The Rouge Forum emerged from a series of political controversies within the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) during the 1990s. In particular, two events at the 1994 annual meeting of NCSS in Phoenix galvanized a small group of activists who later founded the organization. First, a staff person from the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) was arrested for leafleting at the NCSS conference; and secondly, the governing body of NCSS rejected a resolution condemning California Proposition 187 and calling for a boycott of California as a site for future meetings of the NCSS. These events fueled a level of political activism the NCSS had rarely experienced and identified the need for organized action in support of free speech and anti-racist pedagogy in the field of social studies education in general and within NCSS in particular.
The Rouge Forum was formally organized and held its first meeting in Detroit at Wayne State University in 1998 with around 300 education activists present. Continued activism within NCSS remained a major topic of discussion at this meeting, however, the organization's concerns were broadened by the participation of teachers and teachers educators working in the areas of literacy and special education. Rouge Forum members have worked closely with, and played leadership roles within the inclusive school and whole language literacy movements.
For several years in early 2000s, The Rouge Forum, The Whole Schooling Consortium, and the Whole Language Umbrella of the National Council of Teachers of English held joint meetings and co-sponsored the 2000 International Education Summit for a Democratic Society.
A key principle underlying the actions of the Rouge Forum is their belief that schools and educators play a critical role in the creation of a more democratic, egalitarian society (or a society that increases in inequality and authoritarianism). The Rouge Forum is connects imperialism, war, and the regulation of schooling.
The Rouge Forum has published a newspaper/zine since 1999.The Rouge Forum News appeared twice a year in both print and online editions from 1999-2004. In 2009, The Rouge Forum News returned to a regular publication schedule as a digital zine.
The Rouge Forum holds meetings on a regular basis at both local and national levels. The national conferences have been held on a more or less annual basis; all meetings are action-oriented and the national conferences usually include workshops for teachers and students; panel discussions; community-building and cultural events; as well as academic presentations. Many prominent voices for democracy and critical pedagogy have participated in Rouge Forum meetings.
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