Friday, December 4, 2009

Right-wing goes bananas over social-justice teaching

"They're even playing dominoes at Banana Kelly"

The two words that strike fear into hearts of right-wingers everywhere are SOCIAL JUSTICE. Right-wing think tanks like Manhattan, Fordham and the American Enterprise Institutes go ballistic every time they hear of a teacher raising issues of of racial injustice or gender equality in the classroom. Not to mention the growing number of small schools that focus on the social-justice theme as a way of tapping into student interest in social causes like the environment.

The latest diatribe against social-justice teaching comes from the filthy little tabloid, the N.Y. Post ("Crackpot schools--City lets ACORN, other radicals run wild"). Post writers use age-old red-baiting tactics to try and pin social-justice teachers to ACORN's philosophy of "reform and change" (I thought that was Mayor Bloomberg's campaign slogan. Maybe he needs some investigating). They even drag up my favorite witch-hunter Sol Stern, who's made a fair living hunting down S-J teachers.

In their never-ending search for evidence of S-J teaching, Post investigators actually find kids at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx playing dominoes in the classroom, not to mention their use of "restorative justice techniques" to deal with discipline problems. At Bushwick Community High School, they even found "an illustration of Che Guevara wearing a graduation cap" (Che did graduate from medical school).

The Post diatribe was, as expected, picked up by the more respectable S-J hunters Mike Petrilli and Chester Finn at the Fordham Institute:
Then there’s the Vanguard High School in Manhattan that recently hosted a “radical math” conference--not to be confused, mind you, with “Social Justice Math.” That no-doubt enthralling confab included a session on “how to use the history of the Black Panther Party to fuel an algebraic curriculum.”

Side note: If you are interested in teaching math or literacy using dominoes, here are some good sites: Teaching Pre-K-8, Sen Teacher, Domino Theory, AAA Lab at Stanford.

And here's one of dozens of S-J teaching tip sites.


  1. One of my kids' best teachers in San Francisco public middle school used, and uses, an exercise in which the kids divide into white rulers and nonwhites in learning about apartheid. (No, apparently actual cruelty does not go on.) My daughter refused to be a white oppressor, based on being half-Jewish -- this left a very tiny number of "Afrikaners" in their mostly-nonwhite class. Hey, just like real apartheid! Anyway, this is just the kind of exercise that would drive the right berserk -- ironically, the teacher is very firmly a moderate in our left/progressive/PC school district. It's not about politics; it's about good teaching.

  2. Aside from everything else that's wrong with the right wing attacking social justice education, playing dominoes in math is hardly some extraordinary radical approach to teaching. It's an integral part of the Everyday Math curriculum, used all over the country. We also roll dice and play cards. They happen to be very handy math tools.


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