Methods for Social Studies
How Do I Keep My Ideals and Still Teach?



Coloring boundaries on maps is fun, but silly. Making mapping meaningful is to grapple with the social situation a map represents. For example, map the political geography of your school. Draw the interior and exterior, then indicate what rooms have windows and air conditioning and phones and their own bathrooms. It may be your school equally divides these resources. It may not. Geography is about maps, and power. A great field trip can grow out of mapping a suburban playground with care (how much area of grass, what kind of play tools, etc) and comparing that ti an urban playground. Then have the kids recreate the map on a larger scale, the community for example. See what areas are public and which are not, or which areas have sidewalks. You might also compare old maps with new ones. Old community maps are usually in local libraries. Above is a map, called a Peters Projection, that is designed to show the true dimensions of the planet. This is the online link:

Mapping need not be abstract. Go out on the playground with the kids, and a plan, and stake out an area that is proportionably accurate to the size of the US. Then do the same for China. Then do the same thing with the population, with each kid representing a given number of US'ers and a given number of Chinese. Then take something symbolic to represent the use of resources, and compare how much food, energy, technology, etc., is consumed by each society.

Freedom of Information Act Requests

Every state has an FOIA, as does the federal government. They are explained in detail on the www. In brief, every citizen has a right to copies of all public documents and to be notified of all public meetings. Your kids can write letters requesting specific documents-and become literate investigators. For example, "Pursuant to the Foia, I request all documents that relate to expenditures made or promised to the Yadda Yadda Construction Company, for the San Diego Stadium. I also request any letters from Councilperson Rammaramma to that company."
Spy versus Spy

Kim Philby

A close friend of mine often poses this question to himself when he is in an ethical or tactical bind: What would Kim Philby do? Philby was a Soviet spy who was in charge of British Intelligence aimed at the USSR. He was also influential in setting up the CIA as we know it, and is blamed for many of its failures. Whatever the case, spies do capture kids' attention and their study is a route into all of history. See what Sun Tzu has to say about spies, writing 2000 years ago, then introduce the kids to Philby, George Blake, Richard Sorge, the Man Who Never Was, and a host of other characters, who open the door to all of history.,5716,61146+1,00.html.

Of course, spies are adult tricksters and every culture that has ever had an oppressed group has also had trickster tales: Brer Rabbit to Zoro. Kids in school are commonly set up to accept and external, regulated consciousness, an opposition to wisdom, self-consciousness. They know it and sometimes resist. If you are concerned about reading trickster tales to kids because the stories may prompt rebellions, then you might wonder what conditions there are that might make them want to do that–and what you might do to change them. You cannot be free if the kids are not free. As to the tales themselves, I like ‘em all, but here are a couple of fairly new ones: “Farmer Duck,” by Waddell, and “Minnie and Moo and the Musk of Zorro,” by Cazet. 

Democracy as a Problem

Freire suggests that teaching should be problem-posing. There are plenty of problems with democracy. To illustrate, go to your class and tell them you are going to have an election for class Schmozzle, which is a very important position. Then tell them the election will be between Cuthgart and Dobie. Hold some mock speeches and a real vote. When the vote is done, ask them what is wrong with what just happened (hint: you picked the candidates) and what can be done. It is the unusual class that gets what happened, or what to do, or the link between that and the current US electoral system.

Then have the students take a look at some voting records in German in the 1930's, or the US in the 1870's, or 1920's. There was massive support for fascism. It was overwhelmingly favored. So were the Indian reservations. And fascism in the US was rather popular too. What to do when the majority is wrong? More, what is the connection between democracy and economics, inequality?

Jefferson long ago recognized that the inheritance of property flew in the face of the notion of natural inalienable rights, which considered property as a common form of wealth. The property/people contradiction is a problem of US democracy that also underpins the reason for bicameral legislatures, the electoral college, etc.

The 2000 presidential election created many problems for those who see democracy as an abstraction. Here is a full (italicized) posting of an exchange from the on-line listserv for social studies educators:


"While I don't think democracy and what has happened in regard to the electoral spectacle (a falling out among thieves) have much in common, this link is an interesting analysis of the Palm Beach vote which other colleagues may find useful.

I wish to add that to pretend that a fair count in Palm Beach County Florida (which includes on the east some of the richest people in the US, who live in gated communities that only a decade ago required an apartheid pass system to enter even public areas; and on the west lies Belle Glades, one of the poorest areas of US, home to the Sugar Mills that hold people in peonage) well that fair count is pretty hollow in my mind. This is a quick analysis from UCB that broadens this point: 

>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>Date: Thu, 09 Nov 2000 05:04:43 -0800
>From: Loic Wacquant <>
>To: Sociology Faculty <>,
>Subject: OLR regression to Gore's rescue,
> with half-a-million convicts looking on

>Dear All:

You might be interested in the statistical data analysis below, where "a simple regression" saves Al Gore from a ballot badly designed (by a Democratic election board member) in Palm Beach, by "giving him" an extra 2,200 votes --after he fails to carry his own state, loses the state of his sitting partner-president, and drops several states won even by Michael Dukakis in1988. (Not to mention fails to help the Democrats recapture either the House or Senate: guess the New Democrats strategy is really working, if it is aimed atensuring (sic) the continued strangehold of the right...)

All this in an election which, what with all the media hoopla, uncertainty, and record spending on campaigning (over 3 billion dollars -- 50% more than 4 yearsago!) as well as on mobilizing people (both unions and the NAACP, for instance, had their biggest "get out the vote" operation in history), had close to the lowest participation rate in 50 years, with 48-49% of the voting age population according to the latest figures of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate (compared with 62% in 1962 and 55% only 8 years ago -- and this despite record participation in the most populous state, California).

A couple of other interesting statistics (courtesy of the National Voting Rights Institute, widely reported in the European press, curiously backgrounded in the US press in the last 24 hours of Durkheimian collective efferverscence (sic) around "the people decide" -- one African-American TV analyst even declared onNBC: "this is what makes us the greatest country in the world"): 

88% of the senators elected are the candidate who raised and spent the most money (object lesson: Corzine, ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs, personal worth of 450 million dollars, a total unknown who had not even bothered to vote himself in recent elections, offered himself a seat in New Jersey for 60 million dollars, under the banner of the Democratic Party)

92% of House representatives elected are those who raised and spent the most money.

a seat in the House now costs an estimated $500,000 on average -- quite modest by comparison to the senate seat, which now goes for 4,6 million dollars, that is, a full 46 breakfasts at the White House with Clinton-Gore (ever wondered why half of US senators are millionnaires and billionnaires?). (sic)

Exam: check the definition of plutocracy in any half-way decent dictionary, and compare with democracy. Then explain why 51-52% of the US voting age populationfailed to show up at the polls in such a tight election, using Marx, Mead, Michels and Seymour Martin Lipset. In 3 pages max.

Now, one last note before you worry yourself sick over the "approximately 2,200 votes" allegedly miscounted for Buchanan instead of Gore in Palm Beach. Or vociferate over Nader's 50-something thousand votes (as if Gore had some kind of legal or moral monopoly over all non-Bush votes). For this pales before the 647,000 convicts and ex-convicts excluded from the polls by virtue of Florida's "criminal disenfranchisement" laws (1996 figures, which are an underestimate, the felon population has grown since), distributed among -63,700 prison and jail inmates -137,200 probationers-a paltry 9,200 parolees (an indicator of the rigidity of incarceration policies in this state), -a staggering 436,900 former convicts no longer under supervision of the criminal justice system who, though have repaid their debt to society, did not, cannot and will never cast a ballot due to LIFETIME disenfranchisement.

Florida leads the US as the biggest excluder of voters on felonious grounds (just ahead of Texas, with half a million). Criminal disenfranchisement is disproportionately trained on African Americans: fully 31% of adult black males in Florida cannot vote because of it. That's roughly 235,000 black men eliminated from the vote (31% of 1,53 million adults divided by two: for men). Counting only black ex-felons, that's about 166.000 possible electors. Nowimagine that half of them had voted and that 80% had voted Democratic (the state average in 1996): that's a total of 68,000 votes that Gore is missing dueto lifetime disenfranchisement of black ex-felons alone.... 68,000 votes of black ex-felons missing in action when you're missing a paltry 1,200 votes to win the Presidency...

Clinton-Gore are mighty proud that they've been "tough on crime." Under their watch, the imprisoned population of the US has nearly doubled (from 1,2 to 2 million). Racial disparities in sentencing have grown at an astounding pace, such that African Americans are now incarcerated are rates higher than South Africa under apartheid and the Soviet Union in the best years of the Gulag. Now, perhaps, Gore wishes he had been a tad less sanguine about mass incarceration and a bit more receptive to (feeble) attempts by the Black Caucus in Congress to challenge the constitutionality of lifetime Disenfranchisement, which violates the Civil Rights Act as well as international human rights conventions.

