Beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year, the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh sponsored its first annual School-Wide Read. Students, staff, and faculty members received copies of a book that addressed pressing education topics and then came together to discuss it.
This year’s selection was We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Dr. Bettina L. Love. Weaving together personal narratives, data, and theory, Love outlined various systematic barriers faced by many Black people in the education system and advocates for abolitionist teaching. A two-time alumna of the University of Pittsburgh, Love received her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies and master’s degree in Elementary Education in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
“By reading the book and engaging with its ideas as one way to initiate change in our schools and in our communities, the entire School of Education has begun to honor its commitment to equity and justice in education,” said Valerie Kinloch, the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the School of Education.
In February and March 2020, the School of Education hosted five in-person book discussions and one online session. More than 130 people attended the sessions to share their reactions to the book and to reflect on how it applies to their own personal and/or professional lives.
Sharon Ross, a faculty member who specializes in health and physical activity, said she was inspired by the connections between her work and the book. “I’m drawn to the book’s call for democratic leadership because I’m passionate about that kind of work,” she said. “It’s sustainable and has a wide reach. I connect it to my area of health because I can use bottom-up participation. The book also made me think more about Critical Race Theory and gave me the language to talk about it.”
Kari Kokka, a faculty member who specializes in mathematics education, valued the equity-centered perspective of the book. She led one of the book discussions last month that was attended by nearly two dozen people.
The session began with a “gallery walk” in which participants observed posters that students had created related to the topics of the book. Participants wrote down questions and thoughts on sticky notes, which they attached to the posters. The session continued with small group discussions and then a whole group discussion with the participants.
“The book was powerful because it was from the perspective of a Woman of Color,” said Kokka. “The idea that mattering is important resonates with me as a Person of Color. I’m excited that everyone read it. In the session I led, I liked that it was faculty, students, and staff all together.”
Sophie Caffrey, a senior in the Applied Developmental Psychology program, said the book will impact her future work with children as a teacher. “I learned the importance of supporting students who are quieted and making them know that they matter,” she said.
The School-Wide Read continues on March 19, 2020 when Love will come to the University of Pittsburgh to deliver the School of Education’s 2020 Alumni Lecture. There is still room to register for the event, which will be from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room. All are welcome to attend, including people from outside of the school or the university.
Kinloch expects the School-Wide Read to become a regular event in the School of Education.
“The School-Wide Read challenges members of our School of Education to consider the many important ways we can ignite learning within classrooms and communities. It also provides us with opportunities to determine how, exactly, we are (or will be) committed to innovating and agitating on behalf of educational equity and community engagement, and in support of the well-being of all students, families, and communities,” said Kinloch.