Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades

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Stenhouse Publishers, 2006 - Education - 244 pages

What would a classroom look like if understanding and respecting differences in race, culture, beliefs, and opinions were at its heart? Welcome to Mary Cowhey's Peace Class in Northampton, MA, where first and second graders view the entire curriculum through the framework of understanding the world, and trying to do their part to make it a better place.

Woven through the book is Mary's unflinching and humorous account of her own roots in a struggling large Irish Catholic family and her early career as a community activist. Mary's teaching is infused with lessons of her heroes: Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, and others. Her students learn to make connections between their lives, the books they read, the community leaders they meet, and the larger world.

If you were inspired to become a teacher because you wanted to change the world, and instead find yourself limited by teach-to-the-test pressures, this is the book that will make you think hard about how you spend your time with students. It offers no easy answers, just a wealth of insight into the challenges of helping students think critically about the world, and starting points for conversations about diversity and controversy in your classroom, as well as in the larger community.


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I am looking forward to discussing this book with my MA Education cohort at Mills College. It excites me to read about the concrete ways that this teacher prepared her students to be citizens in a community. Critical thinking is shown to be organically learned and manifested in a balance from teacher to student and back again. Experiential learning rather than expectation of regurgitation. Peace as practice is not given but lived
A must read for teacher and parents.

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

It does not correctly state what Christians believe. This is for educators working with primary grades? I only read the one sample page and saw that inaccuracy

Selected pages


Black Ants and Buddhism
1 Introduction
2 Compassion Action and Change
A Day in the Life of the Peace Class
4 It Takes a Village to Teach First Grade
5 Talking About Peace
6 Learning Through Activism
7 Teaching History So Children Will Care
9 Seeing Ourselves and Our Families Through Students Eyes
10 Responding When Tragedy Enters the Classroom
11 Building Trust with Families and Weathering Controversy
12 Going Against the Grain
Take This Hammer

8 Nurturing History Detectives

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About the author (2006)

Mary Cowhey has been teaching first and second grade at Jackson St. School in Northampton, Massachusetts for nine years.Before becoming a teacher, she was a community organizer for fourteen years. She has won numerous awards for teaching, including a 2002 Milken National Educator Award, an Anti-Defamation League World of Difference Teacher Recognition Award, and a National League of Women Voters Award.

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