>Bonne nuit, Loïc

Here the original writer begins again:

It is, finally, important to move from what appears to be going on, toward more fundamental processes at work. No matter who wins, the gap between the rich and poor will grow exponentially.

The rise of authoritarianism will follow. More standardized racist curricula, more high-stakes tests; all of which can be traced back in history to fascist eugenics--and forward into the future in deepened forms of educational apartheid. Beneficiaries of inequality do not want inequality noticed, or considered as a enemy of democracy. 

Overproduction, especially in auto where 8 of the 55 major US plants will soon shut for a week due to oversupply, will expand. Housing starts will continue to drop.

The assault on the working class and all of the concessions it won over the last 50 years, the civilizing forces that brought the 40 hour week, child labor laws, the right to form unions and bargain, social security and welfare; that assault will grow more ruthless as the rate of profit continues to fall. Teachers, now hold the social position once held by the US industrial working class. What teachers do now counts more than ever before.

Competition, especially over oil, will sharpen. 

The stock market and the Nasdaq will slowly drag down, perhaps until the day when all of those surpluses we hear about are gone.

The military will intensify its usual demand to get busy, but the grunts will continue to distrust their officers. Right now, remarkably without consulting the democratic desires of the people on site, the US is conducting war in Colombia and Iraq, and less directly so, in Palestine. 

Imperialism, the reality of globalism, will continue an out of control desperate search for cheap labor, markets, and raw materials, sweeping all obstructions, including life, out its path. 

Women and children of color will suffer worst and most.

People will fight back, as they have in Seattle, LA, Detroit--in the schools, on the job, and in the streets. Their resistance will meet heightened repression. The rubber bullets and armed personnel carriers that people saw on tv in South Africa are common crowd control methods in the US now--even at football games. 

More spectacles, more surveillance. One is the other. Try to walk through a casino unnoticed. 

War, racism, poverty, disease, hunger, ignorance: Barbarism--or social change to get rid of capitalism--the enemy of democracy--With some joy, hard won along the way. 

All the best, rich

Original documents are useful social studies implements.

Utopia Project

Have the kids design utopia. Tell them that they must have a system of production, a way to decide what is true, a government of some kind. They must be on this planet, but they can locate themselves in any historical time. Be forewarned that kids in the US frequently, in my experience, design fascist governments-even college students do this. The point is to get students to realize the importance of labor, production, the construction of rational knowledge, the role of sexuality (if you can go there) and the possibilities of democratic action. Be ready to struggle about all of this, by asking good questions about consequences.

International Computer Comrades

Bill Gates correctly says email is his only real contribution. Linking you class to another class in another country is easy now. You just need to find a teacher counterpart. The kids can go from there. But be sure to remember that first world kids need some preparation, and warnings about arrogance, racism, and hubris.

Freedom Schools

During the civil rights movement in the south, it was necessary to set up Freedom Schools for kids who were boycotting segregated institutions and for kids who were locked out. Lifelong educator and activist Staughton Lynd, now in Youngstown Ohio, set up many of these schools, which were far better than the 'regular' schools offered to the children. The Freedom Schools stand as a model of what schooling can be. Children, their enthusiastic instructors, parents, and community people were all responsible for the curriculum and instruction. They all had a special why to learn because they were working in the midst of a larger social movement seeking to change the whole community. Live like them. Or, role play what school would be like there, and ask why it is not like this here.

Classroom Debates

Divide the class into several groups, each group to take a side on a given debate. Collectively explore the issues. Select a record and a speaker and let the speaker present the issues from the group. Frankly, this always drives me nuts. It creates a lawyer-like, amoral, consciousness, implying that one position is as good as the next, and that it does not matter what one really believes in. Sure, it makes sense to analyze the positions of the other side, and to avoid one-sidedness. But, for me, it works better to get the kids to outline the many positions that can be taken on a given issue, then to choose which position is theirs and let them have at it, in groups or not.


Each student plays a role in a moment of history. You set up the story, then let them take the action. For example, in a unit on the civil rights movement, have students seek to enact the moment of a lunch counter sit in. Let them set up the stools and live it through, perhaps with songs, etc. Use stop action moments to ask them what they are thinking and feeling.

Rethinking the Senses

Most of us, by the second or third grade, have learned that in school the most valuable sense is sight. This is a rearrangement of the order of senses, I think. There may be something to the metaphor that sight is focused on appearances, while listening, and other senses, can focus on depth. My experience in martial arts has also suggested to me that sight is a deceptive sense, and that the use of the whole panoply of senses produces a deeper kind of knowledge. So, try to work on rearranging the use of the senses from time to time, emphasizing the role of listening, smell, feeling, etc. That can be done in ways other than traditional multi-sensory learning. For example, in eyes closed listening exercises, etc.

My Teacher Has Cancer! Isn't She Pretty?

Sandy Donan, my dear friend since high school, is a long term teacher in Orlando, Florida. She is a published author and critic of childrens books. She is regularly on the short list for teacher of the year. In 1999, she was diagnosed with cancer. Rather than become overwhelmed with the assault on her life and body, she turned a very bad thing into a good thing. She had her class study her condition. They concluded her chances were pretty good. When her hair fell out due to the chemo, the kids took turns putting colorful temporary tattoos on the top of her head. She let the kids help her through. She made it. Every bit of her experience is a lesson in social studies methods.

Why Love, Work, And Knowledge Are the Pathways to Overcome Despair and Domination
And Why Love is the Key (which is not sappy bs) Especially in the Classroom

I am going to address this issue twice. The first approach will be to deal with the question built into the title above through history and philosophy. The second time around, we will go in through teaching, asking what can we do with this? Since we are all philosophers (we all have a world view) it will not be too hard to go through the first part to get to the second, and it will be worth it. 

Let us consider the Master and Slave relationship that is posed by great German philosopher, Hegel, throughout much of his work, but especially in the Phenomenology of the Spirit. Hegel was the fellow who served as a springboard for Marx in studying the relationship of things as they change, matter in motion, history. 

The allegory of the Master and the Slave as a method to critique tyranny is a strain the runs through all of written history. In every society where inequality led to oppression, the Master/Slave metaphor appears. As a challenge to cultural relativism, the Master/Slave interaction demonstrates that the way to judge any society is to look at how it treats its mass of citizens, the workers. In addition, the relationship shows that the Slaves are likely to have a standpoint that is at once usually obliterated, yet wise. To find intelligent action, look to the slaves.

This, for example, puts the lie to those who suggest that Robert E. Lee was a great gentleman, a military genius trapped in circumstances he never made, a tragic figure--not in the Master/Slave construct. Lee was an arch white supremacist, as were his friends and the generals around him. He bungled his war strategy because his aristocratic standpoint made it possible for him to feel terribly sorry for all those deaths at Gettysburg, and especially at Pickett's Charge, but to keep urging the poor white boy peasantry across the deadly battlefield, while he could not bring himself to adopt Washington's strategy: run away and fight a guerilla war. 

While no one can be expected to think outside or beyond their own historical circumstances, the Master/Slave construct makes it clear that in every circumstance, someone knew about social justice. There were many, many people in Lee's time who understood racism and fought it: John Brown, other abolitionists like Theodore Parker and William Lloyd Garrison, and above all, the slaves themselves. Lee chose sides. His West Point education did him little good, just as West Point's General Westmoreland was crushed politically, militarily, and morally by the un-degreed Vietnames Ho Chi Minh and General Giap. Cultural relativism crashes into the real world, the wisdom of the slaves, and disintegrates. As abolitionist Parker said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." 

The Greeks took up the Master/Slave as a method of understanding tyranny(see Leo Strauss, On Tyranny), and later on educator Paulo Freire borrowed very heavily from the German philosopher, Hegel, (Phenomenology of the Spirit) in writing his most popular book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In literature, James Baldwin's brilliant The Fire Next Time, draws on the same tradition, as does Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (take special note of the inter-chapters as a signal as to how the relationship is mediated). In kids books, see Farmer Duck, or, the earlier Joel Chandler Harris Brer Rabbit stories. In film, both Salt of the Earth, a banned classic, and Modern Times, draw on the Master/Slave metaphor. Hegel, though, examined the Master/Slave relationship more closely than most. 

