Posted by: on August 17, 2016
Solidarity Center Gdansk Poland Gate to Old Lenin Shipyard Gdansk Poland Worker in Solidarity Center Gdansk Poland

On a recent trip through the Baltic region, I had the opportunity to visit the European Solidarity Center (Europejskie Centrum Solidarnosc) in Gdansk, Poland.  This museum offers an amazing opportunity to reflect on the power and complexity of democratic social movements through the lens of the relatively recent 1980-1981 Solidarity Movement in Poland. Solidarity was the first independent self-governing trade union free of communist control in a Warsaw pact country. Not unlike similar movements around the world, the creation of Solidarity was and remains controversial.  Controversy is inherent in grassroots uprisings of civil resistance that successfully counter human oppression.

Opened in 2014, the European Solidarity Center sits near the historic Gate No. 2 of the former Lenin Shipyard (now known as the Gdansk Shipyard) on the edge of Gdansk old town. (See a photo of the gate above). It was in that shipyard that Lech Walesa, then an unknown electrician in the shipyard, gave his first speech in 1979 at an illegal ceremony commemorating workers who had been killed in an uprising in 1970. Walesa went on to famously jump over the shipyard wall in 1980 to help lead the strike of ship workers, and ultimately to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. Millions of strikers and Solidarity members – 10 million by the first Solidarity Congress in 1981 – shared in the accomplishments of the movement.

The European Solidarity Center is constructed from the rusted hulls of ships built in the Gdansk Shipyard; visitors move from room to room to interactively experience political events that took place between 1970 and 1989. While in the museum one can palpably feel the incredible power of committed people who rise up, join together, and seek freedom in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  In this case, the Solidarity movement contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the return of freedom across Eastern and Central Europe. As I walked through the museum I recalled the famous words of Louis Brandeis displayed in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia — “The only title in our democracy superior to that of president is the title of citizen.”

In former blogs I have shared the idea that young children and their teachers can create the experience of a social movement through small classroom projects. All children would benefit from learning more about social movements…engaging in critical thought about the political dynamics of a democracy is essential to the life of every future citizen.  Social movements are complex and offer many opportunities to think deeply about the responsibility of citizens to stand up for fairness and freedom in society.  I believe that our current presidential race has underscored the need for much more citizen education in critical political thinking in the U.S.  While school children may be exposed to historical information about movements, the information is often oversimplified.  For example, some years ago I taught a course in the history and philosophy of education. In one class we discussed the civil rights movement and viewed a segment of the Eyes on the Prize documentary. One of my students seemed very surprised at the content of the film and said, “I don’t understand this! People in the movement seemed to have experienced so much hatred and violence, but we were always taught in school that it was a non-violent movement.”  Her words underscore the importance of deeper learning about social movements, including the ways in which in which laws and rights can be tested and upheld through the courageous efforts of ordinary citizens who are willing to take great risks.

Such civic education can be offered not only in the schools but in many other ways throughout communities. For example, some years ago in Pittsburgh, the entire city was encouraged in a “one book one community” initiative to read and discuss the book To Kill a Mockingbird. My husband and I contributed to this initiative by offering a free course on legal and educational issues in the book at a local university. Our course was attended by people spanning a wide range of age, education, work, and experience. The discussions were dynamic; I think we all taught and learned from one another.  Such community initiatives could also be focused on books about movements for human freedom and human rights throughout the world. A movement is created when people work together to address a critical social issue in order to promote social justice and the common good.  I think that the current Black Lives Matter movement is a very good example – and we are in need of many other such movements, small and great, in our world today.

The following reference was consulted and utilized to write this blog: Peters, Florian. (n.d.) Solidarność Yesterday – Solidarity Today? The European Solidarity Center in Gdańsk endeavors to combine the past with the present.  Retrieved from (Translated by David Burnett)

The photographs of the European Solidarity Center were taken by the author.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

Filed Under: General


Posted by: on May 25, 2016


High Resolution River Pictures - View is a large image


If you have never taken a look at the Bank Street Occasional Paper Series (OPS) this is a great time to do it! The theme of the newly published OPS # 35 is Progressive Practices in Public Schools; editors Jonathan Silin and Meredith Moore provided all the authors (including me) with an exciting opportunity to shine light on the many ways in which progressivism can continue to be a powerful force in public education today.  My essay is called Say That the River Turns: Social Justice Intentions in Progressive Public School Classrooms.

