My Book: Teaching for a Living Democracy

Teaching for a Living Democracy: Project Based Learning in the English and History Classroom is a product of the years I’ve spent working with young people, most of which has been with youth in public schools in Philly. The book, which is rooted in a commitment to equity and social justice, presents a framework of changing the way students experience school by designing instruction that intersects with students’ lives and interests. The text offers project-based units of study and classroom practices that allow students to reconfigure understandings of themselves, their capabilities, and their roles in the world. 

A key premise of the book is that classrooms should challenge authoritarian tendencies while cultivating dignity and agency. At this moment, when our interactions with those outside our pods are through screens, it is the student voices and the work of youth, both captured in the book, that resonate with me and remind me of the potential of teaching and education. Chapters include:

– Designing Curriculum for Deeper Learning
– Elevating Student Voices and Truths
– Envisioning New Roles for Teachers
– Decolonizing School (includes insights from Aotearoa New Zealand schools)

Many people helped me in the journey of writing. You can read a full list of acknowledgements in the book but here I would like to acknowledge Susan Lytle, mentor extraordinaire; Carla Shalaby, brilliant educator and author who generously wrote the foreword; and students and colleagues at Science Leadership Academy and beyond who regularly challenge me and carry me, allowing me to learn and continue to discover my path as a teacher. 

I am honored by Carla’s and Susan’s words about the book:

Simultaneously inspirational and useful, this book is a visionary, hopeful invitation to dream and a practical, generous resource for translating our dreams into concrete new realities of teaching and learning. What a rare combination in a single text, and a gift that only a practicing teacher working and speaking from direct, daily experience is positioned to offer. We need books like this.

— From the Foreword by Carla Shalaby, author of Troublemakers:   Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School

The author’s argument for a ‘living democracy’ is both timely and compelling, illuminated with a richly detailed and accessible account of what it has meant—over 20 years in the classroom—to co-create a curriculum and pedagogy with his diverse group of urban students. Not only does this make his classroom an unusually engaged and lively space for learning that builds from his students’ interests, questions, lived experiences, and collaborative relationships, but together Block and his students have also found agentive ways to extend and deepen their inquiry by forging unique connections with people, places, and spaces in the wider community. A pedagogical tour de force, this book is a must-read for all those who seek new images of what it means to strive for and embrace a truly transformational view of schools and schooling.

Susan L. Lytle, Professor Emerita of Education, University of Pennsylvania

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