Teaching for a Living Democracy

This classroom narrative explores how teachers can build and sustain an intellectually and emotionally fulfilling teaching practice while changing the way students experience school. Written by an English and history teacher in a Philadelphia public high school, this book presents a framework of teaching for a living democracy—supporting learners to produce intellectually rigorous and creative work 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. Packed with student voices and the work of youth, this book provides a rich window into classroom practices that challenge authoritarian tendencies while cultivating dignity and agency.

Book Features:

  • Shares a vision of project-based inquiry learning that is rooted in systemic understandings of social change.
  • Provides a pragmatic framework and tools to help teachers develop their practice in creative and sustainable ways.
  • Shows how to support diverse learners, with a special focus on the experiences of students who struggle.
  • Includes many classroom scenes and examples of curriculum design strategies.
  • Offers the realistic perspective of a teacher working in an urban public high school.


“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

Order the paper or ebook versions directly from Teachers College Press. Can also be ordered at your local independent bookstore or from frightening multinational corporations.