The title and focus of my essay was inspired by this beautiful line from the poem The Sermon on the Warpland written by Gwendolyn Brooks: “Say that the river turns, and turn the river.” I am grateful to the graduate student in my summer course Young Children and Social Policy at Teachers College in 2010 who focused her creative project on this line of the poetry. Since then, I have re-read and thought about the poem many times.  I believe Brooks truly captures the  powerful role that language must play in resistance to social injustice. We first have to say that something can be done and then we have to do something to start to turn the injustice around!

I hope you will take some time to read the entire OPS #35 and share it with others. Here is the link:



Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children





Filed Under: General


Posted by: on April 5, 2016
Cherry Blossoms DC


Are you heading to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Washington D.C.? It would be great to see you at the session titled Early Childhood Education for a Diverse Democratic Society: Promising Paradigms and Research Gaps. It’s on Friday April 8 from 4:05 to 5:35 in the Marriott Marquis, Level Two, Marquis Salon 1. All of the presenters are authors in the 2016 Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education (Routledge). My presentation is called A Social Justice Approach to Diverse Families.

Think too about coming to the Division K (Teacher Education) Business Meeting, which starts at 6:15 PM on Saturday April 9. It is always an interesting meeting attended by a lot of AERA participants committed to the issues and challenges of teacher education. The Division K  party starts after the meeting at 8:00 PM and it promises to be a lot of fun with a very lively group of people.
Have a great meeting. I hope to see you there!


Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children


Filed Under: General


Posted by: on February 28, 2016


Hello readers of my blog! I first published this on Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17, 2013.  I love Saint Patrick’s Day, and I honestly believe that I can not improve on this blog! Here it is again in 2016. It includes one of the most poignant stories any friend ever told me — the story of a grandmother who had searched the fields every morning during the famine in Ireland to find some grain for her hungry little children. As an older woman, long-since arrived as an immigrant in the United States, she still cried before meals wishing she had been able to have this food when her children were young. How many immigrant stories exist in the United States today? Let’s all go out of our way this month to listen to some of them!

                Whenever I visit Ellis Island, or look over at it from Manhattan with the Statue of Liberty to the left, I think of my ancestors who came to the United States. Like so many people, I wish that I knew much more about them. Before my last remaining uncle passed away some years ago, he gave me his grandmother’s photo album. None of the people in it were identified, and he had no idea of who they were. When I look at that disintegrating album today, I see the faces of very serious looking men and women. They do not smile for the camera, and their faces reflect very hard work.  Some of the young men look pretty tough –they certainly don’t look as though they are afraid of a fight!  All the photographs reflect the lives of people who came to America from somewhere else. The fact that they were immigrants meant that they left a great deal behind – often parents as well as a way of life. Their hope was no different than the hopes of people around the world today – hope for opportunity and hope for safety.

The last time I visited Ellis Island, I walked over to some phones on the wall next to aging photographs. You could pick up a phone, look at the picture, and listen to the voice of someone sharing his or her immigrant experience. My favorite picture was that of an elderly woman pulling a donkey and a plow in a field. She was not smiling, and her face was lined with hard work and care. The voice on the phone was that of a man, her son, who talked about the day he walked across that field to say good-bye to her.  He was leaving for America. His mother looked at him and turned away. He never saw or spoke with her again. Leaving, and being left behind, is never easy. We endure such sad final partings because we must – either to seek for ourselves or allow others to see the freedom that lives in all our hearts and minds.

I often show my classes a beautiful film called A PLACE AT THE TABLE from Teaching for Tolerance. In that film, many different young people talk about the immigrant experiences of their families. A young woman with Irish heritage shows a picture of two of her ancestors, who took a boat alone to America from Ireland as young girls. Their parents were suffering the great potato famine, and took a chance on the girls surviving in America on their own. Indeed, these girls managed to survive the journey and make their way in a new land. This could not have been easy. Their young faces in the photograph  always make the think of all the children in the world today who are on their own, resilient enough to keep trying in spite of war, relentless poverty, and other very difficult circumstances.

Thinking of my ancestors, and of all immigrants, I always remember a story someone once told me.  I had a good friend in my graduate program who was about 20 years my senior. We often traveled to and from school together. One day, she told me the story of her grandmother, who had survived the great potato famine in Ireland. Every morning during the famine she would have to get up and carry three small children with her out into the fields to search for grain that might have fallen on the ground. After finding some, she would make a little bowl of cereal for her hungry children. Years later, when the children had grown up and her grandmother had joined the rest of the family to live in the United States; there was a new routine before meals. Her grandmother would look at all the food on the table before her, cry, and say, “Oh, if I had only had this food when I had the babies!” When she calmed herself and was more at peace, they would all begin to eat.