Hegel believed, in formulating his vision of the world in great detail, that the world was a product of his mind (a typically religious position as expressed by, "In the beginning was the word...." or, "I think therefore I am"), which was the mind of a wise man. He considered his mind the culmination of the ages complete wisdom, and that he could see all of history in its totality-in retrospect. To start from his conclusion, as he did, all of the events of history were set up to reach to him. In his rear-view- mirror he could study just how those specific events came to their zenith, in him, in the government he lived in (Germany under Bismark which he late in life suggested was the perfectly harmonious society) and in his god, who he believed would be interested in all of the details of history. For Hegel, the totality of the movement of history, everything, was designed to reach toward God, through the wise man, him, and the highest stage of this movement, at which all the contradictions of history ceased (thus ending movement, change) was reached under the government he happened to live in. Not a bad deal if you are Bismark (the leader of Hegel's German government). But Hegel is more profound than that flippancy indicates. 

In philosophy, Hegel is known as an objective idealist, distinguishing him from a subjective idealist, and from materialists. I worry that saying philosophy at least twice in the same section may lead many North Americans to flee on to the next part. Don't do it, unless you can answer this question quickly, coherently, systematically, with no turns toward magical solutions, and not too much hesitation: How does the world work?

Most North Americans, victims of schooling, have become convinced that they are not philosophers, that they want nothing to do with the field, which really has nothing to do with them. Don't buy it. Take a minute with this and grasp the intellectual struggle (which is a practical life and death struggle) of the ages. 

A subjective idealist is, in philosophy, not just a person who would like to see a better world. An idealist is one who believes the world is a construct of their mind: I think therefore I am (Decartes). Ideas create reality. This is represented in all of the world's religions which, in one way or another, say this: In the beginning was the word. The word, of course, is the appearance of the mind. And, of course, this is nonsense. Nobody is an objective idealist. Such a person could only be certain of one thing, his or her own mind (which leads to a lot of selfish thinking afoot anyway). Such a person could not trust in gravity, not take a step without wondering if it would come down, could not function at all, since the only way to test for truth would take place inside that lonely mind. There is no possibility for change within subjective idealism, since change itself could be an illusion, as could everything. Hitler's notion that the world would end with his death is a good example of subjective idealism at play. 

An objective idealist (like Hegel) is a person who believes that while the world is indeed a construct of God, or their mind, it nevertheless exists, even existed before them and has a history, and the world is external to them, and can change, in limited ways, with God's will. There is no evidence of God. The turn to faith, worshiping rather than studying the unknown, is a very dangerous option--as all of history's religious wars demonstrate. 

A materialist is a person who believes that the world is external to them, existed before them, and that their ideas can become forces in recreating and changing the world. To add an important subset, a dialectical materialist, like Marx (who studied Hegel with great care) says: Things change. Dialectics is the study of change, dialectical materialism is the study of change in the material world. Here are two charts that may help deepen your understanding of this.

Hegel posed a Master/Slave metaphor that said human history began like this: First comes people. With people comes the desire for recognition, a key to understanding human motivation and action. With the desire (really the necessity) for recognition comes the need for hierarchy. Who shall recognize who? When one person meets another, who will submit by offering the first recognition? Then comes a life and death battle, rising out of Hegel's proposed desire for recognition, that is settled by one person becoming a Master, the one who was willing to risk his life for recognition, and another becoming a Slave, the one who preferred to live, but in choosing life also had to obey, submit. So, this is how Hegel poses the Master/Slave relationship to enter the study of human society. 

Once the relationship of domination is established, at the base of recognition is social production and reproduction. The Slave must work for the Master. In this sense, the only thing the Master and Slave have in common is opposition. Understanding the working out of that opposition is the crux of understanding how things change. 

It is the Slave's work that, on the one hand, realizes the Master's desire, and on the other hand makes possible a conceptual understanding of the world. Labor creates both value and knowledge. The worker, the Slave, has a standpoint that offers a much deeper grasp of the interaction of people and nature that changes the world, the processes of production. 

Work transforms the slave and the world, but the Master, who has an interest only in being recognized as Master, has only a little interest in work, that interest being sure it is done by an Other, the Slave. So, the Master has a limited, constricted, view of the processes of change, especially through work and knowledge, and the Master has only a limited interest in discovering the totality of what is true. 

To the contrary, the Master has a stake in being sure that the greatest truth, the Master/Slave relationship, is obscured, partial, fragmentary, constricted. The Master needs to deny the Slave a profound view of truth in order to maintain the pretense of slavery as the natural order of things. The Master cannot have the slave wondering about why the Slaves create value and knowledge, and the Master creates, above all, supremacy (even given the possibilities of technological and theoretical contributions). Why must the Slave continue to recognize the Master, or remain a Slave? 

(From here I am going to depart a bit from Hegel, extending his allegory on my own, but I do suggest that you read his interesting writing some day and I propose that you start with Kojeve's Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, as a beginning).

Work, then, is what drives the relations which people form in their struggle with nature in order to survive, it is one of three original negations, overcomings, that change life and knowledge; the others being love or sexuality(which Hegel does not address) and the deepening struggle for the truth, knowledge, which is inseparable from the struggle for production and sexuality. Each negation is chained to the others. And all three are moved by the permanent struggle for freedom in each area, in production, reproduction, and the struggle for rational knowledge. 

So, what is given, the natural world (including people), is negated, transformed, overcome, absorbed and passed beyond, by work, and what is given can never be the same again, but it caries forward elements of what it was. The finished product of work is both the truth of its origins, its overcoming, and a new product. Work, in transforming the natural world, lays the basis for concepts, knowledge, which can be tested and elevated by more work, practice. Work, in overcoming nature, is always social, and increasingly so over time. Systems of production, distribution, and exchange, tie people more and more together, as does the related struggle for knowledge, and desire, sexuality. In relation to work, knowledge, which reverberates back on practice/work, is also therefore social, collective. Think about making a Pinto in a Ford Plant. 

The Slave has a reciprocal relationship with work, which the Slave uses to change the natural world, and which changes the slave. The Master has a relationship with the Slave, a relationship that is rooted in domination, and which is therefore mainly exploitative, denying the Master the growing knowledge of production and of the Slave, whose outlook about work grows ever more profound. Consider Charlie Chaplin in the film Modern Times

The Master's relationship with the natural world is destroyed by the enslavement of another. The Master, in seeking to numb the Slave, more so numbs him/her self. The Master's outlook is limited, narrow, superficial, while the Slave, though oppressed and suffering the limited access to abstract knowledge that is available to the oppressed, has an interest in the totality of knowledge, an interest in struggling for what is true, while the Master never has an interest in anything but those partialities of truth which will support his/her mastery. The Master seeks to obscure, even invert the commonality of the Master and the Slave, in their humanity, and their opposition, in the social relationship of domination. In Salt of the Earth, watch the heroine. 

Knowledge becomes alienated, segmented, from the struggle for the greater truths. In our society today, we can witness a need for rocket science, and rocket scientists who care not a whit about the purpose of the rockets or where they land, we can see our deepening knowledge of the sameness of all of humanity being exposed by human genome projects, while at the same time scientists proclaim the objectivity of biological determinism, a lynchpin of fascism. 

While the Slave is transfused with the necessity of change, the Master will die to halt change-for the sole reason of remaining a Master. The Slave, then, is creative, evolving, producing not only for the Slaves, but for the Master as well. 

The Master consumes a surplus that is not the product of the Master's work, but the product of the work of the Slave. The Master does not evolve, but does violence to the Slave in order to consume the surplus. The Slave's work elevates the Slave's knowledge by creating the surplus, but the Master simply consumes it, and schemes to deepen domination, doing little to evolve, to learn, to transform the natural world or himself. By working, the Slave negates, transforms, overcomes, nature and him/her self, but the Master only seeks to nullify the humanity of the Slave and to consume surplus. Iin enforcing this relationship the Master grows ever more frozen, stultified, useless--yet despairing of meaning. Many billionaires realized that owning three SUVs was an empty life, even before they went bankrupt. 

The Slave, then, has a deepening understanding of the world as the Slave works to change it, and the Slave is conscious of this work and the need to change him/her self in relation to deepened grasp of the methods and products of labor. The Master, however, has an interest in seeing that the more the Slave labors, the more the Master is enriched- by taking whatever surpluses the slave may be forced to create. 

The Slave understands freedom. The Master confuses Slavery with the Master's freedom. The Slave knows the Master, completely. But the Master can never fully know the slave. So, the truth of the Master is in the Slave, both in the immediate moment, and in the future. 

