Skip to main content

Educators learning through struggle: Political education in social justice caucuses

Abstract

At a time when educators are increasingly rising up within and beyond their unions to protect public education, it is vital to understand how activist educators become politicized and how their activist organizations contribute to such political education efforts. In this article, Maton and Stark examine the grassroots organizing work of three educator-led social justice caucuses and a national network in order to explicate how five forms of political education—relational, structured, situational, mobilized, and networked—support educators’ political learning within and beyond their unions. We tease apart the characteristics and central knowledge sources inherent to these five forms of political education, showcasing examples of how caucuses capitalize upon and embed political education within their change-making efforts.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    It may be argued that there are localized examples of social justice caucuses and unions embracing values and priorities that at times diverge from community interest. However, the literature shows that social justice unionism as a philosophy and movement strives to avoid such divisions and foster solidarity amongst unions, union members, community groups, and community members (Fletcher & Gapasin, 2008; McAlevey, 2016; Weiner, 2012).

  2. 2.

    Ideological diversity among caucus members can, at times, foster tensions within caucuses. For example, some caucus members may prioritize internal union politics while others prioritize advocating for curricular reforms. These tensions can be productive when navigated through democratic processes, but unresolved tensions risk alienating new members. For more on intracaucus tensions, see Asselin (2019) and Stark (2019).

  3. 3.

    For more on how such campaigns and mobilizations are identified and selected, please see Stark (2019), Bradbury et al., (2014), and McAlevey (2016).

  4. 4.

    For more on the similarities and differences between these caucuses, see Stark (2019).

  5. 5.

    While our IRBs would have technically allowed us to share de-identified transcripts or longer quotations with one another, such information might have unintentionally revealed participant identity. Thus, we chose to talk through rather than de-identify our data.

  6. 6.

    In 2013, Seattle educators at Garfield High School led a successful boycott against the implementation of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) standardized test.

  7. 7.

    In 2016, six educators at Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences in Philadelphia organized a campaign to inform families about their right to opt out of standardized tests.

  8. 8.

    Following its 2016 emergence in Seattle, the BLM at School movement has expanded to include hundreds of U.S. K-12 schools and colleges. The movement centers Black voices, curriculum and pedagogy, and seeks tangible antiracist institutional educational change (see Jones & Hagopian, 2020).

References

  1. Asselin, C. (2019). Tensions, dilemmas, and radical possibility in democratizing teacher unions: Stories of two social justice caucuses in New York City and Philadelphia. City University of New York.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Au, W. (2021). A pedagogy of insurgency: Teaching and organizing for radical racial justice in our schools. Educational Studies, 57(2), 109–123. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131946.2021.1878181

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Ball, S. J., & Youdell, D. (2009). Hidden privatisation in public education. Education Review, 21(2), 73–83.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bascia, N. (2009). Pushing on the paradigm: Research on teachers’ organizations as policy actors. In G. Sykes, B. Schneider, & D. N. Plank (Eds.), Handbook of education policy research (pp. 785–792). Routledge & American Educational Research Association.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bocking, P. (2020). Public education, neoliberalism, and teachers: New York, Mexico City. University of Toronto Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Bradbury, A., Brenner, M., Brown, J., Slaughter, J., & Winslow, S. (2014). How to jump-start your union: Lessons from the Chicago teachers. Labor Notes.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Brogan, P. (2014). Getting to the CORE of the Chicago Teachers’ Union transformation. Studies in Social Justice, 8(2), 145–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Brown, A. E., & Stern, M. (2018). Teachers’ work as women’s work: Reflections on gender, activism, and solidarity in new teacher movements. Feminist Formations, 30(3), 172–197. https://doi.org/10.1353/ff.2018.0046

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Choudry, A. (2015). Learning activism: The intellectual life of contemporary social movements. University of Toronto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Chovanec, M. (2009). Between hope and despair: Women learning politics. Fernwood.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Cox, L. (2014). Movements making knowledge: A new wave of inspiration for sociology. Sociology, 48(5), 954–971.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Dyke, E., & Bates, B. M. (2019). Striking for a better World : The significance of social movement and solidarity unionisms. Berkeley Review of Education. https://doi.org/10.5070/B89146423

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Erickson, F. (2006). Studying side by side: Collaborative action ethnography in educational research. In G. Spindler & L. Hammond (Eds.), New horizons for ethnography in education (pp. 235–257). Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Eyerman, R., & Jamison, A. (1991). Social movements: A cognitive approach. The Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Fine, M. (2018). Just research in contentious times: Widening the methodical imagination. Teachers College Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Fletcher, B., & Gapasin, F. (2008). Solidarity divided: The crisis in organized labor and a new path toward social justice. University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Foley, G. (1999). Learning in social action: A contribution to understanding informal education. Martin’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hall, B. L., & Clover, D. E. (2005). Social movement learning. In L. M. English (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Adult Education (pp. 584–589). Palgrave-MacMillan.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Howell, C. & Schmitzer, C. (2021). Online and on the picket line: West Virginia teachers' use of an online community to organize. Critical Education.