These are the stories that show us the face of human suffering, and help us remember the sanctuary that so many sought and still seek when they come to our nation. I always think of Saint Patrick’s Day as a happy day and a good time. But I also think about the compassion and generosity that would make such a tremendous difference to those who come to our nation today — from other places and other struggles. To welcome them with open hearts is to give them the chance that our own ancestors sought not all that long ago.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

Filed Under: General


Posted by: on January 1, 2016


Happy New Year to one and all. This message is written to wish you the kind of happiness and success that is completely in your grasp, in spite of any sorrows or setbacks or challenges you will face in the year to come. I am referring to the way in which Viktor Frankl envisions success and happiness in his beautiful book Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself…Happiness must happen, and the same holds with success: you must let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and to carry it out to the best of your knowledge” (1986, p. 12).

What will our commitment to a cause greater than ourselves be in this New Year? Responsible citizen participation in public actions and activities that serve the common good? Stronger fair and democratic practices in our workplace? Compassionate involvement in the lives of the weak or the poor? An insistent search for social justice in situations that seem to defy our every effort? Such commitments empower us even when we have reason to question our effectiveness. The happiness and success that ensues might not make sense to everyone in a competitive and highly consumerist society. Still it is always within our power to follow our conscience and do what is important rather than what looks important to others. There are so many great causes from which to choose!

Warmest good wishes for that kind of happy and successful 2016!


Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

Photograph of the Sea of Galilee was taken by the author in June 2015

Filed Under: General


Posted by: on December 9, 2015


Winter for Blog

As the holidays approach, the words PEACE ON EARTH begin to appear. It’s hard to align those beautiful words with national and world events. We have to recognize the sorrow of all those who mourn for loved ones killed in sudden attacks of terrorists or of deranged individuals with personal access to dangerous weapons of mass-murder. We have to honor the memory of so many who have died those violent deaths without warning. And in the United States we also have to ask ourselves why young people are being gunned down in the streets in police-based encounters– young people who so often have been underserved, ignored, or even brutalized by the social institutions designed to help and protect them. Such institutions can include the poorly-resourced schools that marginalized them or pushed them out. These are terrible situations. Yet, we don’t want to give up hope, we want to bring light to the world, we want to continue to work for peace – but realistically how can we do that?

The best answer for me is in words written by the late Dr. David Purpel in his wonderful book Moral Outrage in Education (2004). In his belief, the first step in continuing to work for peace is the realization of the limitations of what any individual can accomplish. We can and should be morally outraged about the all-too-present lack of justice in our world, and we can also seek to balance our outrage with personal responsibility for contributing to a peaceful society. The opposite of enacted moral outrage can be hopelessness and inertia – conditions that produce absolutely nothing. Why is it that so many people believe there is really nothing that anyone can do to solve our complex social dilemmas? I think that too many of us feel that we have to somehow magically solve huge problems right away. If we can’t do that, we feel like failures. The alternative I suggest is to continue to act strongly and publicly on our commitments to social justice while accepting the fact that failure is always possible. This requires humility. Once we have it, we can have the courage to try to change the world – we can believe that a just endeavor is always of value regardless of the immediately visible outcome. There is always something that can be done – and we can always be willing to seek that which is within the power of our actions and intentions. In that light, this quote from Dr. Purpel offers encouraging insight:

“…I want to address the importance of humility…it is important to draw a line between humility and despair, for it is one thing to be realistic and honest about our capacities and another thing to surrender to a consciousness of determinism and fatalism. The humility I speak to is not about modesty or self-deference but about the acknowledgement of the mystery and awesomeness of the human condition as well as our present, social, cultural, and personal crises. I have concluded that there is an inverse relationship between the significance of a problem and its openness to a solution – Problems surely can and should be ameliorated, suffering and pain reduced, justice and equity increased, peace furthered, violence lessened, meaning strengthened. To accomplish even such limited gains is exalting and exhilarating for as The Talmud** teaches, “It is not for us to finish the task—but neither are we free to take no part in it.”

So this holiday season I suggest that we continue to hope for PEACE ON EARTH, and to do so with a sense of moral outrage that sustains our continued determination throughout our lives to contribute to the peace that builds a just society for all people.


