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Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  648 ratings  ·  124 reviews
In this dazzling debut, Carla Shalaby, a former elementary school teacher, explores the everyday lives of four young “troublemakers,” challenging the ways we identify and understand so-called problem children. Time and again, we make seemingly endless efforts to moderate, punish, and even medicate our children, when we should instead be concerned with transforming the very ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by New Press, The
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Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Eleventy billion stars. Should be compulsory reading for everyone in a teaching program, for every education policy crafter, for anyone who currently works in a school, for anyone with children.

I cannot say enough about how moved and transformed I feel by this book.
Mary Lee
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ten stars. Must-read for every teacher, pre-service teacher, administrator, person who cares at all about the education system in the USA.

This book is a call to action to remake myself as a teacher, to rethink everything I've taken for granted about the ways we do business in our schools (some of which I've challenged and rebel(led) against, but much of which I stand guilty as charged for). My "Marcus" this year deserves no less. All the rest of the students I will teach in these last few years
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Reframing troublemakers in school as the canaries in the coalmine, reframing the trouble as existing in our institutions, not in our children, Carla Shalaby makes a big ask, can we be love in the face of troublemakers, can we be love and teach freedom? Even by posing the questions, she offers educators and others interested in the health of our schools and our democracy another way to talk back to the standards, and standardizing language and expectations that have become normalized in schools. ...more
Carol Brandt
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
I appreciated the points the author made about how misbehavior is frequently about a child who feels hurt and excluded from his peers and teachers. I see this happen and it is painfully true. Responding with love is a great solution that many good teachers practice every day.

But abdicating “freedom” and “power” to the collective group of, in this case, 7 year olds? Come on. Really?

In my experience, children feel safe when the teacher is in control of the classroom. Kids want to know what to
Janice Mcquaid
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book should be on the syllabus of every teaching program. I certainly agree with everything stated in the book, and often saw myself in the teachers she observed. The difficulty comes in enacting the change in a school system that does not support this type of change. I think for myself, I will start slowly in my own classroom. If successful there, use that success to stimulate more systemic change. A lot to ponder and think about! This might be a excellent Book Club for teachers to read ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written call to arms, encouraging us to see in young people's imagination and unruliness the opportunity for social justice and democratic participation. Shalaby compiles a set of character sketches of children at successful schools who are struggling in their classrooms. In each example, she finds that some of the traits and behaviors that are clearly not easy for "classroom management" are vibrant strengths understood in a different frame. She draws attention to the way that ...more
Jeanie Phillips
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
(All the stars)

Check out a podcast on this book here:

If I had to suggest one book that every educator should read, this would be the one. Carla Shalaby chronicles her time spent in schools observing four "troublemakers." From these narratives she forces us to reckon with our own misuse of power in creating school cultures that force children to be docile and compliant in order to succeed. Cornell West said "justice is what love looks like in public." Our
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'll admit it. I'm deeply in love with this book. I loved it when I read the preface and introduction; perhaps I struggled as I read the portraiture of the four individual students in the two schools; but then I fell even deeper after reading the conclusion and letter to teachers.

The case studies were requisite for helping us struggle with the lens that comes with the institution of schooling. No, it didn't feel quite right--what was happening to Zora, to Marcus, to Sean, to Lucas--but what else
One of the most liberating re-framing of “troublemakers” and “classroom management” I’ve read outside of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Although the four students Shalaby profiles are in elementary school, it does not take much effort to apply these profiles to middle and high schools. I found her proposal to teach love and learn freedom radical and urgent.

As I prepare for a team meeting for one of my TAs, as I think about creating learning spaces for students that are “safer,
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved reading about the students in this story, they all encouraged me to examine and reflect on myself as a teacher. Really thinking about what it truly means to have freedom in schools, freedom for students to be authentically curious and for love to be central.
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teacher-resource
Opens eyes to what our “trouble” makers go through in order to make it in our schools. Fascinating read!
Jennifer Wolf
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: professional
Unique perspectives on how we view children in our classrooms. I am curious to investigate how parents and educators of color respond to the author's ideas.
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Yes, there's a problem. No, viable solutions are not included.

I definitely learned from this book and expanded my thinking, but was very disappointed in the end. Yes, it bothered me that all of the students she followed ended up on medication. I, too, never have liked the term, "classroom management." Yes, I would be worn out like these teachers were. No, I don't agree that having students line up is a, "stringent limit on human freedom."

I would recommend skipping the beginning segments and
Feb 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2018
Disappointed with this book. I was recommended to read it through a course in Trauma that I thoroughly enjoyed, however this book gave me nothing to use in my classroom. Teach the kids to love was basically the message. The kids spotlighted came from pretty stable, safe homes and basically the message was let kids run the show. That is not a solution. She began and ended the book whining about Trump.
The problems in our schools are well entrenched and didn’t just magically appear with our new
Cristi Julsrud
Read as part of the #ClearTheAir Twitter chat, and I am so glad I did! This book is short, but mighty. It has me reconsidering all kinds of things about my classroom, from how to change up the power dynamics to how I might restructure my classroom community to belong to students rather than to me. A powerful read about how we relate to each other, and a challenge to all of us to reconsider the ways we deal with and view "troublemakers." Everyone should read it!
Dec 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: education, nonfiction
This book is well written, but I have mixed feelings about it. Shalaby is a former elementary teacher who is now in higher education. I was hoping she was a teacher writing about kids whom she herself had taught--the student-teacher relationship from the teacher’s perspective.

