I remind you that we started our class with Farmer Duck, and some questions...such as: what are you curious about?????
In Farmer Duck, there is our first lesson: What you do, in relation to others, can change the world, that people with many differences, united because of their labor can make a difference. This comes straight out of the Duck. But so does the last page of Farmer Duck, where the Duck is no longer working, but commanding. How social change can be won, without recreating social injustice, is a problem we posed.
Now, a reminder of Harry Hoey, the headmaster at Cranbrook School, who held up a globe and said : Gentlemen this is yours and while you are here at Cranbrook you will learn how we make it act
The motto of that school was, and is, Aim High, and high expectations, as well as the notion that all that we do in school is important, helps us understand and overcome our circumstances, are the right of every child in every classroom--despite the economic inequalities that most certainly make that hard.
Second Lesson: You and your children have a right to believe you can comprehend and transform the world-because that is true, a fact.
Then: good teaching, like good social studies, is a meeting of a teacher, a kid, and a community--with a paradigm at work that all are aware of and allowed to criticize. Criticism can be sharp, even harsh, but the atmosphere cannot, if people are to learn anything but victimization. Civilized criticism can be achieved in classrooms by posing problems, that is, "Why does the Hoover dam look like it does?" Frequently, we need to turn to history and economics to answer that kind of problem, as we did with many other problems in class.
The key to community building is time with kids, and particularly kids having the freedom to work collectively on things that matter, and individually, and one on one with you. That time is our most precious commodity, and anyone who tries to steal that time from you is not your friend or the friend of your kids. Standards and High Stakes tests often do not make your classroom more academically meaningful. Rather, they rob you time with kids.
One cornerstone of good teaching is your ability as an educational worker to use your good judgement in specific situations, that is, will you give a child a high-stakes standardized exam, and insist on it, when you know her mother died the day before?
You, after all, are the teaching method. Your knowledge of yourself, your students, your school and community, and your outlook, your philosophy, set up everything that happens in your classroom-even in the face of harsh regulations.
Your good judgement is key to education and to exercise it you need freedom. In order to get some freedom, you can use all the things we did in class. You can read to the kids, every day. You can show the kids you journal everyday, and have them write everyday. You can run the kids every day (that we missed out on). You can discuss, "What is up?" You can give the kids room to study something meaningful that they care about in depth, and to present and publish about it. You can bring your own passion to the class. Let your passion find a way to meet theirs.
In order to get freedom, like anyone else in history, you need to get some power. Teaching well, presenting, publishing, all are part of getting power in schools.
We talked about You Can't Say You Can't Play, and the crux of that in that school is, for everyone; we all construct knowledge together, we all rise together. We rise with the kids who have disabilities, with the white and brown and black kids-together, or we do not construct rational knowledge and we do not rise together at all. We sink. Exclusion, in its sharpest forms, is death. Exclusion disguised as science, as in the SAT, or disguised as a necessary evil, as in a tracking system, is just a pathway to future Holocausts, and I do not think that is hyperbole.
You will remember at the First Class I told you about the Ford Rouge Plant, with more than 100,000 workers, where only about 10000 people work now. And I told you what you do counts. Once the world looked to industrial workers to be the progressive force in society, and in the US we owe them our free speech rights, the 40 hour week, child labor laws, rights to form unions and bargain, social security--a lot--but now schools and school workers are positioned where the industrial work force once was. Schools, not industrial work places, are the key organizing points for social life in the US today. What we do counts.
We conducted our class under the cloud of a war, and that should be enough to prove that what you do counts more than ever before. Teachers are pivotally positioned to make this world a better place, to help people struggle for what is true and to spot lies--to make what are life and death decisions. If you teach middle school, you are looking at people who are less than five years from eligibility for military recruitment-a life and death choice.
We questioned, much of the semester, lie spotting techniques--the key to that is knowing yourself, and your social relationships with others, and the best way to understand that, I think, is to under stand that we are part of an international working class that has everything in common with workers like us everywhere.....no matter what nation or race or religion.....our class unites us.
So here is the lie spotting technique: Criticize everything. Ask questions that go to the root of things. Like "Why Have School?" Ask Radical questions. Know yourself and your relationship to other people, a relationship that begins with the fact that as a teacher you are both a professional, and you are a worker, that you must sell your labor to live. Finally, engage, act, and then see what happens, reflect and evaluate. For those who like acronyms, it is a piece of CAKE.
Our very brief exercise, "who are the most important people of the 20th century," should demonstrate how significant standpoint is in setting up what is taught, and how. Your answers are as much about you as they are about historical accuracy. Even so, historical accuracy exists, based on evidence, just as it is fairly easy to see that Einstein towers over Herbert Hoover.
We asked truly radical questions in our class, questions that can and should be posed in any social studies class: How do things change, if they do? Why have government? How can I do qualitative research in my own school? What is economics in regard to the ways social classes are arranged? In each instance, we pointed back to the fact that all of the social studies disciplines integrated disciplines that are about people, not just things. And the more we, people, are conscious of what are circumstances are, the more we can influence them. We are responsible for the circumstances that we create, but not the ones we were born within.
This then goes to the question we asked: Is it possible to judge a society or a nation? I say it is. Ask this: How does this society treat the majority of its people, the poor and working people, and the poor and working people of the world?
Using that as a starting point, we can then reasonably denounce Nazis, fascists, racists, sexists, etc. We can say some things are wrong, others right, that is, build an ethic that does not rise out of the mist, but that rises out of history, and the interests of the vast majority of people.
