Iris Kirsch

Iris Kirsch

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"5290","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"300","style":"width: 400px; height: 300px; float: left; margin-right: 0.5em","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"400"}}]]Iris Kirsch is a Baltimore City Public School teacher and a worker-owner of the Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse. A native New Yorker, ze has been living in Baltimore for the past 13 years and loves it. Ze is a voracious reader, an amateur costumer, and a perennial joke-player. Some of zer articles are partially ghost-written by zer cat, Cat Jones.


Youth from Taiwan announcing their open space session, at the 2013 International Democratic Education Conference. (Source:

In the past week, I’ve been at two amazing conferences, both dealing with democratizing education. The first was IDEC, the International Democratic Education Conference, held this year in Boulder, Colorado.

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Summer. The time of year when it’s too hot to move. The perfect time for reading. In a world where billionaires control more than 90% of the media you see, reading can be a welcome respite, an opportunity to think for yourself. A chance to use your imagination, send yourself back in time, or explore another world. It also helps you learn how better to express yourself; the best writers are almost all prolific readers.

Eleven percent of teachers would vote to extend the contract. Photo by: Iris Kirsch.

October 14 of 2010 was a monumental day. On that day, the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU), Local 340 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), voted down the contract which had been put before us by so-called labor-management cooperation. After some shenanigans, the contract passed in a re-vote, and workers in Baltimore schools have been suffering under the pseudo-merit-pay system for three years. Now, negotiations are back open.

At a rally organized by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers last thursday, May 30, students stand alongside their teachers, defiant and strong, to protest the closing of 23 more of Philadelphia's public schools and the gutting of school services. Photo by: Iris Kirsch.

Last month, hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians, mostly high school students, took to the streets to protest the closing of twenty-three schools and the discontinuation of vital programs such as athletic and arts activities, nurses and mental health counselors, and school libraries.

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I have spoken with several teachers in the few days since we received word that Alonso would be leaving us. None mentioned feeling the pride that congressman Elijah Cummings expresses on his official website. I found it telling that very few were willing to have their names listed with their comments. There is a heightened sense of fear amongst teachers, and even the mildly critical comments teachers made could result in backlash. Baltimore has not yet seen the type of attacks on tenured teachers that Alonso helped to execute while working for Joel Klein in New York. But we all know these attacks are possible.

Students and parents from Lafayette School marched to their alderman's office on March 21. Lafayette is one of a staggering 54 Chicago schools slated for closure—the most ever in a single year in a U.S. city. Photo: Bill Healy, Chicago Public Media. (Source:

The battle for Chicago’s schools is raging. The April 24th School Board Meeting in Chicago was a hotbed of competing interests, and nothing seems likely to cool down any time soon. As of Wednesday’s meeting, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) intends to close 54 schools, co-locate six, and send eleven more through a “turnaround” process in which they will massively reorganize students, teachers, and resources.

Nuestra Escuela. Photo By: Iris Kirsch

“Our school” in more ways than one, Nuestra Escuela is a gem. The school is democratically organized, honoring the voices of students and teachers alike.

Of course, teenagers in general are not always known to use the most forethought of any age group. In addition is that many of these young people have experienced poverty, abuse and failure, and it might seem foolhardy to entrust them with important decisions about their education.

Student Body President Joshua Martínez standing in front of the main campus of Nuestra Escuela in Caguas, Puerto Rico.

Caguas, Puerto Rico, about 30 miles south of the capital, San Juan, is home to about 87,000 people. By day, commerce bustles around a few major medical centers. Shortly after 5pm, people return to their homes, and the shop-lined streets downtown are vacant.

A bas-relief mural in Aguadilla, PR, depicts Columbus' first contact with the Taíno people. Photo by: Iris Kirsch.

This winter, I had the great fortune to travel to Puerto Rico. A beautiful, diverse island, Puerto Rico has a long colonial history and a long history of resistance. Both of these traditions are still alive today, and Puerto Rico is a fascinating place to study the effects of neoliberalism.

Photo By: Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse

On December 19th, 2012, Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse showed that poetry is one of the most tried and true forms of social justice making and sharing. It was described thus:


Street Soldiers: Youth Arming Themselves with Education
Let Teachers Teach: More Teacher Regulations Only Undermine Education
Let Teachers Teach: More Teacher Regulations Only Undermine Education
The Past Meets the Present
Chicago Teachers are my Heroes!
Baltimore's School-to-Prison Pipeline and the New Youth Jail
Least Popular Character on Jersey Shore: Hurricane Sandy
Merit Pay Is Unsatisfactory
Making the Ten Year Plan Work for Communities
Guns, Fear, and Sandy Hook
Human Rights Dialogue: Fighting for Social and Economic Human Rights
American Dreamin'
Mother Earth Poetry Vibe!
Colonial Education Leaves Puerto Rican Children Behind
Nuestra Escuela: Part 1
Nuestra Escuela: Part 2
Winds of Change in the Windy City
Bidding Farewell to Andrés A. Alonso
The Struggle for Philly's Schools
Getting Schooled on the BCPSS Teacher Contract
8 Great Books, Summer-ized
Whose Voice, Whose Choice?