Of course, the inequality of the Master and the Slave lays the ground for a continuing struggle about the size of the surplus which is to be created (by forcing more work on the Slave or through technological change which will not be used to benefit the work life of the slave but to enlarge the Master's surplus). There is a built-in struggle about the knowledge and processes of work. The more the Master has a grasp of the more whole vision of the work process, the more technology is used to de-skill the workers and make them replaceable like cogs in a machine, and in return the more the Slaves will struggle to retain their special knowledge of the process of work, and the more they will try to exert control over the surplus. Genuine slaves require very sturdy tools and long hours, to offset sabotage and slacking. The battle for control of the work and the workplace is a permanent feature of the Master-Slave relationship. 

The Master and the Slave are necessarily set at odds with each other, alienated. Both are alienated from one of the two most vital aspects of human life: labor. The Master's labor is primarily set in pace to exploit the work of the Slave. The Slave has minimal control over the processes and products of the Slave's labor, and the more the Slave engages in that labor, the more the Slave is impoverished by the process, the more the Slave enriches the Master. 

So, the Master has an interest in inequitable stasis, unfair balance, alienation, separation, exploitation, and partial analysis: ignorance and hatred (for hatred must be considered the sum of this). 

The Master therefore lives in contradiction to all of the processes of the world and its relationship with people: change, transformation, sociability, unity, and the greatest possible totality of knowledge. Propelled almost solely by exploitation, the Master cannot love. Authentic comradeship, friendship, is the bane of the Master, the overcoming weapon of the Slave. 

The Slave, however, initially seeks, typically, to use the habits imposed by the Master on the Slave to defeat the Master. For example, at first the Slave will resist piecemeal, breaking equipment, soldiering time, striking for better forms of slavery. The Slave may even be able to gain a larger share of the surplus over time; yet that bigger share only deepens the Slave system: golden handcuffs. Within the context of the Slave system, it may be that the more the Slave has, the less human the Slave is, the possessions blinding the necessity of freedom. Think of UAW workers, working 60 hours in hellish factories, in order to pay off snowmobiles they can rarely drive, while thousands of UAW members are jobless, dreaming of that forty hour week that once was. 

At first the Slave will likely be motivated by hatred. The Master, who has an interest in hierarchy, will in the beginning pass along the legacy of hierarchy to the Slave, as part of the necessary natural background. This will never break the Slave's chains, but merely reproduce things as they are in slightly different ways. What is necessary is a leap, a consummate break, a thorough-going overcoming of things as they are, breaking into an entirely new set of social relationships, absorbing and going passed. This is a revolution in mind, body, and society in which all aspects of all social interactions are turned inside out. This is the fire in the lake of the I Ching

The possibility for this kind of radical change comes from conditions as they are, and as they change. Forced work, which not only creates but recreates the Slave, is the key to the negation that makes possible a community that works freely, for a common purpose. Forced work over time not only creates social being and the possibility for abundance, but the struggle over the question of the requisition of the spoils of forced work makes possible the understanding of the need to share scarcity-which will probably be the temporary result of a move to overcome, of revolution. . 

Only the Slave, using many of the Master's tools but the standpoint of the Slave, can win the wisdom to see the totality of potential human relationships, their commonality. The vision of the Slave is made possible because of the subordination of the Slave-in understanding the need to completely abolish all forms of domination: in power relations, in sexual relations, in obscuring the political and economic background of what is true, and in production relations. This freedom from alienation rises out of the unfreedom that infects every aspect of the Master and Slave relationship, in which the Master's domination is also the Master's doom. Only the Slave has an interest in struggling for what is true, in its widest sense, and therefore we can say, again, as Hegel does, "The Truth of the Master is in the Slave." 

This truth is revealed in a reciprocal actions, connections: social practice engaged in production, scientific experiment, and struggle between the Master and the Slave, making ever more profound the consciousness of both actors, but especially the knowledge of the slave who has a reason to consider and act to create change-out of the conditions the Slave has him/her self mostly created through labor, through consideration, reflection, and reconsideration, and through sexual reproduction. 

Only the Slave can understand the necessity of love, of human solidarity outside exploitation. Only the Slave has an interest and the vision to puncture the Master-Slave domination, reaching forward to a new relationship rooted in equality and democracy, "from each according to their commitment to each according to their need." At the outset, motivated by hatred, it may be that the Slave will seek to merely demolish the Master, and to do so with some joy. But over time, the Slave who fights, like the Slave who works, learns that demolishing the Master does not necessarily demolish the relationship, destroying the personification does not destroy the system. The Slave then learns that Love, life, care and community are the sole ways out, and that the destruction of the potentialities of human life, while perhaps sometimes necessary, should never be conducted with joy but with the greatest respect and sorrow for what might have been. It is thus that it made some considerable sense for Che Guevara to say, "It may seem absurd, but the true revolutionary is motivated by love." Guevera actually trailed Hegel who was clear: The powerless best understand the necessity for love as a remedy to unjust rule, and that the pathway to love is overlaid with the interaction of rigor, and defeating conceit.

Solidarity cannot be manufactured from faith or the mists. Hope cannot be rooted in superstition. Hope and love are logical outcomes of the development, the ontology, of human social being, our struggle interacting with nature to produce, reproduce, and understand.

Only the Slave has an interest in the totality of human interactions, in genuine love, and that is why the slave is the possessor of both sides of the greatest wisdoms: the need for a total transformation of the way things are, not by dreaming but by the struggle with things as they are, motivated by love; the hidden harmony that can be seen in the distance, the harmony that can grow out of the fundamental discord of the Master and Slave. Love cannot be broken away fro m freedom. 

This is the struggle for the truth that is at the crux of social justice, envisioning a future which overcomes, annihilates, the Master-Slave relationship in the name of love, community, freedom through connections with others, solidarity. The process of overcoming, absorbing but going beyond, which involves using work to forge an understanding of freedom, is not a process of freedom from work and the hard tasks of honest critique, but the freedom that grows from social practice and reflection. Overcoming is not simply absorbing, nor demolishing, but using knowledge to pass ahead, to absorb yet create anew, perhaps rejecting yet memorializing much of what has been. 

At every intersection of the Master-Slave relationship, it is in the interest of the Master to fabricate inequality, and in the interest of the Slave to build equality. Harmony, though, cannot prevail over, cannot annihilate, nor overcome, disharmony by declaration or dreaming. Harmony must be fashioned from the existing world as it changes. Nothing comes from nothing.

The Slave, whose habits are contradictory in that they both reflect the past and the future, has as a compass (and not as a dogma) answers to the key questions facing decisive issues in life. In terms of labor and production, and exchange: freedom, solidarity and equality. In terms of decision making power: democracy and community. In sexuality: love, not exploitation. In the totality: Love and Freedom, equality, democracy, community. 

Now what might all this revolutionary-philosophy pap have to do with teaching?

Let us pose this convenient fiction: nobody lives outside the Master-Slave relationship, though we do live along different gradations of the Master-Slave spectrum, and sometimes we shift up and down it, becoming personally more or less oppressed. Of course, our position on the spectrum is deeply influenced at birth, and the by the vagaries of life, by our race, our use of language, our cultural capital, our sex and gender, our nationality, our immigration or exile status, the love that has been offered to us by intent or mistake in the course of life, our access to books and industrial work, etc. But the key understanding, to me, is knowing that the Master-Slave relationship is actually no fiction, but there, and that it is primarily a question, inside the developed system of capital, of social class. 

To deny the centrality of class is to deny the existence of the Master-Slave relationship, and its sources. It is to deny the social development of humanity on the planet, which is enveloped by the increasingly frantic processes of capital, uniting and dividing people at the same time, along the broad lines of the Master-Slave fissure described above. 

Teachers fit into the Master-Slave spectrum, these days, as people who are living fairly well, within the class of Slaves. Teachers are among the last people in many communities who have health benefits attached to regular paychecks. Teachers, school workers, commonly vacillate between the interests of the Master and the Slave, too often choosing the side of the Master. It is no accident that teachers were among the first to volunteer to be Nazis in Germany, were among the first to strik against the Bolshevik revolution, in favor of the Czar. There is no history anywhere since the development of capitalism as a world-wide system where the majority of teachers have taken the side of the Slave. But many teachers have, and some played leadership roles: Mao, Lunacharsky, Margaret Haley, Paulo Freire. 

But what would this have to do with teaching in a classroom teaching? Everything, particularly the focus on using an examination of things as they are, current conditions, to demonstrate the possibilities of the future, to suggest that hope is inherent in the development of our very being, and that hence there is a reason to learn. But let us take this in parts.

If we all live within the Master-Slave context, then our institutions do as well. The institutions of commerce as well as those of government are designed, not as neutral bodies, but as instruments, weapons, of the Master. This is true of schools, which serve many complex and often contradictory purposes, demonstrating the rubbing that goes on with the Master-Slave relationship. Both the Master and the Slave want schools, but they want schools to do different kinds of things. 

