Review: Radical Teacher, Academic Journal

Chris McNutt
August 23, 2020
Published by the University of Pittsburgh, Radical Teacher is a self-described socialist, feminist, and anti-racist journal founded in 1975. Since 2013, the entire publication is accessible for free online, double peer-reviewed, and filled with in-depth articles.

Published by the University of Pittsburgh, Radical Teacher is a self-described socialist, feminist, and anti-racist journal founded in 1975. Since 2013, the entire publication is accessible for free online, double peer-reviewed, and filled with in-depth articles. Radical Teacher offers a vast repository of information on incorporating social justice in K-college schools, often from viewpoints and perspectives left out of academic discourse. I especially appreciate the tangible ideas for the classroom that almost all articles incorporate.

There's too many articles to focus on, so I want to hone in on three that have recently informed my practice.

Off Scaffolding and Into the Deep End by Nick Marsellas

Marsellas presents a compelling case for how educators should present marginalized voices to their students - by simply throwing them "into the deep end." Instead of providing a ton of upfront information about why this work matters and surrounding context, Marsellas questions the need at all. As he states,

No matter how we may try,  teachers cannot be responsible for offering privileged students the scaffolding they need to “understand” other humans’ existence.

He explicitly calls for changing expectations of ethical student behavior - which surprised me.

The article lays out a rejection of multicultural teaching, where everyone is expected to learn and understand each other, toward rejecting the need for a common ground. Instead, diverse voices aren't tokenized and voices are valued for being present. Upon presenting text by a queer poet, Marsellas writes,

I didn’t want my students thinking that if they tried to hold a conversation without expertise in the subject that they would be at risk of causing grievous harm.

This is something I identify with. When we teach about social justice we are afraid at the ensuing conversation: will students reject the premise? Will they cause harm? Will they misunderstand? In my experience, where I've taught with a lot of context… the result has been silence. Students were too afraid of saying anything, even if they outright supported the underlying notions.

To counteract this, Marsellas had students choose two important causes to them - and he notes that overtime, students realized that almost all social activism has overlap (from "net neutrality" to "indigenous Mexican rights.") This allowed students to become more open in talking about subjects.

Further, he calls on educators to practice and require radical transparency and humility. Stating that what you don't know…

When we reward well-constructed, simplistic papers over messy, entangled ones, we are inviting students to ignore the inherent complexity of reality.

From here, Marsellas offers an in-depth analysis of activities, ideas, and systemic changes to promote social justice-focused teaching.

Social Movements for Freedom An Anti-Oppressive Approach to Literacy and Content Area Learning in an Urban Fourth Grade Classroom by Nadine Bryce

Bryce offers concrete advice on pulling in student voice to focus on activism. By analyzing poster presentations by 9 and 10 year old students focused on racism, sexism, colonialism, classism, and homophobia, Bryce makes the case that young students can learn about anti-oppression, something seldom spoken of in mainstream elementary classrooms.

The account is heartwarming, listing specific interactions with students about what they learned. One exclaimed,

The result? To change something that is not fair, or that they just don’t like. Because if there was no thing as social movements, the world would still be unfair. And, we would be going to different schools. Like people, people would be like, unfair. Everything would be unfair.

Impressively, as students learned - they synthesized different social movements:

…people didn’t get good pay and, and had unreasonable hours. Did you know, a woman in a factory, she got zero dollars? A slave. In a week, she got no money. Later on, a woman also, she got two dollars per hour. Now working hours decreased to eight hours a day, she could earn up to fifteen dollars per hour…

Like all the Radical Teacher articles, praxis is discussed in addition to theory. Bryce brings up how elementary classrooms tend to present a single narrative (e.g. the "Thanksgiving story") that centers white imperialism, almost entirely with a narrow lens and often with inaccurate information to "lessen the blow" of (the many dark points of) American History.

She lays out how educators can incorporate anti-oppressive teaching in their elementary classrooms in spite of this. She states to build a groundwork, reaching out to families and using district standards to support one's actions. Similar to Kozol's work in building a coalition, Bryce walks through how these educators manage to create classrooms that integrate social justice.

"A Practice of Freedom": Self-Grading for Liberatory Learning by Vicki Reitenauer

Reitenauer outlines her practice of ungrading, meticulously describing each step of the process. I identified heavily with her reference to hooks at the end of the piece:

The responsibility I bear in our classroom has not diminished through this practice. Rather, it has shifted away from my using power to issue a summative statement of value to situating myself as mentor, guide, and sharer of my particular knowledges in a learning community that expects students to share theirs, too. Self-grading allows me to experience “education as the practice of freedom” from the position of instructor, as it allows students to claim their educations and to shoulder the responsibilities to self and others that the exercising of such a right demands.

As we reposition ourselves, I wonder how it reimagines other portions of our classroom. Many times when we lead discussions like this in K-12, the response is “my students are motivated by grades” or “I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to do this.” The solution to these problems is, well - a lot of work, because gradeless learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As soon as we embrace learning without grades, it’s am awesome journey toward other student-centered practices (e.g. PBL, restorative justice, critical pedagogy, social justice, purpose-driven learning, self-directed learning.) It’s also restorative to the teacher, helping rediscover a love of teaching.

Importantly, Reitenauer explains that for gradeless learning to work, students have to be actively involved in the process. Students can't simply be forced into progressive educative practice, they must learn progressive education and be active stakeholders (after all, any other way would be compliance by another name.) She lays out how to explain the pedagogical nature of ungrading, the why and how, and invites students to discuss.

If you haven't clicked on the journal yet…you need to! I can't understate just how much information is present at Radical Teacher. All available for free, all containing action plans, and applicable to anyone K-College.

Chris McNutt
Chris McNutt is the co-founder and executive director of Human Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization focused on student engagement, well-being, and motivation. His work centers on realizing systems-based change, examining how progressive pedagogical shifts (e.g. PBL, ungrading) reimagine school to best suit the needs of students and teachers alike. He was a public high school digital media & design educator who focused on experiential learning, portfolio-driven assessment, and community involvement.
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