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Teachers, others meet in book clubs this summer to discuss weighty issues

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While most teachers are taking a break from students and lesson plans this summer, the Caucus of Working Educators and TAG Philly have been hosting their third annual book club series to discuss social justice and education.  

Throughout the summer, union members and anyone else interested in joining are holding a series of meetings for each of 15 books covering the topics of race, class, gender, immigration, and inequality.

The list of books includes Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants by David Bacon, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire.

“Essentially [we’re] just discussing the books,” said Charlie McGeehan, a teacher at the U School in the Philadelphia School District and member of the Caucus of Working Educators. “And trying to come up with some actions that we can do around the texts that we’re reading.”

The purpose of the book club is to create a deeper sense of community through dialogue among teachers, advocates and community members, and to find ways to bring those ideas into the classroom, McGeehan said.

After leaving a book club meeting for Illegal People, Zac Steele, a social studies teacher at Esperanza Academy and WE member, said he feels a strong sense of camaraderie with teachers who attend the book clubs.

“When I meet other teachers, there’s an affinity. And when I meet other teachers who work in urban areas, there’s an affinity, too, because you see the injustice of the lack of resources and the number of kids in rooms, and you know that it’s not that way in the suburbs.

“And you see all the issues that kids bring with them to school. It’s a lot to deal with. It’s a lot for the kids to deal with, it’s a lot for us to deal with. So it’s nice to be with other teachers who can relate to that, because it’s hard.”

On Tuesday evening, book club members gathered for the third time to discuss From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation at the Philadelphia home of the book’s author, Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor.

“These are not academic issues for me,” said Yamahtta-Taylor, an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University who lives in the Wissahickon neighborhood. “These are political issues. I want to see the movement succeed. I want to see the movement get bigger and stronger.

“And that was why I wrote the book, and that is why I’m having a discussion in my living room with teachers, because the point isn’t just to talk about ideas for the sake of talking about ideas, but it’s to talk about politics and ideas with the idea of making social movements around us stronger and more effective so we can win.”

The group of 11 educators included union members and non-members, and came from several local school districts and higher education. They had an in-depth conversation about racial justice and the challenges of introducing it to students.

Kali Peracchia, a teacher in the Springfield School District in Delaware County and member of TAG, said she has been “ostracized pretty hard” by her peers for introducing the suburban students to social justice issues. She continues to do so, however, because she feels it is important to teach it outside of an inner-city environment.

“Urban education is great,” she said. “[But we need] social justice in suburban schools, too. These people will be job creators, these people will be in positions of power, and that’s how you dismantle [inequality].”

Steele, also a member of this book group, said he focuses much of his energy outside of the classroom.

“As an adult, what I think I can do as an ally to that is teach subversive curricula,” he said. ”But that still means that I exercise my authority as a disciplinarian, which I don’t like most of the time, because I feel like it works against what I want the youth to be doing.

“So I feel like besides teaching subversive curriculum, the best thing I can do is radicalize other adults who are teaching.”

The group spent the final moments planning a meeting for the teachers to continue the dialogue and create new lesson plans for the coming school year.

“This is not just for us to improve our practice as teachers,” Steele said. “It’s also for us to build solidarity to change the schools and the unions that many of us are a part of. So I think that’s pretty special.”

The book clubs will continue to meet until the end of August. More information can be found at phlbookclubs.blogspot.com.

 

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