Reflection: Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair

As part of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Urban Education Program, I was required to attend the Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair (TSJCF): which took place Nov.21st at Kenwood high school on the South side of Chicago. This was my first time attending TSJCF but it certainly won’t be my last.

This year marked the 14th annual TSJCF put on by Teachers for Social Justice, an organization for educators of all kinds (ex. teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, alt ed teachers, professors, etc) who believe in social justice education.

Social justice education means

“working toward classrooms and schools that are anti-racist, multicultural / multilingual, and grounded in the experiences of our students. We believe that all children should have an academically rigorous education that is both caring and critical, an education that helps students pose critical questions about society and “talk back” to the world.” (via teachersforsocialjustice.org)

You can read more about TSJ’s mission here. And can see what other people said about the curriculum fair by checking twitter and instagram with the hashtag #TSJCF15.

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A tote bag I bought for $5 at the TSJCF

The Teacher’s for Social Justice Curriculum Fair is free for anyone to attend and has a plethora of organizations present (each with a resource/curriculum table) and included a keynote program, lunch, and two workshop sessions (each session consisting of 8 different workshops to choose from).

Resource/Curriculum Tables

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check out all the tables. But the ones I got to were great and I was able to have some good conversations. While at TSJCF I spoke with HIVE Chicago, an organization dedicated to creating a connected learning experience for Chicago students (HIVE consists of “56 youth-development focussed organizations”). I stopped by Humanize Not Militarize, an organization that creates space for contemplating “the ways militarism impacts our daily lives” via art, film, and more. And I picked up some buttons from Brown and Proud Press, a writing collective for People of Color in Chicago.
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These are just a few of the many orgs and schools I stopped by. For instance, I stopped by a table advertising children’s lit that challenges gender norms–which is where I picked up a pocket guide to pronouns.

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These resource/curriculum tables ran during the entire curriculum fair but it was best to check them out before the keynote program or during one of the workshop slots.

Keynote Program

The Keynote program opened with Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith, followed by a panel: “Building Our Power: The Dyett Hunger Strike and the Movement for Education Justice” featuring Prudence Brown (TSJ), Jeanette Taylor-Ramann (KOSCO, Midsouth education association, Mollison LSC), Jitu Brown (Journey for Justice Alliance), and Pauline Lipman (UIC). The Keynote program was closed out by a poetry performance by Ethan Viets-VanLear (a Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) member and part of We Charge Genocide).

Rather than give a summary of the talks, I’d like to include some quotes that resonated with me from the Keynote program.

Total warfare on students of color looks like police brutality, closed schools, food deserts, and an unlivable minimum wage.

A population that is politically unaware is easy to control.

They call our students at risk but the truth is white supremacy is at risk.. Of crumbling.

I don’t want to live in a city where I can’t stay in my neighborhood because I can’t afford it.

The core message being that all these issues are interconnected. We have to fight them all if we want a more just society and better learning/living conditions for our students. And that we need to do more than intellectualize; we need to fight.

Workshops

Here is the full workshop schedule from TSJCF 2015.

Personally, I attended the following

“Desks Feel Like Caskets:” Youth Voices on Education
(Adam Gottlieb & Diana Zwinak, Revolutionary Poets Brigade Chicago).

The RPBCHI offers a sample of a workshop we wish to provide at no cost for educators and young people throughout Chicago. Local schools can invite teaching artists to classrooms to encourage students to think and write about their experiences in the public school system, and tell stories about classroom realities. Inspired by models, students discuss their experiences, what they value or would change, and describe their idea of a quality education.

The “Desks Feel Like Caskets” workshop taught us how to run a poetry workshop for our students/gave us a taste of what RPB Chicago wants to offer educators. I was already familiar with the Young Chicago Authors method of teaching poetry so I didn’t necessarily leave with anything “new.” But it was great for touching base on how to teach this content and for having productive conversations with fellow educators. Getting to say hi to Adam Gottlieb, a poet I met at a YCA open mic, was an added bonus. Wonderful guy whose poetry you can find on youtube and who was one of the main students featured in the Louder Than A Bomb documentary (available on Netflix).

Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality Now: Teachers’ and Students’ Own Approaches for K-12 Classrooms. (Boyd Bellinger, UIC; Rachel L. S. Harper, Depaul/UIC; Mark Sujak, Morton East High School; Melissa Bollow Tempel, Rethinking Schools).

Where does sexism show up in 2nd grade?  Should 6th graders get to choose which gender bathroom they use?  What do LGBTQIA terms mean for my teaching?  Teach sex ed in Health or Social Studies?  We all struggle with many issues around gender and sexuality at school.  Participants will leave this welcoming workshop with implementable curriculum, and lots of resources from a new book of teachers’ tested approaches, to support your specific students.

To be honest, this workshop felt a little unstructured and because of that I didn’t get as much out of it as I had hoped. Though, to their credit, it’s a HUGE topic to try and cover. One thing I will say is it did illuminate some new perspectives for me. For instance, we did an exercise where we thought of gender as a spectrum (Pink girls, blue boys, purple in between), then we were prompted to “look at where you fall on this spectrum… picture that color… now look at the color your parents would want you to be… now look at the color you are at work… now look at the color you are when you’re with your partner…” Noticing the shifts that occurred depending on the circumstance really made me think about the fluidity of gender and how contextualized/learned it is.

In closing, the Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair was a really worth while experience. I left with lesson plans, resources, and org info in hand. And, most importantly, I left feeling inspired.

At the end of a long week of teaching, that’s the best gift I could ask for.

 

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