The Policy Landscape of Public Education)

7/26: Chapter 3 (Edutopia: Against Technical Fixes to Political Problems)

8/9: Chapter 4 & Conclusion (Every Child Should Have 100 Parents: Against Personal Fixes to Political Problems, and Conclusion: A Caring Society)

Final meeting Date TBD based on member availability 

The first meeting will be on Wednesday, July 12 from 5:30-7pm at 814 S. Sheridan St #6

Sign up for the google group:!forum/class-war-2017
Click here to sign up for other books

Trauma Sensitive Schools, Meeting 1

Our Questions:

Chapter 1
- views on and experience with zero-tolerance policies
- what are you in control of in your current position? (your schedule, your groupings, your room/space, etc.) 
- what experience have you had with trauma aware approaches? any training, ongoing trainings/workshops?
- views on/experience with positive behavior support/social-emotional learning?

Chapter 2
- accountability in having a trauma sensitive approach with families, parents, adults in your community

Chapter 3
- neurology of attachment and caregiving. What questions do you have? Are you interested in more resources?

The next meeting is on Thursday, July 19 starting at 5:30pm at 928 Pine St

The Fire Next Time, Meeting 1

The group reading The Fire Next Time developed norms as a part of the book discussion process:

1. Leave your titles at the door
2. Allow all voices to be heard-Listen first to understand, and don’t be dismissive of the input received when we listen.
3. Trust one another
4. Practice being open minded
5. Support one another (maybe this could be better worded as Agree to disagree)
6. Have fun getting to know and learning from one another (be slow to judge, but to understand and help

7. Attack the system and not the individual

The Schedule for meeting is as follows!

1- (June 28th ) LEGACIES / ROOTS / shining a light on the darkest corners of our history / in conversation with our elders and ancestors (please read in it’s entirety "My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation." and also progress to page 51.)

2 - (July 12th) RECKONING / BRANCHES / wrestling with our current predicament / talking with those with us in the present. (please continue to read "Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind.)

3 - (July 26th) JUBILEE / SEEDS / attempting to envision a better future / speaking to our descendants and those ahead of us. (Screening of “I Am Not Your Negro”)

The next meeting is on Wednesday, July 12 from 3-4:30pm at 2578 Frankford Ave