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New Book Releases: Literacy and Social Justice

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The growing interest in noncognitive skills in K-12 education over the past few years has yielded a great deal of writing and research, along with some practical advice for implementing what can admittedly be a nebulous topic. Several new and recent book releases explore how awareness of issues such as student rights, discipline, and social justice in and out of the classroom can enrich curriculum and contribute to positive school environments. The titles are wide ranging in focus, but an emphasis on ethics and literacy link them together.

Keep Them Reading: An Anti-Censorship Handbook for Educators by ReLeah Cossett Lent and Gloria Pipkin (Teachers College Press, 2013). The latest installment in the Teachers College Press series, The Practitioner's Bookshelf, this handbook is geared toward teachers of English and other reading-heavy subjects in grades 4 through 12. Book selection, which can make or break a curriculum plan, can be a touchy subject when many education-stakeholder groups collide. Lent and Pipkin guide teachers and librarians through the book-selection process, from anticipating challenges to communicating with interested parties. Student-selected reading and respecting student values also get their due. Resources include suggested reading, relevant court decisions, and quotations about censorship.

Understanding Student Rights in Schools: Speech, Religion, and Privacy in Educational Settings by Bryan R. Warnick (Teachers College Press, 2013). Warnick, who teaches and studies the philosophy of education at the Ohio State University, has written extensively on issues like student speech and in-school surveillance. In this volume, he seeks to answer two fundamental yet complex questions about student rights: How should we treat students in public schools? What is our moral obligation toward them? Warnick systematically breaks down what he considers the three main territories of student rights: student speech, religious expression, and privacy and surveillance. He also dissects what makes schools special and asks what characteristics of schools we should pay attention to when considering the legal and philosophical angles on student rights. A brief concluding chapter, "How to Think About Student Rights," offers an ethical framework for approaching questions of speech, religion, and privacy.

Socially Responsible Literacy: Teaching Adolescents for Purpose and Power by Paula M. Selvester and Deborah G. Summers (Teachers College Press, 2012). This recent volume is as much about inculcating social-emotional learning (i.e., building noncognitive abilities) as it is about strengthening literacy skills. Selvester and Summers fold personal responsibility, self-regulation, critical literacy, and the ability to use and understand academic language into a teaching framework. Similar to, but ideologically distinct from, other recent releases on resilience and good citizenship, Socially Responsible Literacy encourages students to look outward, using their newly developed leadership skills to effect social change. A research-based guide for teachers, the book includes self-assessment questions at the end of each chapter.

Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow (Jossey-Bass, 2012). Ecoliterate is a hybrid teaching and professional development guide for environmental instruction through texts, films, and fieldwork. At the heart of the book is a series of case studies: How eight different educators and student groups studied natural-resource extraction, food security, and the politics and ecology of water. Equal emphasis is placed on recording and reporting the facts of an environmental situation (citing data, understanding how systems of all kinds and scales work) and on relating these facts and systems to social justice issues like health and crime. Ecoliterate is an information literacy textbook, too. The authors demonstrate how students might process multiple narratives—data, oral testimony, and field observations—into a cohesive story of human impact on the environment.

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