Socialism is back in political discourse and action. It underlay the politics of many participants in Occupy Wall Street, the 2011 action in Lower Manhattan that galvanized radical demonstrations and other activities across the country. Bernie Sanders ran his 2016 and 2020 campaign for president on a platform he called socialist, which enlisted thousands of young organizers. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is now a national organization with over 90,000 members, some of whom have won seats in Congress (most notably, AOC and Rashida Tlaib). Polls show that over half of people in their 20s have a negative view of capitalism and roughly half view socialism favorably.
But what do proponents and opponents actually mean by “socialism”? How do they see relationships between socialism, whatever its definitions, with its traditional emphasis on class struggle, and current movements concerned with race, gender, and sexuality? How are Americans “educated” about socialism in and out of formal schooling? Can we teach about socialism without teaching about communism and capitalism, not to mention neoliberalism with its wholesale devastation of human lives? We hope this issue of Radical Teacher will clarify definitions, identify sources of mystification, and discuss what is at stake politically.
We’d like to hear where teaching and learning about socialism is taking place today. Is there renewed interest on college campuses, and perhaps even in high schools? And with the burgeoning of explicitly socialist activism, to what extent have opportunities for teaching and learning about socialism expanded beyond the confines of the campus and the teacher/student relationship, forging connections with political activism?
If we think of socialism as a live ideal in American and international history, a force in present struggles, and a possibility for our future, what should we teach? To whom? What histories of socialism’s idols might be pertinent? What wins, losses, and dead ends? How would a socialist organization of the American political economy differ from what will exist if things go on as they are, and how might we explore such differences in (or outside of) a classroom?
This would not be an academic exercise. As climate catastrophe and other dangers loom, we more surely now than ever before face Rosa Luxemburg’s choice of socialism or barbarism. Indeed, in this time, can radical teachers be at all satisfied to understand the world but not change it?
The editors of this issue are interested in articles on teaching (in or out of school and college) that try to dispel the ignorance in the U.S. about socialism domestically and internationally, renewing its vital presence in political vision and resistance. For instance:
—How have you and your students and colleagues explored current misunderstandings of socialism? Hostile misrepresentations?
—How have you connected ideas of socialism now to past ideas and practices of socialism? To “actually existing socialism” in other societies?
—Have you found ways to put students in touch with socialist organizing? With young people who have worked in the Sanders or AOC campaigns, for instance? With anti-capitalist organizers in Black Lives Matter?
—How might teaching about socialism connect to movements grounded in race or gender? To the ongoing concern with intersectionality? To environmental activism and the political analysis that climate change cannot be adequately addressed within the confines of capitalism?
—Can teaching about socialism be disinterested and neutral? Should it be? Or should radicals teach as advocates of socialism?
—In the current political atmosphere, will openly socialist teachers put their careers at risk? How can leftists who do have job security defend adjuncts and graduate TAs against repression? Can they turn repressive attacks by administrators, trustees, and politicians into political lessons?
—Does teaching socialism call for progressive pedagogies? Democratic classrooms? Student-initiated learning projects? Ways of moving from individual to collaborative forms of learning?
—What kinds of resistance from students have you encountered in teaching (about) socialism? How, whether successfully or unsuccessfully, have you tried to deal with them?
—What texts—analyses, stories, poems, dramas—have you found most engaging for students? What do you do with them?
—How would you structure Socialism 101?
Radical Teacher, founded in 1975, is a socialist, feminist, and antiracist journal dedicated to the theory and practice of teaching. It serves the community of educators who are working for democratic process, peace, and justice. The magazine examines the root causes of inequality and promotes progressive social change. We publish articles on classroom practices and curriculum, as well as on educational issues related to gender and sexuality, disability, culture, globalization, privatization, race, class, and other similar topics. Radical Teacher is a peer-reviewed journal.
Radical Teacher articles are typically 4,000 -- 6,000 words, though we consider shorter or longer submissions. To submit a manuscript, register on the journal’s publication site:
Complete submission guidelines can be found here:
We also encourage the submission of Teaching Notes, Reviews, and Poetry related to the topic of the issue (“Teaching (about) Socialism”). Follow the same general submission process as for articles; however, rather than selecting the topic of the issue, select the section to which you are submitting: “Teaching Notes,” “Reviews,” or “Poetry.” You may want to send a query first to the editors of these sections.
Paul Lauter, A. K. & G. M. Smith Professor of Literature Emeritus at Trinity College (Hartford)