Introduction to ‘Reading for Social Justice’

Maureen Costello

Late on a November afternoon in 2017, I got an email from a professional acquaintance telling me about an informal project in Boulder, Colorado. A group of parents, some of whom happened to also be professors and staff at the School of Education at the University of Colorado, had created a Family Social Justice Learning Space about a year prior; one of them thought Teaching Tolerance might be interested in their experience. Would I like an introduction?

I certainly did, and about a week later, my team and I were on the phone with Michelle Renée Valladares, associate director of the National Education Policy Center. Michelle told us she and her colleagues had long thought about doing something with their own young children, many of whom attend the same local school that also welcomes children of immigrants. The heated anti-immigrant rhetoric of the 2016 election gave them the impetus to take action, she explained. 

What they did was create an intergenerational reading group in which parents and kids used books to springboard into conversations about topics like immigration, racism, protest and segregation. They pulled resources from Teaching Tolerance, curated a selection of children’s books and had each family plan the activities for one of the bi-monthly meetings. “Not surprisingly,” Michelle said, “several of our colleagues have been asking us for the book list and some guidance about how to recreate this group.” Was Teaching Tolerance interested in helping develop such a guide?

The idea was brilliant, we thought, and aligned with our vision. We believe in helping young people learn how to navigate the world. We want them to know how to recognize and think critically about injustice. We understand that many parents and guardians share this vision and have life experiences and wisdom to spare. And we know that rich experiences with adults can have immense impact on young people. 

Many of us enjoy book clubs with our friends or participate in book studies within professional learning communities. And many of us read aloud with our children. This project takes the idea of a book club, adds structure that advances teaching and learning goals, and brings kids and their families together. 

We’re hoping you’ll try this in your school community and that this guide puts you on the right track. 

—Maureen B. Costello

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