I guess I’m especially aware of teaching dilemmas lately. Perhaps it’s a function of age — or the age we’re in. Anyway, here’s one that’s on my mind now.

I work with students on four restorative justice teams at a high school with a high proportion of low income students — about two thirds Mexican American and one third African American. But put aside the race relationships for a moment and consider another divide: In discussing conditions in the school the stronger, more learning-oriented students view their less engaged peers as simply not caring. “They just don’t take advantage of the help that’s available here,” they tell me. Indeed, there’s a level of passivity among many at the school that seems intractable to those of us aching to promote student activism and success. …


I’ve taken a 5 1/2 month break from writing for this blog, primarily to focus on a monster project for the Illinois Writing Project that we called Write Across Chicago. For the month of October, over 50 small writing groups across the city met in libraries, school classrooms, business offices, and other locations to write and share their writing. It took much of the prior six months to get it all up and running. You can see what it was about at https://www.writeacrosschicago.org/ .

Meanwhile, of course, the country has gone through so much turmoil — mass shootings, racial animus, environmental destruction, mid-term elections filled with tension and ugliness. Clearly, the need to help young people develop as caring, open-minded, and active citizens is more important than ever, to undo some of this damage. …


I’ve taken a month break from posting — for vacation and then focusing on other projects. But a great many students across America have not paused in their advocacy at all. Let’s make sure that when fall arrives, we teachers are ready to give them the tools they’ll need to further their efforts at responsible, active citizenship.

Perhaps the most widely known young activists are the Parkland, Florida students now touring the country to support fellow students and promote voter registration. One important aspect of the Parkland students’ efforts has been to connect with students of backgrounds other than their own.


Bryn Orum, of the Greater Madison Writing Project and Clark Street Community School writes about the followup year with students she worked with at the youth advocacy writing summer camp she helped to lead. As she discovered, once started these young people were not about to stop.

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Rise Up & Write — a youth advocacy writing summer camp from the Greater Madison Writing Project — started in the summer of 2017 and will be growing and expanding in summer of 2018. If you haven’t already, read up on the blog post by Gwyneth Hughes “Rise Up & Write — Supporting and Elevating Youth Advocacy” for a little bit about what last summer was all about. …


Introduction: Mark Dziedzic, Director of the Greater Madison Writing Project (based at the University of Wisconsin — Madison) has been telling me about a summer camp on advocacy writing that teachers with the Project organized last summer. Not only is the story uplifting, it offers a powerful model for promoting thoughtful and skillful student social advocacy in locations across the country. Educators everywhere need to hear about this. So to do my part for the next few weeks, the Civic Action in Schools blog will feature pieces written by teachers who facilitated the camp. Here’s the first installment, by Gwyneth Hughes. …


Is there an awakening about the value of student voice and student civic action in schools across the country? I don’t know of data, but I sure do see increasing examples of such a development in recent news stories. I’ve been reporting on a number of them, because it’s important to recognize and learn from them. Here’s another.

In a recent interview in Education Week’s “Learning is Social & Emotional” blog the Albemarle County VA Public School Superintendent, Pam Moran, and Assistant Superintendent, Debbie Collins described how the district responded to students’ proposal to participate in the recent walkout to protest lack of safety from gun violence. …


So, dear blog readers , for once a bit of my own story —

Educator Innovator is a project/website sponsored by the National Writing Project along with a wide collection of partner education organizations and donors to, as their website states,

provide an online hub for educators and organizations who value open learning and whose interests and spirits exemplify creative and Connected Learning: an approach that sees learning as interest-driven, peer supported, and oriented toward powerful outcomes. . . . …


Model approaches across the country are developing many ways to engage students in learning to improve their community and acquiring the skills and dispositions to do so. One organization promoting this is UP for Learning, a program that involves students and teachers together to rethink how their school works to make learning meaningful. We need to see far more schools engaging students in real responsibility for improving their community — but it’s exciting to see models that are working and that will hopefully inspire imitators around the country.

The UP for Learning mission:

to shift the youth-adult relationship at the heart of education to partnership, and to increase youth agency. This ensures that all young people have opportunities, support, knowledge, and skills to pursue active roles in their learning, their lives, and their community. …


It’s heartening to find more and more educators and organizations promoting youth civic engagement across the country. Recently I learned of the Community Enrichment Project in Washington D.C., which conducts programs to develop young people’s civic engagement in underserved communities that lack a strong sense of civic engagement. Founder and director Lauren Grimes works to help these communities by teaching outh the importance of volunteerism, activism, other undervalued political techniques. She serves as Vice Chair of the Marshall Heights Civic Association in her own community. She’s also a mentor for young girls in Washington, D.C. …


Danielle Butville (Zarnick) wrote for this blog last year, describing how she led her second graders to identify and actively address issues they encountered and wondered about, in their classroom and school. While she’s moved locations and grade-levels, she’s still at it. And now she’s teaming up with fellow teacher Sarah Hanrahan, who she previously mentored as an intern, to describe ways they integrate inquiry and action with curriculum they need to teach.

State testing. Intervention Support Team meetings. Curriculum Calendars. Student Curiosities. Which one of these doesn’t fit? Which one of these is actually student-centered? It’s the age-old question — how do we balance the must-dos of our classrooms while still fostering student voice? If you’ve scrolled through Twitter, attended a professional development, or read any blogs about integrating an inquiry mindset into your classroom, it all seems feasible until you start considering the constraints of time and the content that each grade must cover. …

About

Civic Action in Schools

By Steve Zemelman, Director, IL Writing Project; author, “From Inquiry to Action;” co-author, “Subjects Matter” & “Best Practice;” Restorative Justice advisor

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