Education Is Under Attack. Here’s 13 Feminist Educators on How to Fight Back

Teaching is an act of love and struggle. When the road forward seems dangerous, collective voices for transformative learning emerge.

Ms. Classroom wants to hear from educators and students being impacted by legislation attacking public education, higher education, gender, race and sexuality studies, activism and social justice in education, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs for our series, ‘Banned! Voices from the Classroom.’ Submit pitches and/or op-eds and reflections (between 500-800 words) to Ms. contributing editor Aviva Dove-Viebahn at Posts will be accepted on a rolling basis.

Educators advance the spirit of teaching by encouraging inquiry, engagement and investigation of diverse perspectives. Many carry the torch forward by addressing critical issues affecting our lives and communities. Education challenges entrenched thinking—not by telling students what to think, but by offering lessons on how to think critically. That is why education is under attack. 

Here’s an inspiring sample (in alphabetical order) of wise women cultural critics, philosophers, theorists, scholars and professors from among many who inspire social justice education.

Elizabeth Alexander

In The Trayvon Generation (2022) Elizabeth Alexander writes, “Sometimes we forget that remembering people, and making their work and legacy available, indelible and strong, is hard work. The scholars, teachers, artists, meaning-makers and family storytellers, work against forgetting.” Art and history, she writes later, “outlive flesh… offer us a compass or a lantern with which to move through the wilderness and allow us to imagine something different and better.” 

Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004)

Gloria Anzaldúa challenges either-or thinking in Borderlands / La Frontera (1987) and describes a nonbinary in-between state of identity as cultural collisions originating from colonial conquests. She outlines the nuances of navigating two worlds where negotiating the “choque” [clash] means gaining skills and a sharp intelligence for survival. An opportunity for genuine exchange of gifts and resources can emerge from an understanding of polarities. 

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the concept of critical race theory (CRT) in 1989. She sought to challenge the role of structural racism in the law, and to rethink the ideological effects of discrimination and deficit-informed research stemming from the legacy of slavery. To explain how race intersects with other identities such as gender and class, she coined the phrase “intersectionality.”

As co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, Crenshaw counters censorship of teachers and librarians with joint initiatives like the “Freedom Readers Campaign” bus tour that delivered thousands of banned books to more than two dozen cities from Minnesota to Florida. 

Angela Y. Davis

Angela Davis champions the interconnections of human rights issues and the need for unity among the different calls for justice and equity to heal a wounded and divided society. Davis recognizes the power of the arts as a transformative process. In Abolition. Feminism, Now. (2022) written in collaboration with other scholars, Davis makes the case that linking the past to the present with a collective response that interconnects critical issues to resolve lingering inequities opens the pathway to freedom. 

Jessica Hoffmann Davis

Jessica Hoffmann Davis promotes interdisciplinary collaboration of ideas and projects with arts at the core. Davis advocates for non-arts educators to value arts education which is steeped in scholarship, culture, history and vital learning opportunities that other subjects don’t provide. She argues, because of their processes, “their ongoing redefinition, and even their outsider status that arts deserve a central place in education.”

Davis’ books and essays, notably Ordinary Gifted Children (2010) and Why Our High Schools Need the Arts (2008) emphasize narratives and storytelling where students learn to express emotion, feelings and empathy to stimulate imagination, leading to invention, agency and self-discovery.

Eleanor Duckworth

Eleanor Duckworth plays with learning material as phenomena full of wonder, surprises and excitement. The Having of Wonderful Ideas and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning (1996, 2006) addresses critical exploration through noticing, listening and valuing process and complexity. Her approach as a cognitive psychologist to learning and teaching is influenced by her early work as a student of and assistant to Jean Piaget, known for his theory of cognitive development, and researcher/translator for developmental psychologist Bärbel Inhelder.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones challenges opposition to academic freedom. From her experience in a high school class on the African American experience, she writes, “Sitting in that class each day, I felt as if I had spent my entire life struggling to breathe and someone had finally provided me with oxygen.”

