Top 10 High School Feminist Teaching Moments of 2014

This has been quite a year for me as a feminist teacher and activist. Here are some highlights of an exciting year of #HSfeminism in action.

1. This past fall, journalist Kelley Lord visited my classroom to document the impact that teaching feminism at the high school level was making on my students. She wanted to see firsthand why my students–both boys and girls–strongly identified as feminists. Included in her video below are highlights from our annual International Day of the Girl assembly, which featured boys acting out a scene on bystander intervention and girls speaking out on street harassment. All of them discuss why taking feminism in high school matters. Watch the magic of #HSfeminism.

2. At the start of 2014, I launched a tour of schools throughout India visiting students in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Lucknow teaching mini-versions of my feminism class in collaboration with local teachers and students. Here I am speaking to girls at the Prerna School in Lucknow; the teacher sitting behind me translated the girls’ Hindi and my English. Prerna serves girls from low-income backgrounds who are often survivors of gender based violence. In addition to visiting schools throughout the country, I also met with activist leaders from feminist NGO’s such as Breakthrough in Delhi, Sanved in Kolkata, Kranti in Mumbai, and the Redbrigade in Lucknow.

2014-02-11 17.12.36 3. One of the schools I visited, the Tagore International School in Delhi, started the first GSA in India called Breaking Barriers. Their advisor, Shivanee Sen, and four student representatives from their club were able to visit my feminism class this past fall. Together, we launched the first-ever global school partnership on queer and feminist issues. Throughout their stay, both groups of students participated in a daylong GSA Network retreat, visited the UN, and hosted an International Day of the Girl assembly at my school.

IDG 2014 Feminism Class and Tagore

4. During the visit from the students from India, I invited Poorna Jagannathan, star of the powerful play Nirbhaya, which is based on the Delhi gang rape, to talk about her role in the production. We were the first school in the world to read the play in a classroom setting. My students were honored to sit alongside Poorna and the Tagore students from Delhi listening to their perspectives on global gender-based violence.

 Poorna Jagannathan in Feminism Class 2014

5. Following my tour of schools in India in February, I was honored to go to London for the month of March. I was invited by my feminist academic colleagues to speak to their graduate students at the Institute of Education in London, the University of Surrey, and the University of Sussex. I am grateful to Jessica Ringrose at IOE, Louise Morley at Sussex, and Roberta Guerrina at Surrey for opening their classrooms to me to share my work on teaching feminism in schools and the importance of creating K-12 feminist pedagogy and practice in education. A special thanks to the University of Sussex for creating this video of my talk.

6. Eight feminist boys who took my feminism class broke the internet this past summer with their amazing video about what it means to be a feminist guy. It went on to be featured on various sites such as Seventeen, Time, and Upworthy. These students did an excellent job talking about why feminism matters to them; they share their thoughts on intersectionality, bystander intervention, gender-based violence, the sexualization of women and girls in the media, and more. A couple of them talk about how their sisters inspired them to take a high school level women’s and gender studies class. Take a look.

7. Earlier this fall, I appeared on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show to talk about Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye as part of her Readers’ Review series. Here’s the audio for the segment, during which my fellow panelists, Angelyn Mitchell from Georgetown University and Ethelbert Miller from Howard University, and I talked about the book extensively including how the novel has been banned in some schools and libraries in the U.S. I teach The Bluest Eye to tenth grade students and have written about how I teach themes in the novel such as the master narrative, internalized racism, and violence.

Diane Rehm appearance September 2014

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8. I was honored to be the opening keynote at the National Sex Education Conference in New Jersey in December, where I shared my Fulbright research on creating safe schools for LGBT youth in Mexico and the various global partnerships I’ve created with my students on queer and feminist issues. 

9. Along with four amazing feminist teachers, scholars, and activists—Sarah Rodriguez, Lisa Covington, Stephanie Troutman, Annie Delgado (left to right below)–I co-hosted the first roundtable discussion at the National Women’s Studies Association annual conference to feature high school teachers talking about the importance of engaging women’s studies professors in supporting the teaching of feminism at the high school level and in creating solidarity around the anti-privatization movement. Held in Puerto Rico, the roundtable allowed us to meet with scholars and activists from across the U.S. and around the world to create what Antonia Darder calls “intimacies of solidarity” with each other.

photo 2

10. Just days after the Eric Garner grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, nearly 200 students at the school where I teach staged a walkout for #BlackLivesMatter and #WhyWeCantWait. Powerfully led by our students of color—many of whom had just finished taking my feminism class—our student body made signs in our school’s auditorium and then walked out the front entrance of the school. The school administration fully supported the walkout. Indeed, several teachers, including myself, helped guide our students along the streets from Greenwich Village to Washington Square Park to Union Square and up to 34th Street near Madison Square Garden and back to school. Along the way, students staged a die-in at our local police precinct. One CNN report featured them during their protest.

black lives matter LREI auditorium 2014in Washington Square black lives matter LREI 2014

On my Facebook page that night, I wrote:

“Something very powerful happened today. The students at my school led a walkout protest for ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ and ‪#‎whywecantwait‬. They assembled in our school auditorium and made signs . . . Then they walked to Washington Square Park and chanted. Then on to a die-in at our local police precinct. This part was the most powerful for me. I put my body down next to my students and we all lay in silence. As a cop’s daughter, all of my parts came together: the daughter, the activist, the feminist, the teacher. As my eyes were closed, I thought of everything I have laid my heart and soul down for and knew that my body on that cold NYC street meant that I was there for my students and their lives. Nothing means more to me then these young people who have given me my lifeblood and all I want for them is to live with love and for love . . . They all knew that the everyday work of dismantling racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia is hard but that it was now their lifelong calling, as it has been mine. I’m honored to have followed their lead today and always.

die in LREI black lives matter 2014

I’m very much looking forward to 2015. I’ve just started a brand new section of my high school feminism class. Indeed, my principal asked me to offer the course again in the winter as the demand is so high, as I usually only teach the course in the fall. I’m also partnering with the Barnard Center for Research on Women to create a K-12 track for their annual Scholar & Feminist conference to be held at the end of February, so please watch this blog and my Twitter feed for updates. In the spring, I’ll  also be speaking in Greece at an innovation summit sharing how I incorporate design thinking into my feminist classroom. A special thanks to NBC Latino for featuring me on their site near the end of 2014 as well. 

As always, it’s my students who keep the work real for me and it’s their vision for racial and gender justice that makes teaching and fighting the good fight alongside them the best resolution for 2015.

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