Rethinking Schools (RS) was founded in 1986 by a group of Milwaukee-area teachers seeking to “help shape reform throughout the public school system in the United States.” Today RS is a nationally prominent publisher of educational materials, with subscribers in all 50 U.S. states, all 10 Canadian provinces, and many other countries around the world. Its primary objective is to turn K-12 students into social activists for left-wing causes.
Toward that end, RS seeks to “connect [the lessons in] our classrooms to the struggles in the streets.” This applies even to very young children, as evidenced by an RS guide to preschool education advocating “social justice and ecological teaching” rather than “a too-heavy focus on academic skills.”
RS’s belief that education should be geared toward political activism draws its inspiration from the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, a leader of the “critical pedagogy” movement promoting Marxist theory as an avenue toward “social justice.”
To disseminate its political and ideological views as broadly as possible, RS has published a number of books. The organization also produces Rethinking Schools, a quarterly “activist” journal written “by and for teachers, parents, and students.” The curriculum editor ofRethinking Schools is Bill Bigelow, a longtime history teacher who stresses the importance of informing students that America “has always been stratified based on race, class, nationality, language, [and] gender.”
Disparaging the United States as a nation where “racial and class inequalities are growing” at an alarming rate, RS portrays flaws in America’s public education system as inevitable consequences of larger societal defects such as economic injustice, racism, and sexism. For example, the organization contends that “children who don’t fit … white middle-class norms” are too often “marginalized” by school curricula; that classroom materials often fail to “feature racially and ethnically diverse students”; that many children’s stories lack an adequate representation of “female leads” who possess any degree of personal “power, standing, or importance”; that “back-to-basics” movements represent a dangerous “backlash” against the noble “struggle” against “rigid” and “alienating” curricula; and that “zero tolerance” classroom-behavior policies disproportionately affect black children, who in turn drop out and are subsequently herded through the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
To ensure that students are made aware of what it views as America’s inherently racist character, RS recommends a wide variety of lesson plans designed to drum the point home. For example, one lesson uses role play to teach “how people, banks, realtors, and the government worked together to keep segregation going even after laws were passed saying it had to stop.” Similarly, an RS guide on the 9/11 terrorist attacks instructs teachers to “nurture student empathy” for America’s jihadist enemies, and to discourage youngsters from engaging in the “chauvinism” of pride in country.
Anti-American, anti-capitalist, and social-justice themes pervade every aspect of RS curriculum—even math and science. For example, a guide titled Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers helps teachers design problems that require calculations vis à vis such things as the inequitable distribution of the world’s wealth, the percentage of early U.S. presidents who owned slaves, racial profiling’s disproportionate effect on African Americans, and the number of deaths caused by the Iraq War. RS science instruction, meanwhile, emphasizes the need to “confront the climate emergency” allegedly caused by greenhouse-gas emissions associated with human industry—i.e., capitalism. Tolerating absolutely no “ambiguity” on this topic in school textbooks, RS warns: “Educators need to begin to treat the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves as arguably the most significant threat to life on earth.”
In 2008, RS collaborated with Teaching For Change to launch the Zinn Education Project, an initiative that seeks to promote the explicitly anti-American, anti-capitalist views of the late historian Howard Zinn. RS praises the “marvelous” Professor Zinn for having persistently encouraged teachers to “be radical” and to help students “see themselves as potential activists.”
Also in 2008, members of RS and the Educators’ Network for Social Justice convened in theNAACP‘s Milwaukee office to co-found a Social Studies Task Force designed to articulate concerns about the content of a social studies textbook series that was up for adoption by the Milwaukee Public Schools. RS’s major objection was that the textbooks devoted insufficient attention to the historical prevalence of American racism and exploitation. For further details on this, click here.
A longtime, noteworthy supporter of RS is the former Weather Underground terrorist-turned education professor, Bill Ayers, who has written for the Rethinking Schools journal on numerous occasions and has been a loyal donor to the organization; moreover, Ayers keynoted RS’s 25th Anniversary Benefit in October 2011. According to RS, Ayers is “a highly accomplished teacher educator who has worked tirelessly to improve public education,” and his “achievements and contributions to social justice education over the past four decades are nearly unmatched.”
 “I want students to understand that U.S. society has always been experienced very differently” by members of different demographic groups, Bigelow explains.