Schools do at least 3 things: (1) They serve as skill and knowledge training centers. People learn to read, type, multiply, etc. They also, depending on where the school's inhabitants fit along the Master-Slave spectrum, teach some critical thinking skills. However, the key role of school is to (a) deny the relationship of the Master and the Slave, to demonstrate that the world cannot be understood, or that if it can be analyzed, doing so is dangerous and acting on that knowledge is doubly dangerous, hopeless. (2) Schools warehouse kids, serving a vital babysitting purpose for working parents, and lock children into their position on the Master-Slave spectrum. (3) Schools are huge markets and commodities themselves, considering the salaries, the building and architectural costs, the land, the rent, etc. None of this happens without internal tension, between differing Masters, between differing Slaves, and between the Masters-Slaves; each having differing desires from school, and each gaining turf in varying ways. The schools do not belong entirely to the Master, just as the factories do not, but they do belong mostly to the Master, just as the prisons do. 

Even so, there is a usually unnoticed fourth thing school does: manufacture hope--false or real. This is the main reason people send their children to school, and it is a great deal to work with. School workers make choices about what kind of hope they construct, false or real. Whether they are conscious of the whole blueprint of their labor, or just add another brick to the wall, is a watershed matter, setting up the initial choice. Most teachers, though, have never considered the question: What value do you create? Stripped of understanding their vital contributions in production, reproduction, contending on the issue of real and false hope, education workers create enormous value. Only the Master gains from slaves who do not comprehend the value they themselves create. 

If labor and the production of knowledge are critical to the working out of the Master-Slave relationship, that implies that those positioned in the most vital sector of that relationship, in industrialized societies the industrial working class, would be best positioned to take action-in the factories, in the military, in the jails. 

That, however, can be an abstraction, a dogma., for it is not the case in North America today. What is true in North America (keeping in mind that the Slave must carefully understand concrete conditions and their potential for change) is that presently it is school, not factories, not the military, not the jail system, but schools, are the centripetal organizing point of social life, and it is quite possible, likely, that serious social change is going to have to first rise out of the schools, reverberate into the other sectors of society, which can and must then take leadership roles. Teachers, then, sit in a vital spot in North American society. 

There is another dogma that must be overcome before we enter the classroom door and set up the question: What do I do about curriculum and instruction? That issue again relates to understanding the project's blueprint.. 

We know that socialism has failed. Socialism failed in trying to answer every one of the key questions of life. Socialism failed to build equality in matters of labor and production. In fact, socialism thought to use capitalist methods of work (Lenin once said that socialism is electricity plus the party) and capitalist incentives (the party leaders must have the nice houses and make the decisions) to create abundance to, later, create equality. Socialism never seriously addressed questions of hierarchy as a matter of a subversive force within, nor did socialism ever seriously address issues of freedom, love. Furthermore, constructed on this disingenuous base, socialism never seriously sought to build a mass cadre of critically conscious people armed with the compass described above-perhaps because all soon recognized the promised democracy and equality of socialism was a fiction. Socialism, finally, never understood that the way people learn may be as important, or nearly as important, as what they learn. Millions, perhaps, billions of people living under socialism were told about the Master-Slave relationship. Few understood it, or took it to heart. Socialism had no plan to end it. Thus the horns of the dilemma: the material base of inequality went untouched, the ideological base of inequality went without profound critique. Socialism wrecked from within. 

It follows from this (the central role of schools and the failure of previous movements to resolve the Master-Slave relationship), that teaching well is a significant part of overcoming the brutal existence of the Master-Slave. Particularly, what can education workers learn from this?

We turn now directly into the classroom, where the idea that the way people learn influences and sometimes defeats what they learn, and indeed is a significant part of the way out of the Master-Slave trap. Teachers, who live within the spectrum, take sides. Those who understand that they fall on the Slave side of the spectrum themselves touch the future, because they understand the present. Those who foolishly tie their fate to the Master, serve the past. But how shall those who want to serve the future teach? With a compass, not with a dogma; with the understanding that what they do must come from a clear grasp of concrete circumstances.

Teachers, however, have a choice. Here is what the old Industrial Workers of the World portrayed as the pyramid of the capitalist system:

Notice that at the top of the pyramid is money, capital, representing a system out of human control. At the bottom are the workers, saying "We feed you, we work for you." In between is the military (we shoot you, and others, including a representation of priests, etc., saying, "We fool you." Teachers must choose whether to join the priests or the workers. 

Consider the parallel of the labor of the Slave (which can deepen enslavement and simultaneously show the way out), and school-work, in good circumstances, the struggle for what is true, in common circumstances, the struggle to unveil what is true despite the social conditions that obscure it. After all, a society that promises its children perpetual war is going to have peculiar designs on schools. 

Grappling with what is in order to reach what ought to be requires an understanding of the social reality, the setting, of schooling in capitalist North America, and perhaps nearly everywhere. There is no single system of schooling. In the broad sense, there are probably four or five. There are elite private schools where the scions of wealth go to learn to force the processes of the world to work to their sole benefit. There are genteel public schools where the upper class or managers and technicians, doctors, corporate leaders, lawyers, etc., sends its kids. There are middle class schools where the teachers and social workers et al send their children. There are extraordinarily poor rural schools where people who often do not have running water send their kids. There are urban school systems which are often as internally segregated as they are set apart from suburban schools. Urban centers may contain a few elite schools, some middle class schools, and some pre-prison horrors. Most schools are also segregated internally by tracking systems which deepen the sorting of kids, probably first by those labeled with disabilities. It is reasonable to say that the schools are less and less free, less and less interesting, less and less authentically rigorous as one heads down the parent-income spectrum--and more segregated every day.

Let us pin this down some more. For example, let us say that we know a teacher-in-service-to-equality-democracy-and justice who lands a job by luck and talent (assuming no social movement in the US now has the ability to place cadre where it chooses, either because it has no jobs, or it has no cadre, or it has no disciplined cadre who will go where they are asked to go) at a working class school at nearly any grade after kindergarten.. What will they see in their school? They will probably see that most students have learned that learning itself is inconsequential. Some students find learning important, but primarily as a pretense, scoring well on exams, getting a reward, perhaps as a passage to college, which will be a passage to something else. Most students will have learned that intellectual freedom in school is dangerous and undesirable. They will know the teacher is the Master and they are the Slaves. They will probably enjoy the social aspects of school, among themselves, where they will frequently recreate mini-Master/Slave relationship. There will be a good deal of: "Tell me what to do and I will do it." Or students will sullenly reject the struggle for knowledge altogether, as a counterfeit process. Many students will be angry, depressed, insecure--perhaps falsely aggressive. In the earlier grades, they will whine, tattle, soldier through the work; in later grades they will start to break the less sturdy of their tools. The students often will not have the assortment of intellectual and material implements that are commonplace in the suburbs: research skills, sophisticated habits with the language, connections with print literacy, and on-line computers at home and, the greatest of commodities: time. 

The Master Slave relationship permeates the classroom, where the slaves , the students, (and the teachers, many of whom will insist they live in a free society but will admit they are afraid to speak their minds in school) have quickly learned that learning is not learning but a hoax or a series of hoaxes, so there are two things that must be broken through, the why to learn, and the master/slave relationship of the classroom itself. If it is accurate that the truth of the master is in the slave, then there must be some truth in the idea that teachers have a lot to learn from their students, things that are even primary to what the teacher know, tho only in a relationship to those things. And the why to learn must be reestablished. That requires both a reason, and a ground, a space, in which it is possible to be honest. The basis of both is love.

Many teachers, even those of good will, initially see a lot of student deficiencies. (I do too. Students come late. They are poor and have no time, that is, they have no capital) Some teachers choose to simply fill in the blanks, to tell the students just what it is that the teacher or the textbook think they must know-because there is clearly so much of the cannon, the common social skills, the language, that they just do not know. The teacher may lecture, insist, feed her ego, become brittle, haul out the well-proven overheads, attempt to goad school work using the Master's motivators: fear and greed. If this fails, a typical response is to grow ever more insecure as it all comes apart. Or, should it appear to work, the next move is to deepen what is being done, more direction. More unfreedom, which most of us are pretty good at. 

