Magazine Feature

Toolkit for Radical!

Learn more about the relevance and diversity of history’s radical teachers.

Dewey, Bethune, Zinn and the others described in the article are inspiring examples of thinkers who worked radically in the context of education. These educators thought outside of the box and have much to offer teachers today. This toolkit provides windows into the lives and work of a few more radical educators. It also gives teachers some ideas of how they can transfer inspiration into action in their own lives as educators.


Essential Questions

  1. Who are some radical educators throughout history?
  2. How can we transfer inspiration into daily practice?


Only a Teacher: Schoolhouse Pioneers: Charlotte Forten

This website provides a glimpse into the life of Charlotte Forten, an African-American abolitionist and educator who lived in the North but traveled south after the Civil War to educate freed slaves. Forten believed that education was key for true liberation, and the end of slavery was rendered more meaningful by providing freed African Americans access to education. Forten kept a thorough diary about her educational experiences. This website includes excerpts from her diaries that detail the challenges of and the inspiration for her radical work.

Try This:

Forten thought freedom attained through education was at least as important as freedom attained through the abolition of slavery. Over the course of one school day, take as many one-minute breaks as you can to jot down associations with the word “freedom.” How much freedom do your students have? What about you? What happens over the course of a school day that does or does not facilitate freedom? What small or large changes to your classroom culture could help you and your students feel freer?


The Freire Institute

This website gives a window into the life and work of Paulo Freire, a radical educational thinker whose treatise Pedagogy of the Oppressed has profoundly influenced educators around the world. Freire believed education must come in large part from the people being educated, and the work of the teacher was to derive essential themes and questions, mostly about liberation, from the students in any given context. Freire thought every time period in history had a set of deep abiding questions relevant to liberation from oppression, and the task of education was to get at these questions and tackle them in mutual, ultimately freeing ways. This website gives biographical information on Freire, quotes from his major works and examples of how Freire’s work has influenced education in a variety of contexts.

Try This:

What are the abiding questions facing your students, school and community? What are the essential themes? Freire believed oppression and liberation were crucial themes impacting education. Make a list of three to five big themes or questions you find relevant to your students, school and community. Consider how you might address these themes and questions with colleagues or students. Write a letter to your administrator making the case for why these themes are important for your school to address.


The National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum

Peggy McIntosh is a radical educator and co-founder of the SEED project, which brings teachers from across the country together to engage in professional development around issues of race, class, gender and how they play out in educational contexts. The website also gives links to other works by McIntosh and her colleagues at the SEED Project.

Try This:

McIntosh says, “It is possible to teach within a given curriculum and booklist and at the same time call attention to its assumptions and the framing of its versions of reality. It’s wonderful when teachers have the latitude to teach comparatively, comparing version X with version Y, and help students to ask questions about who wrote the versions and who is best served by the versions. This is the teaching of critical thinking, which schools purport to want but which is rarely fostered in the schools at this point in U.S. educational history.”

With a group of colleagues, generate a list of three ways you can incorporate more critical thinking into your daily lessons. Choose one of your ideas to put into action tomorrow. After you do it, reconvene with your colleagues and reflect on how the experience went.


The Revenge of Obama’s Anti-Bullying Czar

This article gives some insight into the life experiences of Kevin Jennings, who advocated for the rights of gay students. Though Jennings subsequently left the Obama administration, the article details some of the ways he worked radically both within and outside of the political system to make schools safer for LGBT students and educators. Moreover, the article shows some of the ways Jennings had to face intense obstacles because of his radical educational work, and it illustrates the tools he has used to overcome some of these obstacles. The article links to other resources relevant to anti-bullying education.

Try This:

List three of the ways Jennings overcame obstacles in doing his educational work. What character traits did he put to use in overcoming these obstacles? Make a list of your own character traits that help you do radical and inspiring work.

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