I think Shalaby accomplishes what she sets out to do--to demonstrate, through portraiture, the ways that traditional schooling demands compliance, marginalizing kids who don’t conform. Drawing on classroom observations and
Amy Gonzalez
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As soon as I was done with this book, I wanted to reread it. This book is filled with gems to observe that I want to go back to and reflect on, gems such as, "The extent of our willingness to change children, coupled with the extent of our unwillingness to change schools, must awaken our collective moral conscience toward a new imagination and approach" (160).

Carla Shalaby's uses the portraiture approach to document four "troublemakers,"each differing in race, class, and gender. Two of the
Holly Mueller
Excellent and thought-provoking. Challenges traditional ways of thinking about school and kids. Not a book of strategies, but of stories that take an honest and critical look at the way we expect kids to fit in at school. Thinking about a professional learning text set with this title, We Got This by Cornelius Minor, and Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed.
Karen Szymusiak
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Every teacher should read this book?
Dawn Ferencz
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful reminder of how to help all of our students feel valued.
Krissy Ronan
Jul 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting perspective on the kids who are seen as troublemakers in the classroom.
Sarah Hyatt
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-educators
This is one of the most important books I have read. It’s a must-read for all educators.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-justice
The birdcage on the cover of the book immediately reminded me of Marilyn Frye's essay on Oppression.
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I hope this book gets into the hands of educators and parents everywhere to inspire them to continue to rethink the institutionalization of schools in America as training grounds for obedient worker bees of the great capitalist hive (my words ). Shalaby’s research presents 4 portraits of young people between the ages of 6-8 who have already been labeled troublemakers and presents an alternative perspective where they are instead seen as full humans whose specific needs can be better addressed. ...more
Julie Kirchner
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Much to think about and reflect upon here. Our “troublemakers” deserve it.
Mel Katz
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A few weeks ago I found myself halfway done with “Troublemakers”, and I actually put it down to take a break the book. I wasn’t ready for it to be done, and I was attempting to delay the ending as long as possible. But even as I finished the last words of the book tonight, I no longer see it as ending; rather, as a beginning, as a call to do this work, as a demand that we shift to a lens we must all have in approaching schooling, education, and the young people we share space with almost every ...more
Jun 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: education
Although the writing is engaging and the content is valid this is a book more about raising some questions rather than providing solutions. The big question it raised for me was, "Why are these parents sending their children to school rather than homeschooling them?" The premise is that we should be paying attention to the children who "act out" and who disturb class order, treat them with love and respect, and the entire school experience for all the children will be repaired. Something like ...more
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. I mean, how amazing is it to have an author be able to follow around the 'troublemakers' and offer insight? I approached with a very open mind, wanting to further myself and my classroom by mulling over Shalaby's experiences. However, it really came across as a huge racial issues commentary. To suggest that a 7 year old is acting out because of police violence does not help one inform their teaching. Yes, a teacher's job is to love and cherish the kids in their ...more
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I finished Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School and it was amazing. This book really challenged (and continues to challenge) my understanding of teaching, school, and what it means to be truly seen, heard, valued, and loved in school. This book was just released in March and I came to it by flipping through the resource section of my daily planner, called Planning to Change the World. The book came to me at the right time as I was questioning how best to support a ...more
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“requires that we call ourselves out in order to call others in.18 It requires that we be willing to confront one another, and that we be willing to listen generously when we are being confronted—letting go of our personal feelings for a commitment, instead, to the shared goal of freedom.” 1 likes
“But school shouldn't be preparation for life. For young people, it is life. Young people in America will spend well over a full decade of their lives in school, by law. Their daily life in school is their social and professional world. It isn't just preparation for it. They demand to matter in that world, every day. These children are saying, 'We are here now, to be seen.' For the people they already are, already full human beings, exactly as human as their teachers. No more, and no less. They have things to learn as citizens, and as scholars, and as family members, and they will grow and change and develop and learn. But they are already full human beings, and none of these lessons will make them more so. They already feel, and love, and hurt. They already desire to be entertained, and engaged, and embraced. They already insist on being taken seriously, and cared for deeply. They will not be ignored, and they will not be invisible.

Reflecting on the school lives of these children, recognizing the refrains in their warnings, I am reminded again of the epigraph that opens this book, from Labi Siffre's song 'Something Inside So Strong,' sung each morning by children in freedom schools across the country: 'The more you refuse to hear my voice, the louder I will sing.”
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