In “The 1619 Project” series in The Times Magazine (2019), podcasts of the series (2020), the anthology of essays, poems, photography and short stories, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (2021), and a six-episode TV docuseries (2023), Hannah-Jones explains, “Much about American identity, so many of our nation’s most vexing problems, our basest inclinations, and its celebrated and unique contributions spring … from the contradictions and ideological struggles of a nation founded on both slavery and freedom.”

bell hooks (1952- 2021)

bell hooks counters the rise of white supremacy in the U.S. by showing the power of art to inspire dialogue. In her book Art on My Mind: Visual Politics (1995), she states, “Art constitutes one of the rare locations where acts of transcendence can take place and have a wide-ranging transformative impact… In a democratic society art should be the location where everyone can experience the joy, pleasure and power.”

She blends liberatory education and art with antiracism, feminism, nonbinary sexual identity, Black-Christian-Buddhist thought and activism rooted in the hopefulness of seeking knowledge in Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003). 

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, botanist and environmentalist, delivers the antidote to profit-driven “extractive” technology. Through traditional Native stories honoring the earth combined with ceremonies of reciprocity, Kimmerer fosters a mutual respect for other beings past, present and future.

In Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013) and Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults (2022), Kimmerer contrasts Indigenous philosophy and wisdom with Western practice in agriculture.

Kimmerer notes the inaccessibility of most Western scientific study and how “this has serious consequences for public dialogue about the environment and therefore real democracy, especially the democracy of all species. For what good is knowing unless it is coupled with caring?”

Gloria Ladson-Billings

Gloria Ladson-Billings shifts the research narrative advocating for culturally sustaining pedagogies, culturally responsive teaching, culturally relevant pedagogy in The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children (1994, 3rd edition 2023).

Excellent teaching can counter the damaging effects of trauma and gaps in educational opportunities. Honoring the “education debt” the system owes students who are poorly served means acknowledging systematic racism and economic inequalities. Her work, notably Justice Matters (2024), explores the roots of interconnected societal injustices and offers ways to champion social change. 

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot pioneered the social science research methodology called portraiture, blending art and science, capturing complexity, and undermining stereotypic thinking. The Art and Science of Portraiture (1997) co-authored with Hoffmann Davis, demonstrates a search for “goodness” through a constructive vision reflecting the possibility of transformation and healing rather than emphasizing deficits and pathology.

“In portraiture, the voice of the researcher is everywhere: in the assumptions, preoccupations, and framework … questions … data … choice of stories…language, cadence, and rhythm…”

Lawrence-Lightfoot promotes nuanced storytelling by accepting ambiguity and multiple meanings for interpretation. 

Eve Tuck (Unangax̂)

Eve Tuck (Unangax̂) presents Indigenous social thought and perspective on trauma and resilience and the effects of settler-colonial power in North America. She proposes “rematriation” of curriculum studies by identifying harmful practices. She suggests (2011) re-storying deeply embedded knowledge by “uncovering the quiet thoughts and beliefs of a community; mapping the variety of ideas … available to other generations using home languages, … engaging in the flow of knowledge… that reflect epistemology/cosmology and relationships to land.”

She is an enrolled member of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, Alaska, and contributing writer and editor of Who Decides Who Becomes a Teacher? Schools of Education as Sites of Resistance (2019). 

Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson parallels the rigid caste and race systems of India, the United States, and Nazi Germany in Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (2020), made into the film “Origin” (2024) by Ava Duvernay. Caste details the inordinate preoccupation with white supremacy in the US and exposes the creation of complicated decrees, laws, policies, statutes, and customs that justify mob violence, lynching, dehumanization of one group of people over another, showing how stereotyping media depictions can distort our mentality.

In the book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010), Wilkerson gleans stories from interviews with hundreds of Black migrants who fled the South of the United States from 1915-1970 during the Great Migration. 

Teaching is an act of love and struggle. When the road forward seems dangerous, collective voices for transformative learning emerge, generating healing exchanges to build an equitable, hopeful future. 

Up next:

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Lynn Ditchfield, Ph.D., has taught in urban and rural schools (including international), pre-school to university. She is the creator, writer, compiler and editor of Borders to Bridges: Arts-Based Curriculum for Social Justice–Belonging, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Sovereignty, Reciprocity, and co-coordinator of pilot programs globally. Lynn works as a writer, workshop facilitator, and adjunct professor. Learn more at