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Author connects education to social justice

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Charlotte Pope

Teachers and educators packed into a Bella Vista bookstore Thursday night to hear scholar-activist Bree Picower discuss the struggle to bring equity into the classroom and outside it, as well.

“You all have a role in this struggle,” said Picower to a roomful of Philadelphia’s activist educators gathered at Wooden Shoe Books.

Picower, a coordinator for the grassroots network New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE) and a professor at Montclair State University, was promoting her new book, Practice What You Teach: Social Justice Education in the Classroom and the Streets.

Practice What You Teach tracks the development of social justice in education through the experiences of three types of teacher groups, each at a different stage in their careers: typical white students enrolled in teacher education programs, fledgling teachers developing their practice of social justice, and inveterate educators who see teaching and activism as one and the same.

“The idea of the book came about with me trying to think of the connections between these groups, and how you move teachers from one group to the other on a continuum of social justice education,” Picower said.

As a teacher-educator, Picower teaches classes on social justice and social studies curriculum development design, and prepares her students to enter elementary school classrooms with a cultural consciousness.

Her current focus lies in examining the role that teacher education plays in the development of political analysis. The goal is to create a greater awareness and sharper inquiry into the political nature of education among teachers.

Picower, a member of the national activist network Teacher Action Group, is traveling to every city that has a teacher activist group.

Anissa Weinraub, a TAG member, said, "The turnout is great, and it’s inspiring to see so many people passionate about social justice in one room on their own time."

The school needs to be a space of the community, according to Picower. “I want teachers to be working collaboratively with students and parents and communities, to make decisions about the way education works and about what is taught in schools.”

Her most recent project involved studying teachers involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, specifically an offshoot called Occupy the DOE.

Through the NYCoRE leadership group, Picower supports teachers in and out of the classroom by developing curricula around social justice.

“There is a reconceptualization that teachers need to make about what their job is,” Picower said. “It is more than just delivering curriculum from 9 to 3. It is about being a part of the community and being responsive to their needs.”

Charlotte Pope is an intern at the Notebook.

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