Educating for Insurgency: The Roles of Young People in Schools of Poverty

Jay Gillen


IN STOCK$15.95

Jay Gillen has been working with Baltimore youth—as a public school teacher and as part of the Baltimore Algebra Project—for over twenty years. This awesome book is the result of his experiences. Essential reading for anyone interested in urban education or youth empowerment.

Desegregation has failed. Schools filled with black and brown students have become plantations of social control, where the policing of behavior trumps the expanding of minds. Radical teachers and organizers in American public schools must help young people fashion an insurgency. That means, at the very least, seeing each student’s rebellion not as violation, but as communication.

Jay Gillen writes with passion and compassion about the daily lives of poor students trapped in institutions that dismiss and degrade them. In the spirit of Paulo Freire, and using the historical models of slave rebellions and Civil Rights struggles as guides, Gillen explains what sort of insurgency is needed and how to create it: the tools and techniques required to build social, intellectual, and political power.

This poetic manifesto of revolutionary “educational reform” belongs in the pocket of anyone who currently works in, suffers through, or simply cares about public schooling in this country.

ISBN 9781849351997
List price $15.95
Publisher AK Press
Year of publication 2014

Video from the book launch for Jay Gillen's "Educating for Insurgency: The Role of Young People in Schools of Poverty"

November 8, 2014


Jay Gillen, adult mentor for the Baltimore Algebra Project, was joined by leaders from an entire generation of Baltimore City youth organizers for a launch of his new book, out this year from our friends at AK Press:


Flipping the Script: Pedagogy, Theater and Radical Organizing in Schools of Poverty

January 4, 2015


Originally published on Truthout

Jay Gillen, Educating for Insurgency: The Roles of Young People in Schools of Poverty (AK Press, 2014)

"It is hard to imagine, for example, that watching "The Wire" is actually a very good form of preparation for teachers who are about to begin teaching in Baltimore's segregated schools. They would be better off reading King Lear or As You Like It . . . "

It's not hard to imagine a book where a line like this could come off as smug, entitled, insufferable. It's more difficult to imagine a book - and this is really our problem, and not the author's - where such a claim can be seen for what it is: a radical truth.

The "radical" here is important - there are, at this point, numerous books testifying to the dismal state of American public education in the communities, primarily of color, that have been marginalized and abandoned by our increasingly austere system. And beyond the exposés of the moral scandal of de facto educational apartheid in the contemporary United States, there are many detailed critiques of the particular neoliberal history of the test-obsessed epistemological apparatus that undergirds this system. But what Jay Gillen offers in Educating for Insurgency is something vital and missing - a rigorous analysis of the terms of student struggle in what he calls "schools of poverty."

Others can see the tragedy of squandered educational opportunities and the unfortunate pathological consequences of poverty that render poor children of color "unable" to learn - but Gillen has more rigorous eyes. He sees, even in the most aggressive acts of refusal on the part of the "worst" students, not the unfortunate and pathological reactions of ultimately passive victims, but the strategies active in historical subjects coming into historical self-consciousness, collectively doing the work of the "old mole," whose burrows undermine the foundations of the current system and presage the irruption of revolt that will inaugurate something new. Deftly, Gillen weaves together this kind of subterranean articulation of autonomous power with:

  • its historical precedents - like that underground railroad whose tunnels and hidden networks enabled the cataclysmic, slavery-ending revolt;
  • its literary figurations: notably, the very well-lit burrow;
  • and its pedagogical enactments, like the "crawl spaces" the Baltimore Algebra Project constructs to open the space for young people in schools of poverty to work through their own development as autonomous intellectuals and political subjects.