Rethinking Elementary Education

Nurturing thoughtful, engaged citizens begins when children are young. Elementary school teachers have a wonderful opportunity to help their students nurture their curiosity and passions, explore meaningful issues, and learn skills to help them thrive in the world. But too often elementary school teachers feel constricted in what and how they can teach.

Rethinking Elementary Education -- edited by the wonderful folks from Rethinking Schools-- offers stories, ideas, and lessons for reenvisioning what teaching in the elementary classroom can -- and should -- look like, even with today's climate of standards, testing, and politics.

The framework of the book is child-driven and highlights the vital opportunity to explore important, real-world issues in an interconnected context, which often can be much easier in an elementary classroom. And much of the content reinforces the value and vision of integrating humane education issues and principles into the curriculum.

Rethinking Elementary Education introduces topics many educators would hesitate to address, but which, even at this young age, are essential to students' skills and well-being -- from the diversity in families, to the fluidity of gender identification and gender roles, to global challenges. It also highlights the power young children have to make a positive difference in their communities and the larger world.

As teacher Bob Peterson said in one essay: "If we neglect to include an activist component in our curriculum, we cut students off from the possibility of social change. We model apathy as a response to the world's problems." (p. 56)

The book is divided into six parts:

  1. Building Classroom Community - Focuses on empowering students in decision-making, being inclusive of student diversity, and helping students cope with strong emotions and challenges.
  2. Reading and Writing Toward a More Just World - Offers ideas and lesson plans for integrating social justice issues in your teaching, including immigration, child labor, homelessness, and even AIDS.
  3. Minding Media -  Highlights ideas for using a variety of media to help students hone their critical thinking skills and deeply examine the messages we're given in everything from our curriculum to consumer products.
  4. Math is More than Numbers - Focuses on questioning the world through math and making meaning out of the numbers that surround us.
  5. Laboratory for Justice: Science Across the Curriculum - Explores the connections between science and social justice, from rethinking the natural world to understanding issues about water and water rights.
  6. The Classroom, The School, The World - Explores the teachers' & schools' roles in larger issues, from testing to inclusion to mandates.
It's especially helpful that some of the teachers share what didn't work and how they'd approach the topic or unit differently. It's important to show that our attempts as educators don't all magically work the first time; that we constantly have to adjust and rethink, based on circumstances and the needs of our students.

One thing to note is that if you already own books from Rethinking Schools, some of these essays will be repeats.

With wisdom and a variety of teaching ideas from seasoned educators, Rethinking Elementary Education is a valuable addition to any elementary educator's toolbox.

~ Marsha

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