** Dr. Purpel here based his philosophical work in the Jewish tradition. I want to recognize all faith traditions as well as those who choose not to have one. My own belief is that the essence of this quote holds truth for all – the fact that we are unable to completely solve the dilemmas of social justice does not excuse us from a powerful life-long effort to do so.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

Filed Under: General


Posted by: on November 6, 2015



Bernard Malamud once wrote, “We have children because we believe we can love.” I think this is true – the desire to love and to share love with children seems to be engraved in human hearts. This desire, however, does not always come with full knowledge of or preparation for what parenthood will entail. How many of us can truly envision the dimensions of work and patience and resilience that will be demanded of us? Even when we were witnesses as children to the financial or emotional struggles of our own parents, we often cannot truly understand the vulnerability faced by all families until we have children of our own. It is never easy to be a parent or a family — all parents and families deserve recognition, respect, and compassionate support.

When we are asked the question, “What can teachers really do?” one of the many answers is that teachers can model deep regard and respect for the family of every child. In my recent chapter titled A Social Justice Approach to Diverse Families published in the Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education (Couse & Recchia, 2016, p. 305) I define parents “…flexibly to indicate the adult or adults who have major responsibility for the child and who are the primary source of communication between home and school.”  This definition was created to avoid unwieldy terminology or unintended exclusion of any form of family. As Berman and Enjoli (2010, p. 305) indicate – if you consider yourself a family you are a family! In my chapter I also consider the term “diverse families” to be all-inclusive – every family is considered to “…be part of the world of diversity in which we all live.” Any conceptualization of a “normal” family (often a family with White, married, heterosexual, and economically privileged parents) inevitably creates the idea of “diverse others” that can support bias and differential levels of respect and compassion.

Isn’t it time for all of us as educators to stand up to the deficit-based assumptions that exist about so many families of children who attend our schools? This does not mean that we must blindly accept parental or family circumstances or behaviors that are upsetting or difficult for us. It does mean that we always need to remind ourselves that they “had children because they believed they could love.” There are many ways that we can show every parent or family member our acknowledgement of his or her capacity to love through compassionate support that enhances their confidence in their ability to be a loving and effective parent.

Every family is unique. If we take the approach of inquiry, we can always locate funds of knowledge and better understand the funds of identity of the families of children in our classrooms. An approach of inquiry requires us to relinquish blanket judgments (e.g. “Parents who don’t care about education”) and to make a genuine effort to communicate with and learn more about families. A friend of mine who is a principal once said, “Every child brings his or her very best parent to school.” Our students love and depend on their families, even when we might be tempted to judge them as inadequate. If we as educators are willing to reach out to all families for the sake of the children in our schools and classrooms, we may well encounter a wealth of knowledge that improves our daily practice. For the sake of children – for the sake of families – for our sake as educators who want to move the world forward – let’s do it.


Couse, L. J. & Recchia, S. L. (2016). Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education. New York, Routledge.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator and advocate for children

Filed Under: General


Posted by: on October 26, 2015

Fall cornfield

Hello and thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading it. My blog has been “resting” since July because of a significant number of professional and publication responsibilities. I will resume my blog in early November, so please come back and visit soon. Thanks and have a great day!

Filed Under: General

Visiting Yad Vashem in Israel

Posted by: on July 12, 2015

My photo Janusz KorczakMy photo Yad Vashem Childrens Memorial


“And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.”

(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)


On my recent trip to Israel I had the opportunity to tour Yad Vashem – “…the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of intergenerational and international encounter.” (Quote from museum website).

During my tour, I was especially moved by the children’s memorial. “This unique memorial, hollowed out from an underground cavern, is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust. Memorial candles, a customary Jewish tradition to remember the dead, are reflected infinitely in a dark and somber space, creating the impression of millions of stars shining in the firmament. The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be heard in the background.” (Quote from museum website).

As I walked out of the children’s memorial onto the beautiful museum grounds, I passed a sculpture of the compassionate face of a man surrounded by many children. The children were suffering and very sad. Wondering who he was, I took a photo of the sculpture so I could ask our guide when we met up later in the tour. She told me he was Janusz Korczak, a doctor who had cared for 200 children in an orphanage in Poland at the time of the Holocaust. As the extermination of the children in his care by the Nazis came near, Kolchak’s influential friends urged him to save himself. His reply was always the same; “You wouldn’t abandon your own child … So how can I leave two hundred children now?” (p. 82). Ultimately he walked with his beloved children to awaiting freight cars and died with them in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

Although I had not heard his name before, I discovered later that both Bruno Bettelheim and Alice Miller had considered him one of the greatest educators of all times. “When the United Nations declared 1979 “The Year of the Child” it was also named “The Year of Janus Korczak” to mark the centenary of his birth.” (p. xi)

The unrelieved horror of the Holocaust, starkly present throughout Yad Vashem, is lightened only by the recognition of those who, like Janusz Korczak, held brilliant moral ground in the face of brutal and murderous hostility. “In a world of total moral collapse there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values. These were the Righteous Among the Nations. They stand in stark contrast to the mainstream of indifference and hostility that prevailed during the Holocaust. Contrary to the general trend, these rescuers regarded the Jews as fellow human beings who came within the bounds of their universe of obligation.” (Quote from Yad Vashem website).