These teachers, many of whom unwittingly fit themselves on the Master-Slave spectrum closer to the Master than the students do, commonly forget the humiliating fact that what the students do know may be more important than what the teacher knows, such as the existence and local conditions of the Master and the Slave in school, and their material interest to turn that relationship inside out. Many honest beginning teachers believe they can enter urban schools and convince children that Good Policeman Dan on the corner is their friend. The kids know that the cops are not their friends, and they are right. The teachers have something important to learn. That bit of kids particular knowledge, which may be immature and reckless, is more profound. It is thus the better starting point, learning with humility what the students know about their social condition, and helping them organize that knowledge, to test its truthfulness. What are the social conditions of our lives? Who lives in the huts? Who does the work? Who lives in the hacienda? Why? Why does this school look like this? What does that have to do with history, and power? The humility that makes this possible is rooted in love, the vision of the future overcoming. 

Other teachers, come in from the other angle, slavishly emulating the students and offering them freedom as an abstraction, license, pretending that by a change of mind the students become free, when all of the conditions of their lives are not free, when the labor that the students can use to set themselves free, practically and intellectually, is not done. These are the "Empowering," solely student-centered teachers, those who think one empowers another by declaration. Lost, understanding that this class is an aberration, the students appear to abuse this license as license, when in fact they are doing just what every message of their lives has told them to do. They don't do the work because they have learned that work is all a sham. This is a fold in the same cloth that made the domineering teacher above, in this case oppression masked as freedom. It is an effort to enter the paradox of ethical action ("How can I keep my ideals and still teach?") inside an irrational system without noticing the authentic potential of change within it. When someone tells you they are going to empower you, grab your wallet. 

Still other educators, seeking progress in the mind, not in labor and the struggle for what is true, become heroes, spectacular educators on a lecture circuit, proud that only initiates can understand them, or mimics of characters, like those flukes who become Ben Franklin, but rarely his mistress. This self-building corresponds to the egoism of their comrades above, whose notion of Mastery begins with only their own eyes. Some of these folks plunge so far into theory that they conclude that they alone can interpret the infinite complexities of the universe, and that their language alone can explain it. The begin to write in ways so obscure that no one can read them, and then they misttake their obscurity as superiority. They then become what they set out to oppose, monologists--God Speaks. 

Other people, especially Western Marxists who follow the work of what is called the Frankfurt school, became so enamored with the power of the Master, and the way the Master's rule is incorporated into the daily habits and thinking of an entire society, that they came to believe everyone is ensnared, encapsulated, and that there is no likely way out. Others, like Foucault, studied systems of repression, prisons and mental health systems, and concluded, like the Frankfurters, that all are trapped. Part of the reason they reached this sense of fatalism was that they located domination in culture and language, not in ownership and labor, and concluded that the way out had to be made up, almost solely, of an intellectual leap---that was unlikely to occur. On the one hand, they ignored the deepening SOCIAL nature of society, the unity of people growing over time through systems of production and exchange. On the other hand, even in examining language and culture, they failed to see the dialectical interplay of deepening language differences between the Master and the Slave, the creation of entire populations with 'different ways to live, and different ways to speak, entirely different ghetto talk and ghetto action. Things change. 

At issue now, in a world society so completely united by systems of production and exchange and technology, is a massive change of mind about how we want to live, rooted in understanding why we live as divided by nation, race, sex, and class as we do today. I think we should struggle for a society where people can live reasonably free, connected, creative, equitable, lives--at home and at work. Built into daily life are all the messages that, combined, can make that change of mind possible-even though we are asking people to imagine what they have never lived. 

Good teaching must grapple with the vital tensions of the particular and the general, the actual and the potential, appearance and essence, the gap of what should be and what is. Those who wish to contend on this terrain with wisdom do well to recognize that this requires a connection of a clear understanding of concrete circumstances in their greatest possible particularity, and a vision of the whole, both in its immediate Master/Slave sense and the desire for a greater good. The crux of the dialectic of good teaching , teaching to overcome the Masters' system of educational irrationalism, is to enter that interaction with a good compass, humility, deep gentleness sometimes overlaid by tough rigor, and love. Things change. We can count on that. At issue is how, and toward what end? 

My own choice has been to offer freedom within rigor, but not in rigor's absence. I insist that students develop and pursue their own questions, offering one question that propels much of my research as an example: Why do so many people so willingly become instruments of their own oppression, and why do others choose to resist? I interfere with them as the develop their questions, but always leave the final decision to them. I then circumscribe their reading and research, again leaving final decisions to them, but urging upon them the critical texts in the area they are exploring, if I am familiar with them. I have not, yet, told students they can only read the books I know, but I have told particular students that they must initially follow a path I outline, allowing them to depart later on, once they have demonstrated they can get going. My interpretation of the Chinese symbol for change is that it also represents "easy." As experienced teachers know, when the work is done, things changing do appear to be going easily. 

There are many ways to enter the dialogue of the Master and the Slave, the critique of tyranny and the interrogation of freedom. 

The kids's book, Farmer Duck, is always an interesting starting point, for both kids and adults (and pay attention to the Duck at the end). Clack, Clack, Moo is similar. Hooway for Wodney Wat is a delight. The trickster tales like Brer Rabbit have all the wisdom of the Master/Slave dialogue built right into them, evidence that the dialogue is not an abstract philosophical construct, but drawn from daily life. The struggle for what is true is an inexorable necessity of the human condition. It must go on. Just as workers must resist at work. And people will find ways to make love in a society preaching abstinence. All of this must happen and will. What is difficult is transforming what must happen into what ought to be. Love absorbs, critiques, overcomes and goes beyond. Domination can only restrict, and is thus violent--and cannot forever prevail. 

With adults, I have learned a great deal by posing a society which, "does not exist, and is surely not this one, but which is divided by Masters and Slaves. I then pose these questions, usually in pairs, like: What must the Master do? What must the slaves do? What does the Master want and what do the Slaves want? Here are my questions, set up so you can easily copy them onto an overhead sheet. Make up some of your own. Yours will be better, since you know yourself, your kids, and your social context. 

Master Slave Questions

Are all people free? Are they free to be fully creative at work and at play? Who is not free? Where are we not free? Are we free at work? Is not work the key part of our lives? Is freedom a matter of isolation or of community? Which is the greater freedom, being fully alone, or being among the company of equals? If people are not free, who are they? Might we pose the split of the free, and the unfree, as a Master/Slave relationship?

What does the Master want? 

What does the Slave want? 

What must the Master do? 

What must the Slave do? 

What does the Master want the Slave to know? 

What does the Slave want the Master to know? 

What does the Master want the Slave to believe? 

What does the Slave want the Master to believe?

Who has the greater interest in the more profound truths?

What mediates the relationship of the Master and the Slave?

What element(s), within this relationship, might provide the ground to change it? 

How do we get from what is, to what ought to be, without relying on magic? 

How did Mao deal with Stalin?

Everyone wonders about that, of course. You will remember that Mao was the leader of China’s revolution, which reached its heights during and after WWII. Mao was in need of Soviet supplies and assistance. Stalin was the leader of the USSR at the time, in fact he was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1942. and earlier in 1939: Stalin was a font of advice on strategy and tactics for Mao’s Chinese Red Army. The drawback was that Stalin, who knew little about Chinese conditions, and who had in mind a nationalist USSR agenda of his own, wanted his directions followed, and it might be that need resources would be denied if his good word was not taken as gospel. Mao was no fool. He wrote long letters to Stalin, telling him that Mao would be following every step that the genius of Stalin ordered. Then Mao did whatever he felt was right, knowing Stalin was a long way off.

In the same vein, I was in a Dearborn, Michigan school in 1998. Michigan had implemented an English-only law. Dearborn was, by then, not the white-racist suburb founded by Henry Ford that it once was. It had a large Arab-American population. When I visited class after class, I noted that the language of instruction was Farsi, or Arab-American. I stopped a good friend, the director of curriculum, in the hallway and said, “Hey Mike, that’s not English in that classroom,” just to see what he would say. Mike replied, “Not English? Of course that is English. You are just hearing it as not-English. You have a problem.” He wandered off chuckling, having settled the problem completely, and opened up a dialogue in my mind about the amazing variety of Englishes spoken in the US. 

I once worked for a cosmo-demonic agency: the Wayne County (Detroit) Department of Social Services. I was a caseworker. The agency was designed to convince people, whose main problem was that they did not have money, that their problem was themselves. It became clear to many caseworkers that the thing to do was to leave most people alone, and see that they got as much money as we could get to them. But the agency was also an obsessive bureaucracy. Our bosses kept developing new programs, which usually only meant new forms to fill out, and no new money to the people. So, when they demanded we fill out the forms, we nodded and smiled, and threw the forms away. We found that the more we threw away, the better off our clients were, since most of the forms were designed to somehow cut grants. The more paperwork our bosses demanded, the more we nodded and smiled and promised to have it tomorrow. And then we threw that paperwork away. It became a key survival mechanism.

