The Troublemaker Project
The Troublemaker Project is a collaborative, school-based, local knowledge-making effort between high school students, general and special education teachers, School of Education faculty, and dis/ability* justice activists informed by Shalaby's (2017) work on teaching love and learning freedom.
This student-led alliance addresses local issues of equity and social justice through sustained dialogue and coalition building. Drawing on the strategies and frameworks of DisCrit (Connor, Ferri, & Annamma, 2017) and abolitionist teaching (Love, 2019), students re-imagined constructs of motivation, behavior, and intelligence in schools. This work is trauma-informed, culturally sustaining and inclusive.
Supported by a critical pedagogy rooted in the lives of students, this curriculum of agency and identity-work uses evidence of students' cultural and linguistic wealth toward the project of Freedom Dreaming. Freedom Dreaming is the work of reconstructing "our social and individual relationships…to unfold a new future on the basis of love and creativity" (Kelley, 2002).
*The backslash in dis/ability addresses how notions of ability are deployed and withheld in schools. Dis/Ability is therefore not a stable identity or a thing to fix but rather a fluid process dependent on social context (see Annamma, 2017).
Previous funding sources included NJM Urban Innovation Grant, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the TCNJ School of Education Mini Grant Project.
Initially titled The Cultural and Justice Studies Program, the 2017 student cohort decided "The Troublemaker Project" better represented the aims of their collective. The students drew their inspiration from Shalaby's (2017) text whereby she called upon communities to understand students' voices as songs for freedom.
Writes Shalaby (2017), "A free person can expect to be seen and treated as a full human being, free from any threats to her identity, to her cultural values and know-how, to her safety and health, and to her language and land. A free person retains her power, her right to self-determination, her opportunity to flourish, her ability to love and to be loved, and her capacity for hope" (p. xv).
Our work seeks to honor the dedication and hard work of the first cohort. In 2017, these 64 students were the first (and only) book discussion group to ask Dr. Shalaby how Marcus and Zora were doing. Marcus and Zora were not chapters in a book or abstract, fictional names. They saw them as people and members of beloved communities. Thank you, TCHS class of 2017, for the greatest lesson.
The Troublemaker Project takes shape in four phases each academic year: 1) Listening Tour 2) Collaborative Planning Meetings 3) Course Offering 4) Institute. Our essential questions include: How does the world see me and how are they wrong? How do I create community in a place where I feel isolated? What examples of cultural and linguistic wealth inform my future goals?
Student graduates are hired back to serve as organizers and co-facilitators each November to January in partnership with local TCHS teachers and TCNJ education faculty. The annual institute in February welcomes in (and marks the beginning of) the next phase of the project.
Our work is trauma-informed, inclusive, and culturally sustaining. Student projects and assessments include: Educational journey maps, podcasts, counter-narrative projects, dialogue journals, public letters, readers theater presentations, artifact dialogue circles, critical film analyses, and cultural and linguistic autobiographies. These assignments harness the cultural and linguistic capital of students and employ a constructivist and critical literacy approach.