  21. Hursh, D. (2008). High-stakes testing and the decline of teaching and learning. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Jaffe, S. (2014). Teachers’ strikes catching fire from Oregon to Minnesota. Labor Notes.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Jaffe, S. (2018). With Janus, the court deals unions a crushing blow. Now what? New York: New York Times.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Jaffe, S. (2019a). The radical organizing that paved the way for LA’s teachers’ strike. The Nation.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Jaffe, S. (2019b). The Chicago teachers strike was a lesson in 21st-century organizing. The Nation.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Jones, D., & Hagopian, J. (Eds.). (2020). Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice. Haymarket Books.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Juris, J. S. (2007). Practicing militant ethnography with the movement for global resistance (MRG) in Barcelona. In S. Shukaitis & D. Graeber (Eds.), Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations, Collective Theorization (pp. 164–176). AK Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Lipman, P. (2011). The new political economy of urban education: Neoliberalism, race, and the right to the city. Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. (2011). Designing qualitative research (5th ed.). Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Maton, R. (2016a). Learning racial justice: Teachers’ collaborative learning as theory and praxis. University of Pennsylvania.

  31. Maton, R. (2016b). We learn together: Philadelphia educators putting social movement unionism into practice. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, 26, 5–19. ISSN 1715-0094

  32. Maton, R. (2018). From neoliberalism to structural racism: Problem framing in a teacher-led activist organization. Curriculum Inquiry, 48(3), 293–315. https://doi.org/10.1080/03626784.2018.1474711

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Maton, R. (2021). Talking race: The role of risk-taking in activist teachers' collaborative learning. The SoJo Journal: Educational Foundations and Social Justice Education, 7(1), 15–33.

  34. McAlevey, J. (2016). No shortcuts: Organizing for power in the new gilded age. Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  35. Morrison, D., & Porter-Webb, E. (2019). Building power through racial justice: Organizing the #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool Week of Action in K-12 and beyond. Berkeley Review of Education. https://doi.org/10.5070/B89146431

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. National Coalition of Education Activists (NCEA). (1994). Social justice unionism: A call to education activists. Rethinking Schools, 9(1), 5–7.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Niesz, T. (2021). Activist Educators and the Production, Circulation and Impact of Social Movement Knowledge. Critical Education, 12(7).

  38. Niesz, T. (2019). Social movement knowledge and Anthropology of Education. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 50(2), 223–234. https://doi.org/10.1111/aeq.12286

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Oakes, J., & Lipton, M. (2002). Struggling for educational equity in diverse communities: School reform as social movement. Journal of Educational Change, 3(3–4), 383–406. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021225728762

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Oakes, J., & Rogers, J. (2007). Radical change through radical means: Learning power. Journal of Educational Change, 8(3), 193–206. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-007-9031-0

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Owens, L. Z. (2020). Becoming BlackWomanTeacher: An autoethnographic illumination of teacher leadership development for critical democratic public education in Newark. The State University of New Jersey.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Quinn, R., & Carl, N. M. (2013). Thoughts on the power and promise of parent organizing. Penn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education, 10(1), 2011–2013.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Riley, K. (2021). Book groups in the social justice unionism movement: An analysis of teachers’ reasons for participation. Critical Education, 12(7).

  44. Riley, K., & Cohen, S. (2018). In Philadelphia, teacher book groups are the engines of change. Rethinking Schools, 32(3), 38–45.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Rincón-Gallardo, S. (2020). Educational change as social movement: An emerging paradigm from the global south. Journal of Educational Change, 21(3), 467–477. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-020-09374-3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Rosen, S. M. (2019). “So much of my very soul”: How youth organizers’ identity projects pave agentive pathways for civic engagement. American Educational Research Journal, 56(3), 1033–1063.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Ross, E. W., & Vinson, K. D. (2014). Dangerous citizenship. In E. W. Ross (Ed.), The social studies curriculum: Purposes, problems, and possibilities (4th ed., pp. 93–125). State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Rottmann, C. (2012). Forty years in the union: Incubating, supporting, and catalyzing socially just educational change. Journal of Educational Change, 13(2), 191–216. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-012-9180-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Shelton, J. (2017). Teacher strike!: Public education and the making of a new American political order. University of Illinois Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  50. Shiller, J., & BMORE Caucus, B. C. (2019). Winning in Baltimore : The story of how BMORE put racial equity at the center of teacher union organizing. Berkeley Review of Education. https://doi.org/10.5070/B89146427

  51. Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. Holt.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Spradley, J. P. (1980). Participant observation. Holt.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Stark, L. (2019). We’re trying to create a different world: Educator organizing in social justice caucuses [PhD dissertation, University of Virginia, Curry School of Education].

  54. Stark, L. W. & Maton, R. (2019). Teacher radicalization and school closures in the United States. In E. M. Duncan (Ed.), Shuttered schools: Race, community, and school closures in American cities (pp. 287–324). Information Age.

  55. Stern, M., & Brown, A. (2016). “It’s 5:30. I’m exhausted. And I have to go all the way to f*%#ing Fishtown.”: Educator depression, activism, and finding (armed) love in a hopeless (neoliberal) place. The Urban Review, 47(5), 333–354. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-016-0357-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Tarlau, R. (2014). From a language to a theory of resistance: Critical pedagogy, the limits of “framing”, and social change. Educational Theory, 64(4), 369–392. https://doi.org/10.1111/edth.12067

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Taylor, J. (2001). Union learning: Canadian labour education in the twentieth century. Thompson Educational Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Uetricht, M. (2014). Strike for America: Chicago teachers against austerity. Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Weiner, L. (2012). The future of our schools: Teachers unions and social justice. Haymarket Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rhiannon M. Maton.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Maton, R.M., Stark, L.W. Educators learning through struggle: Political education in social justice caucuses. J Educ Change (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-021-09444-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Political education
  • Teacher knowledge
  • Teacher learning
  • Unions
  • Teachers unions
  • Social justice unions
  • Social justice caucuses