Now, how might all of this apply to more and more standardized curricula and tests, more forms to fill out, more demands from on high–which so often mean you lose your most precious commodity: time with individual kids? 

What’ Up?

One way to introduce current events is to assign rotating groups of students assigned to lead an opening class discussion of, “What Up?” Their task is to select a topic of contemporary interest and to initiate a multi-logue about it. The key is their preparation, which takes some preparation itself. What is it that makes a topic interesting? What questions produce good discussions? How can we learn about an event in some depth, but quickly? What might the many disciplines of social studies do to illuminate this topic? 

Newspapers in Education

Most newspapers in the US, and around the world, are merely print wrapped around some ads. Newspaper owners have one goal: profits. Newspapers present knowledge in disjointed ways, emphasizing bogus common national and local interests, rarely criticizing the relations of power . Even so, they are the source of much of our daily information.

Recently, most newspapers have adopted, more an more, a tabloid approach to the news. For example, they cover one thin scandal after the next (remember Elian, OJ, missing children, etc.?) with little depth. One spectacle is heaped on the next. We have a series of fleeting appearances that never seem to have much substance, rather like an action movie with no plot; exciting but hollow. This is true of the best newspapers, like the NY Times, and the worst. Newspaper owners want teachers to use their papers in classrooms, and often give them to us free. What teacher with limited resources can reject that?

The key is to recognize that everything that exists is useful in some way, as something to criticize, and that criticism needs to begin with the central issues that confront people: work and the social relations that sets it up, the construction of knowledge, and reproduction. So, one way to analyze newspapers is to analyze the work relations they have. How do they treat the press operators, the clerks, the delivery people, etc? Or, examine the way they construct ideas. Follow an Elian-type story and watch what happens to it. Or, try for coherence: assign each kid a third world country for the year (better have them pick one) and see how it is represented. Another method is to take a look at the positions newspaper took on key historical questions like civil rights, the wars on Vietnam, even the Civil War. Why would what they do today be much different? Remember too that kids who write student newspapers have no rights of free speech. That could become an open question about newspapers, reporting, democracy and the bill of rights in a classroom.

One teacher I know has a Spectacle Lockbox, something of an outhouse for diversions. She has the kids decide, each day, what is important, and what is a false lighthouse. The latter are cut out of the paper and placed in the Lockbox. Every month the kids review the spectacles to see if they are still current, or vanished from sight.

Beware of Golden Handcuffs

The constraints that turn a good school or classroom into an alienating one are not always obvious. Sometimes a quick glance at miserable children sitting in careful rows doing spelling lessons is enough. But there are also constraints that can ruin good teaching that are less obvious. For example, take textbook selection committees. Now, suppose you are offered a chance to be on the committee this year. What does that mean? It may mean that you get out of your classroom and meet with adults for days at a time, often talking about interesting issues. You might even get to go to the district leadership center (whatever it may be called) and meet with textbook executives. And you may get a chance to participate on state-wide or national adoption teams–and pick up nice reimbursements, perhaps free luggage, and great trips along the way. These are golden handcuffs. Suppose, instead, you take the other route and insist that the district get rid of textbooks altogether, and use the money buying real books instead, perhaps hiring a few aides to assist classroom teachers. Or perhaps you see a third tack; join the committee and bollix it up completely. You can often choose to put on, or take off, golden handcuffs, which is a social study. 

Read Some Good Books, Bilge the Textbook

Throw away the adopted textbook which is meant to replace the classroom teacher with the thinking bureaucrat at Time-Warner. Better, join the text-adoption committee. Refuse to take the bribes and time away from kids. Get your colleagues to spend the school money on real books. One reading of Dicken's "Hard Times," is worth a dozen walks through Houghton's "US from 1865 to the Present." Boring.

Boredom is the most dangerous of all human emotions. A corollary to depression, it represents anger turned inward, at a high point. Textbooks are boring. Real books are not. As an adult, read Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," and marvel. Read W.E.B. Dubois', "Black Reconstruction in American," and see genius at work. If the kids find a work boring, perhaps you introduced it in ways they find boring. Maybe you did not set up the why well. Maybe it is boring. Or maybe it is boring now because it doesn't fit the kid. Why should the kid fit the school?

It may be that the route in is through fiction for some kids, so learn some fiction. Truman Nelson is a good start. Check his novel about John Brown, "The Surveyor." So is Isaac Assimov's science fiction, the,"Foundation Trilogy." Or you and the students might love the Flashman series. Elementary education students still delight in Landmark Books. I only wish Bennet Cerf was alive to say that they are racist and out of date, and they need to be rewritten. Take a look at the work of Phillip Putnam, a British kids' fiction author who suggests that there are no angels, and if there were, they would envy people.

Here is a tactic: Stop Now and Read For Fun! (SNARFF). This most respectable acronym means just what it says. Let us take a break and read, well, whatever. Let us do it for an hour. Well, there is the SAT9, or the MEAP, so let us steal a half an hour before the test steals the day. Read a map. Read a book of world records or a baseball encyclopedia. Egad, even read the teen magazine. Freedom, self-discipline, and rigor are all stitches in the same cloth. Give your children a chance to make choices about what they read, and over time most of them will make good ones.

No, it is not possible or desirable to preview every book your kids might read. Finding a good book is often serendipitous, like grabbing the wrong book off the right shelf in the library. Such has been much of the breakthrough research of our time.

The Eye of the Beholder

Louise Rosenblatt, in a tedious volume titled, The Reader, the Text, and the Poem, believed she discovered that there is a dialectical relationship between readers and texts, that is, one interprets and reinterprets the other. The only reason to know about her is that she has insisted for so long that she made this discovery of the obvious, that other people refer to her a lot. In fact, what Rosenblatt misses entirely is as important as what she in fact did not discover, but claimed. What she misses is the social context that texts are written in: the conditions of power, inequality, domination, and resistance that create the setting for the existence of the text and the reader. In other words, like many of the kind but naive practitioners of a wing of the whole language movement, Rosenblatt wants to pretend that politics and economics do not enter the question. They do.

Even so, everyone has a more or less unique take on the meanings of texts. So, to bring out the eye of the beholder, give each student in the class to think about a passage in a shared text that they think is important. Then have them read that section to the class. Each student should have a chance to do this–unless they themselves have all chosen the same part. Then, when the readings are done, ask each student why that passage became key to them, and how that fits in relationship to others’ choices. 

You are Albania!

This was my lot in my elementary class, when I was absent for a long time with a tonsillectomy. I came back to class to discover that my teacher, Hope Linstruth, had offered every kid a country. The only catch was that it could not be in Europe. It could not be the US, nor could it be China or the USSR, nor Japan, nor in Scandinavia. It had to be a third world country. With around 50 kids in the class, it didn't seem there were many countries left. So I picked the first one: Albania. We would hold cross-country meetings every week, and a time was set for us to see what was up in our country each day. Information about Albania was hard to find. That, of course, ruined me forever. I have been following Albania ever since. The maneuver caused me to re-set my world view. (Yes, Albania is in Europe, in many people's eyes, anyway. But who knew that then?).

William’s Testament About His Fabulous Vietnam Unit

My student-become-good-friend William was beset by troubles in the semester of his student teaching assignment. His “Loml” (love of my life) left him for the next door neighbor. His supervising teacher was impressed by his work and his relationship with the suburban  high school students he was assigned to teach. His principal, though, was most concerned about William who had a habit of speaking dissent in faculty meetings, siding with kids on questions of high-stakes testing, organizing contentious symposiums like the great debate between the vying factions of the Albanian community during the US bombing of Kosovo, etc. William was no kid, thirty something and closing in on another big odometer turn, and was not easily cowed; in fact, he was probably more assertive than good sense might dictate.

But this time he was innocent. Mostly. Honest. William was completing a challenging unit on the Vietnam Wars (using Marilyn Young’s fine text as a centerpiece). To bring the war home, William had worked with several of his classes in mapping the ground at Kent State University as it was in the spring of 1970. Kent State, Ohio, was the site of the National Guard murder of four students and by-standers, people who were involved in or watching a series of demonstrations against the Vietnam war in general and the illegal 1970 bombing of Cambodia in particular. The National Guard troops, claiming they were being pelted with rocks, opened fire into a distant crowd and continued to fire for about 15 seconds, killing four people. One was more than 700 feet away. The dead were: ALISON KRAUSE, JEFFREY MILLER, SANDRA SCHEUER, and WILLIAM SCHROEDER.

