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Race, Justice, Poverty Part of Unique Teachers College Book Series

By Jo Kadlecek


When J. Waties Waring was growing up in the 1890s in Charleston, South Carolina, the last thing he expected was to become a champion for racial justice. He would be educated in the finest southern schools as a lawyer and become a popular member of the Charlestonian aristocracy. But by the late 1930s, the federally appointed judge underwent an astonishing 'race conversion' that turned him into an outspoken critic of segregation, a key legal influence for voting and civil rights to come and a target of violence by his white supremacist neighbors and 'friends.'

Waring's astounding transformation and contribution to racial justice is chronicled in Cynthia Stokes Brown's book, "Refusing Racism: White Allies and the Struggle for Civil Rights," published this year by Teachers College Press. Brown, a professor emerita of education at Dominican University of California, also explores the efforts of Virgina Durr, a political activist from Alabama, Anne McCarty Braden, a journalist from Louisville, Kentucky, and Herbert R. Kohl, a writer and educator from New York City. Brown tells their stories, "to show in detail, how some of those considered white were able to join unequivocally in the fight for the liberation of those considered other 'races' as well as for their own freedom from racism. I do this," Brown writes, "to provide role models of antiracist white identity and action."

Brown's vision and book reflect the unique mission of Teachers College Press' popular series, Teaching for Social Justice Series. The collaborative series -- which to date includes eight books -- began in 1997 when series editor, William Ayers, TC '87, board member for Bank Street College and distinguished professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, asked his graduate students to look for teachers who were explicitly teaching toward social justice. What happened as a result was a collection of portraits of teachers who were addressing social problems and seeking lasting change through the process of education, not through traditional political means.

Ayers -- who is also a former student of Columbia's aesthetics education pioneer, Maxine Greene -- was so inspired by his students' findings that he approached both Greene and TC Press director, Carole Saltz. Together, they realized there was so much important material linking education with justice that a book series could be launched. An editorial advisory board of academic and interdisciplinary voices was formed to meet annually, and the Teaching for Social Justice Series was born.

Its timing couldn't be more relevant, Greene believes. "With the pursuit of social justice set aside and many of our freedoms in danger we cannot but welcome this series and its truly educative power," she says.


The goal of the series, according to the editors, encourages new voices and new ideas that contribute to the serious exchange of enduring questions in education. The books, they hope, will promote an ongoing discussion of the elements and impacts of education and justice.

"This series gathers together examples of popular education being practiced, as well as clear and new thinking concerning issues of democracy, social justice, and educational activism," says Ayers and Therese Quinn, associate series editor. "Many contributions will be grounded in practice and will, we hope, focus on the complexities built into popular education: difficulties, set-backs, successes, steps forward -- work that reminds us of what Bernice Johnson Reagon calls 'the sweetness of struggle.' "

Gregory Michie's educational memoir, "Holler if You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students," was the first book in the series. Michie, a nine-year public school teacher on Chicago's South Side, writes in compelling narrative of the lessons he learned as a new urban teacher and the issues he and his students faced. He also includes the stories of his students in their own voices, voices not often heard in discussions on education.

"Holler if You Hear Me" struck such a chord that many education classes on campuses across the country now use it as a text, according to Catherine Bernard, associate acquisitions editor for TC Press. In fact, Bernard says its strong print run showing reinforced the need for such a series.

"Because the books, like Michie's, are both academic and narrative driven, they appeal to more than the professional market," Bernard says. Many of the books have also become supplemental texts in a variety of education and interdisciplinary courses as well.


Other books in the series include Tom Roderick's "A School of Our Own: Parents, Power and Community at the East Harlem Block Schools"; "The White Architects of Black Education: Ideology and Power in America, 1865-1954" by William H. Watkins, and "Walking the Color Line: The Art and Practice of Anti-Racist Teaching" by Mark Perry.

Three collections of essays are also part of the series: "The Public Assault on America's Children: Poverty, Violence, and Juvenile Injustice," edited by Valerie Polakow; "Construction Sites: Excavating Race, Class and Gender Among Urban Youth," Lois Weis and Michelle Fine, editors, and "A Simple Justice: The Challenge of Small Schools," edited by Ayers, Michael Klonsky, and Gabrielle H. Lyons. A new book on educational reform in Newark, New Jersey, will be released in the spring.

"We're hoping to expand the series as we find authors willing to take us into new areas where the question of justice was not seen before but could in fact be a central force in our teaching," Ayers says. "Teaching for social justice continues the difficult task of constructing and reinvigorating a public. It builds on a fundamental message of the teacher -- you must change your life -- and goes a notch deeper: you can change the world."

Published: Oct 07, 2002
Last modified: Oct 04, 2002

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