If we come to believe during our lives that that we all have a universe of obligation, places such as Yad Vashem call us to reflect on the opportunities for righteousness that exist in our own daily lives. One opportunity that is certainly present in the lives of teachers as well as many other professionals and citizens is the recognition of suffering in children that stems from callous social disregard for poverty and discrimination. Our compassionate and caring response can create a universe of hope for children. Janusz Korczak says this best in his book Loving Every Child: Wisdom for Parents. He writes:

“If a child has a life where cruelty has become the norm, what a powerful effect would be the memory of that person – perhaps the only one – who showed kindness, understanding, and respect. The child’s future life and sense of his self could take a different course, knowing there was one person who would not fail him.” (p. 28).

As troubling as the world can seem in so many ways, it is encouraging and comforting to know that our simplest acts of “kindness, understanding, and respect” have tremendous power in the lives of children. If we do not fail them, then possibly we will not fail our responsibility to the future of our nation and our world.

Quotes about Yad Vashem are taken from the museum website

Quotes from the book are taken from Korczak, J. (2007). Loving Every Child: Wisdom for Parents. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

The author took the photographs of the sculpture of Janusz Korczak and the entrance to the Children’s Memorial.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator and advocate for social justice for all children

Filed Under: General
Comments Off on Visiting Yad Vashem in Israel


Posted by: on June 2, 2015




On my recent river cruise from Budapest to Prague, I was able to racewalk every morning on different scenic paths along the water. It was raining on the first morning we were docked close to Budapest, but I happily ventured out along the Danube on a path leading to the magnificent Parliament building. As I walked, I noticed something ahead that looked like shoes lining the wall edging the river. I stopped to look at what turned out to be about 60 pair of bronze sculptured shoes placed randomly on the wall along the water. I guessed from the style of the shoes that they were from the World War II period; then I noticed candles and flowers among the display. Because the shoes were very similar to the concentration camp photographs of piles of shoes that I had seen in the past, I felt certain that this was a Holocaust memorial of some kind.


As I stood there a woman walked up to the shoes and stared at them sadly; I asked her if she could tell me more about them. She explained that Jews of all ages had been lined up along the water and shot into the Danube. I later discovered that the brutal ruling Arrow Cross Party for Jewish activities had forced multi-aged groups of people to the edge of the Danube in 1944 and 1945; firing squads shot them in the back at close range so they fell into the river to be washed away. Sculptors Gyula Pauer and Can Togay later created this moving memorial of shoes belonging to children, women, and men – erected in 2005 in memory of the victims. *


What was incredibly moving about this memorial, apart of course from the terrible events on which it was based, was the way it personalized the vicious murders. Each shoe had a living quality – you could just envision the person who might have been wearing it. Even as I initially stared at the shoes in the rain, before I knew anything else about them, they made me think of the importance of each human being and the ways in which each loss of a single person could never be replaced. The sculptors had created a design with incredibly powerful impact – simple shoes that stood alone because the lives of their owners had been taken from them. They represented the gifts that every person brings to life, and the empty space they leave behind when they are gone.


The ultimate message in these lovely and lonely shoes for me is the importance of respect and activism for human rights. For most teachers and education professors and writers, such respect and activism plays out in relatively simple but profoundly important ways. Every day provides many chances to reach out, to affirm, to encourage, to comfort, and to stand up for others. Quiet courage and determination can help us to find windows of opportunity to defy what is cruel and inhumane with our words, our intentions, and our compassionate actions. Children learn the best lessons about human rights from the gentle and strong adults who enact them – adults who honor and respect other people even in the most trying and difficult circumstances. Such adults are not struggling to become wealthy or famous – rather they are struggling to create peace, respect, compassion, and human rights in the simple spaces that may well be the most important spaces of all.

*The information about this memorial was taken from the following website


Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children






Filed Under: General