Adam Renner, JJSE math teacher, died in December after suffering a heart attack. He was 40 years old.
Adam was a phenomenal teacher and an incredibly humble and dedicated leader in the struggle for social justice. He only started teaching at JJSE in August, but already he was a core part of our community, sharing his musical and martial arts talents with students while working with his colleagues to revolutionize the teaching of algebra. In his work and in his daily life, Adam truly embodied the JJSE community values of Respect, Integrity, Courage, and Humility.
In late September, Adam taught his pre-algebra support class a lesson in which students examined mortgage rejection rates in Chicago for different ethnic groups. You can see video excerpts here.
Adam taught lessons like this because he saw the urgent need for teaching for social justice. Last fall, he wrote about the social forces affecting our students: “They are being taught by the media, by religion, by the infiltrators among them to be sheep: believe in mysticism (your preacher/priest won’t lead you astray), listen to your I-pods (they will set you free listening to mass manufactured misogynist music), text on your cell phones as often as possible (your so-called friends are more informative than your teachers), buy the most fashion-conscious clothes you can (they will individualize you while you look like everyone else), etc. … They are programmed to be asleep to the causes of the injustice around them.”
Adam gave his students the hope and the courage to resist these forces. After his death, students in his classes wrote about what he taught them; here are some sample responses:
Mr. Renner taught me how to solve ratios and cross multiply.
Mr. Renner taught me linear equations—and no one could have done it better.
Mr. Renner taught me how to find slope and never to say I can’t do something.
Mr. Renner taught me to believe in myself.
Mr. Renner taught me to never give up and to keep on trying till I get it right.
Mr. Renner taught me math, and even sometimes how to calm down and keep going with my studies even if I was mad.
Mr. Renner taught me that it’s ok to make mistakes.
Mr. Renner taught me how to change my guitar strings.
Mr. Renner taught me to stay strong, respectful, and intelligent.
Mr. Renner taught me to stay strong, to not give up, to treat others like I would want others to treat me.
Mr. Renner taught me how to make a difference in the community, and how I should improve on my work ethic.
Mr. Renner taught me forgiveness, math, and facts about our society.
Mr. Renner taught me that we are all equal.
Mr. Renner taught me how to be a fair and just human being.
Mr. Renner taught me how to do math and how to love other people.
Prior to coming to JJSE, Adam was an education professor at Bellarmine University. In a piece he wrote for the Rouge Forum in 2007, Adam wrote eloquently about the need for courage in social justice work: “Finally, this work will take great courage. Our praxis will require us to leave, as Dennis Carlson (2002) conceptualizes, our “safe harbors,” out into uncharted waters. We will constantly be drawn from our reflection into activism, making theory real…. Indeed, this struggle toward a deeper understanding of classism and structure of inequality is a moral struggle that compels all educators and those who work for the betterment of the lives of others to engage it fully. In order to avoid the socially reproductive tendencies of injustice, we must recognize the tremendous stakes and the pressing nature of the work. We can wait no longer.”
You can hear some of Adam’s music at http://www.myspace.com/adamrennermusic.
Donations and memorial contributions for Adam Renner may be made out to:
Small Schools for Equity
1728 – Ocean Ave. #264
San Francisco, CA 94112
All contributions will be given to the June Jordan School for Equity Arts Program unless otherwise noted.
Video in remembrance of Adam Renner