Sustaining Inspiration with a Social Justice Reading Group

Contributing blogger Ariane White received her M.Ed. from the Institute for Humane Education in 2010. She currently serves as a 9th and 10th grade advisor and humanities teacher at Wildwood School in Los Angeles. She is also a member of Wildwood's Multicultural Leadership Team, which develops advisory curriculum and supports faculty and students regarding issues of equity and inclusion.

Working as a teacher within an imperfect system, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the tremendous scope of my responsibilities and the intensity of my desire to promote social justice and empower young people to work together toward a sustainable future for all beings. It is also easy, at times—usually in mid-semester when I have stacks of papers to grade, texts to read, and endless ideas for curriculum to develop—to slip into unconscious habits, merely going through the motions of school rather than acting from a sense of conscious purpose. Over the years, I have recognized the need to adopt practices and structures that keep me connected to my vision for working with young people in transformative ways.

One practice that has supported me (and hopefully others) in sustaining our collective inspiration as educators is a monthly social-justice oriented reading group, where colleagues from my school and extended community gather to discuss readings that connect to our shared purpose as educators working for social justice. A colleague and I began the group after hearing Tim Wise speak about one of his recent works, Colorblind, which critiques the popular rhetoric that promotes a stance of “colorblindness” rather than honest, critical dialogue about injustices that continue to be perpetuated by institutional racism. We decided to support each other in completing the reading by scheduling a time to discuss it. We opened it up to other colleagues and received an immediate, positive response from a number of them.

From our very first meeting, where our discussion extended beyond the text itself into our own experiences as teachers, as well as our lives beyond the classroom, I immediately felt re-invigorated in my commitment to humane education. When we finished Colorblind, we took stock of the ideas that had emerged from the group’s discussions and proposed further readings that would support us in continuing the conversations about race, racism, and their effects on our teaching and our lives. We have since read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which clearly articulates how the prison system—and the entire system of law enforcement as it currently operates in the United States—reinforces the historical legacy and status quo of systemic injustice based on race and class; Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto, which offers a powerful, if bleak, critique of the educational system; and Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk, which provides many practical suggestions for how white people, in particular, can work effectively for racial justice. This summer, we read Uprooting Racism by Paul Kivel.

Momentum continues to build within the group, as the conversations so clearly ground us all within our purpose as educators and provide an essential sanctuary for reflection, personal growth, and true professional development. We are building authentic community with each other and seek to support each others' growth and development as teachers and as human beings whose work in our classrooms and beyond revolves around working for justice and equity. 

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