If we then understand that all of written history may truly be the history of class struggle, the we can ask: Who is served by a given set of ideas? Each idea in a world divided by rich and poor, where the rich are at war on the poor and are aware of it, and the poor suffer the rich, and are usually unaware that there is a war on; then each idea will be in service to one class or another. Who is served by racism? Why?
Again, there are answers in history, as our class history of Seuss demonstrated. Seuss did not just materialize. His anti-racist, anti-fascist (and anti-Lindbergh) ideas were born in a social context, and now you have seen that, you can show it to kids.
You will have a chance to criticize my work in the class evaluations, and I will have a chance to criticize yours in reviewing your portfolios, which I take quite seriously. I do want to offer, though, some thoughts to the group.
Many of our class-colleagues were able to get past the common employer-employee relationship that sets up most schooling ("tell me what I have to do and I will do it," "I will do the minimum for an A," ) and those who did actually behaved like the graduate students I think you are--or can be. Others did not get by that (perhaps because of the severe time limitations of the SDSU program) and I think it was pretty easy to see who did what in the presentations.
Others still preferred to hold their hands over their ears as class discussions became controversial or sharp. This is, I think, a form of contempt for others, and is a sure way to avoid learning. As grad students, you are especially responsible for your own education, even if you must struggle to discover what you can learn from each professor you meet. If you make that effort, I think all of us on the faculty will take extraordinary steps to meet you and help. If not, you lose. Your choice. Think of graduate work as a place to exceed your horizons, not just verify them. Then remember that your own students can relearn to expect that too.
We discussed the prominent role of racism in our society, and in schools; a poison for most people that influences who is in what school, what kind of materials they have, the methods used by teachers, the demographics of the teachers lounge, and what your role is in that. I think your role is to determine to systematically fight racism every day-not so much because racism is not nice (and it is not) but because you have a material interest in fighting it. No working person wins from racism. You are about to be a working person.
I sent you my brief Lie Spotters Manual, and I hope you will keep it. But we left one remaining question----So what if we can spot lies? Who cares? Teaching toward what end? Spotting lies for what?
Our national leadership is now suggesting that we must prepare a generation, another generation, for perpetual war. This is not acceptable to me.
I think there is a better answer. You will remember I told you, in our first class, about my teacher, Hope Linstruth, who took a nearly incorrigible kid, me, and allowed me the freedom, and criticism, that helped me get thru a hard year of school. She is the one who nibbled on my ear, gave me freedom and a library to read, and reviewed and took seriously what I wrote, in a class that probably had 45 kids in it.
What Hope Linstruth understood, I think was the answer of toward what end---For freedom and creative lives for everyone, in more or less egalitarian communities, people who will share in the chance to make their lives count.
She knew that the end that we seek is a world where people can be genuinely free and creative, at work and outside of work as well, where we can live according to that old adage, Do unto others... or put another way, From each according to their commitment to each according to their need.
She understood that the key motive force of getting there, along with criticism and reflection and spotting lies, overcoming all of that, is real love. Underlying a classroom atmosphere of rigor, must be love, caring. That is being nice but not being uncritical. It is being kind, when being clever is tempting. It is hugging the kids that you want to hug the least.
That is a social studies method. Everyone tells you to love your kids, and I do too.
We asked all semester, "What is the motive force (s) of history?" Since there are key answers in history to nearly all our social and scientific problems, we need to be able to answer that question, even if only tentatively.
Here is how Mao, the leader of the Chinese revolution who later turned into what he claimed to set out to oppose, put it:
"Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment. It is man's social being that determines his thinking. Once the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses, these ideas turn into a material force which changes society and changes the world. In their social practice, men engage n various kinds of struggle and gain rich experience, both from their successes and from their failures." (Mao, "Where do Correct Ideas Come From?")
I think Mao is mostly on target, except he forgets the struggle for freedom. That struggle, which he abandoned, involves the incessant efforts of people to be more creative, more aware, more sensitive, and it is best achieved by being better connected to others, in our case through close personal ties with people. Friendship, real friendship, today is a radical notion. The struggle for freedom also involves the struggle for beauty, sensuality, aesthetics (as in good books, film, music, etc), and freedom from the fear of pleasure itself. There is no freedom in the absence of democracy, which must be underpinned by equality.
Teaching in schools today with the idea in mind that love, work, the struggle for rational knowledge, and real freedom through community is key to grasping the world is a matter of swimming upstream, as nearly all these factors are mostly eradicated in schools.
You decisions about how to answer fundamental questions, the questions we addressed in class (Why have school? What is the motive force of history? Why learn to read and teach others? How do things change?, etc) are, of course, your decisions. You must take responsibility for locating yourself, in relationship to others, within these questions. Then, every method you use in the classroom, and every substantive piece of curriculum, will have a basis-which you can explain.
The question I posed in nearly every class-Why are we doing this?-should be posed and answered meaningfully, and perhaps hourly, in every k12 classroom. If we do not have a meaningful answer to that (as in, "If you learn this it will help you understand and change the world in these ways..."), then we are probably just wasting time, soldiering through the day--the process of making good soldiers, who are never asked to be truly critical thinkers anywhere.
I believe that in order to keep your ideals and teach in our current climate, you will need new forms of organizations-beyond the limits of the unions. You (and I) will need organizations that offer friendship, not passing alliances, as a base, an organization that truly unites parents, teachers, students, and community people in what is surely going to be a struggle over what is taught, and how it is taught, not only in the US, but world wide. If that kind of organization interests you, let me know.
That said, let me ask again: Are you more curious than you were when you first arrived? Stay in touch if you choose.
All the best to you, r