Book Groups in the Social Justice Unionism Movement

An Analysis of Teachers’ Reasons for Participation


  • Kathleen Riley West Chester University of Pennsylvania



teacher organizing, teacher activism, political education, book groups, social justice unionism, teacher unions, unions, learning in social movements


Abstract: The past decade has seen a rise in social justice teacher unionism, with an emergence of caucuses that focus on bottom-up, race conscious union reform focused on bargaining for the common good. While a burgeoning body of scholarship has focused on understanding the goals and interworkings of these caucuses, there are few up-close accounts of their political education efforts. This study focuses on an annual series of interconnected book groups and aims to understand teachers’ reasons for joining the groups and the role the groups play in the organization’s larger goals. Findings indicate that participants saw building the base, developing skills, deepening analyses, and planning action as four core functions of the groups. After analyzing subcategories within each finding, this article discusses tensions that arise in locating book groups within a political organization and implications for teachers, organizers, teacher educators, and researchers.

Author Biography

Kathleen Riley, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

Kathleen Riley is an assistant professor in the Literacy Department at West Chester University. She earned her bachelors in English at Colby College, her master's in teaching at American University, and her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania's Reading, Writing, and Literacy program. Her teaching and scholarship interests include adolescent literacy, critical literacy education, teacher inquiry and activism, gender and sexuality in education, and teaching for social justice. Before joining the faculty at West Chester, Dr. Riley taught in the public schools in Washington DC, Fairfax County, VA, Newton, MA, and Boston, MA, in the Upward Bound program for high school students in Philadelphia, and in various master's and doctoral programs at the University of Pennsylvania.






Contemporary Educator Movements: Transforming Unions, Schools, and Society