There is a lot of information on-line about the deaths at Kent State. (

William worked with his classes to make a to-scale map of the scene, carefully measuring distances, locating each participant, detailing who had done what, and, when the information was available, why.

Then William made the event real. Maps in hand, William took his students into the student parking lot. Each student was assigned to take the place of a Guardsman or a by-stander or a demonstrator. They paced off the distances and located themselves at the angles of history. The Guardsmen feigned fire. William’s students responded as per their character. At the close, they drew the outlines of the fallen bodies on the ground and wrote the names of the dead inside the chalk marks. Then they went inside to discuss what they had done.

Great class, eh? I thought so–gave William an “A” for it even before he tried it. After all, the students did the research, made the maps, did the scales, visualized mind and body the terrain at KSU, saw clear consequences on all sides, made logical and ethical connections. It was all there.

William’s class ended around 11:00 a.m. The students dispersed through the school, attending other classes. William continued in his room, working with another class on a unit on the French Revolution. 

At noon, the principal entered William’s room and whispered to him, “All classes are on security look-down. No one is to leave this room until you are visited by an administrator or me. This is top priority. It’s for the entire school system. We have death threats and a potential killer in the school system. Remember, no one leaves.”

The principal hurried out the door. William made the requisite announcement to the class, and the gossip and high-security planning began. School shootings were a not-distant memory. 

William saw the principal outside the classroom door, went outside to check for details. 

“What, exactly, is going on?”

“Haven’t you heard? Death threats. Four of them. We located one student named by the terrorist in an elementary school, another in the middle school, and we have another in the other high school on the other side of town. We placed them all in secure locations. It’s a clear threat. No doubt. But we cannot find the fourth person named. Say, do you know any of our families named SCHEUER?” 

Crap Detection

Kids are frequently little lie detectors, true enough. Many people who deal with kids all the time feel that children are divining rods for truth. There is no reason in history to believe that. Kids do have a sense of injustice (Thanks not fair!) but they are no more a pathway to truth than people who grow up to worship crashed airplanes, or torture symbols.

Over time, however, you can work with kids to develop a template of questions that are worthwhile in testing texts for truth. You may choose to use the Questions for Criticism on my www page ( but nearly as important is the process of kids developing the questions themselves. This does NOT mean that any question posed as a truth-finder is correct. You are in the room and will play a role in this, so your outlook on how truth is determined is critical to where your kids will go-a factor in everything that happens in your class.

You need to know how you figure out what is true and what is not. Is your test for truth in science, testing in social practice? Is your test for truth in superstition, faith? Is your test for truth in outside authority? You should know this well enough that you can explain it to a child. If you do not know this, you need to stop reading this paper and see me. Or see the sections on philosophy that I wrote on my www page linked here:

Good Questions better than Good Answers

The ego is the ruin of us all, eh? I like to pick on historians here. They are usually pretty nice, so I get away with it. Historians are inclined to stake out a piece of history and to become very very knowledgeable about it. That, after all, is their job-not necessarily what they thought it would be, but such is the struggle for a paycheck. Once the property is claimed, Pickett's Charge, for example, they dig and dig deeper. All to the good. But then, when teaching about Pickett's Charge, many historians (sweeties all) forget the passion that got them to wonder about Pickett and the people who he got killed, forget the methods they used to find out what they know, and insist that the thing everyone in their history class must know is exactly what they know. Ego. It doesn't work. The people in the class will mostly remember some Pickett details briefly, and then pass on to the next memorization. A few might really become Picketteers, mini-experts, as there are some good lecturers around, but most will not. Perhaps the instructor will become a reenactor, one of those teachers who comes dressed as Pickett, maybe even all semester. A cute maneuver, but what many people will remember is that the instructor came dressed as Pickett, created a spectacle, rather than the Charge, or why those pathetic young men went on it.

Better is to overcome the ego. Find your own method of motivation, perhaps by exposing what got you interested. Then, demonstrate the fascinating methods of history itself, the investigations, filling in the gaps, discovering new questions, guessing at answers and following clues. And then, ask questions and let people wonder. Why would the third wave of men in Pickett's Charge not just turn around and shoot Pickett and go home? Would they not have been better off? Explanation sometimes kills motivation. Good questions do not have one-word answers. Great questions have no sure answers at all.

Classroom Management?

The more meaningful the work, the more choices kids can make, the more they are respected and cared about, the more consequences are linked to things that matter rather than grades and artifice, the fewer problems you will have. Setting up routines for routine stuff, like a system of attendance, a system of distributing material, does not contradict this. Here is an interesting link to The Metamorphosis of Classroom Management by Fran Mayes

Just Tell Me What to do and I Will Do It

The only good answer to this common abused-student whine is, "No. What do you care about?" Being free, when you are accustomed to being unfree, is very hard, even when the freedom offered is very restricted. But there is no preparation for freedom other than freedom. This is a difficult contradiction.

If you find yourself in a fourth grade class full of kids accustomed to being ordered about, watched, marched in lines, thoroughly imbued with the habits of authoritarians, it is reasonable to expect those children to resist being free, to feel you are not doing your job, and for many of them, probably most, to slough off when it comes to doing some work. My experience leads me to loosen the reins slowly, to let them accustom themselves to me and the possibilities of different approaches. To me, every class must be built around the particular kids in it, and what they are willing and able to do.

However, my friend and mentor Jamie Myers feels otherwise, and has success. As a university educator, he may have more freedom to offer freedom, but he is facing an audience far more habituated to control. Jamie just cuts them loose. Students build the syllabus, set goals, decide on the tenor of the classroom. Some flounder. Others thrive. You decide.

He Who Insists He is the Khan, is Not the Khan

The few 9th dan martial arts black belts I have met were among the most humble people I have ever met. So were some of the best educators I have known: Ken Macrorie, Pat Shannon, and Hope Linstruth. Through deep practice all of them grasped, in one way or another, the need to buck the ego in a classroom, to consider the possibility that you might be wrong-of which there is always some evidence, even if it is not on display. It is often better to listen than tell, to question rather than declaim, to bow as you are under assault from the student who feels a need to denounce you, to spiral around and redirect frontal attacks . When in doubt, when anger and ego take control, remember that what is probably needed is a hug. They are, after all, children. Then again, on rare occasions, not. Martial arts involves learning to fight very well, so one will have the peace and balance to never fight. Teaching involves learning children, communities, and subjects very well, so they never feel as though they are being taught.

The Professional Organizations

Groups like the National Education Association, the largest union in the United States, and the National Council for the Social Studies, the professional group for social studies educators, are useful sites for resources and ideas.

However, all these groups are mired, uncritically, in the apartheid nature of teaching caste politics in North America. For example, nearly the entire black leadership of the faculty division of NCSS walked out of the organization during its 1998 convention when the executive director of the group, responding to criticism from the floor, said, "This organization is not going to be diverted by trivial questions about racism and national chauvinism when we have important business to conduct." Even so, it is worthwhile to attend conventions and make the good fight where you can-and get the free books.
There are many, many honest and innovative educators attending the meetings of the professional groups, and if you select with care you can attend the sessions they lead and gain not only cute tricks to play with kids, but new insights as to how our world can be seen and changed. Groups like the Rouge Forum attend the conferences and offer quite interesting material. There are also many, many people leading sessions  who know only how to play cute tricks with kids, and many powerful organizations who would like to sell those tricks to you. 

Here are some challenges:

 Do a geography of power in any large professional organization meeting. Take a trip to the Exhibitors area. Other than individual dues (often so high that teachers without capital cannot attend), this is where the money for the groups come from. Take a look at what companies and individuals occupy what space. You might ask what they paid for that space. Observe how many people come to which spaces, and what draws them, and who they are. 

 See how marketing is working at the exhibitors' area. What colors are used and why? What is being urged? Is the material designed to deskill teachers, or to urge upon them chances to inspire their own creativity in concert with their particular kids? How much does this stuff cost anyway? Would a major purchase of real books for the school library be better than a major purchase of textbooks? See here what Detroit's despairing public schools did.

 Do an investigation of who is who at the convention and in the exhibitors area. Take a stop watch into the exhibitors area and see how much time passes before you come in contact with a person of color. My colleague and friend E. Wayne Ross, now the Distinguished Professor at the University of Louisville and then the editor of the main social studies journal in the US, TRSE, did this at the assembly of the National Council for the Social Studies. Eleven minutes passed before we met an African American man we had known from years before. The point is not that the members of NCSS are evil racists, though some of them may well be. The point is that the structure of education in the US is racist, and that unthinkingly taking that as some form of normalcy is also racist. 

 Nevertheless, we all gain from friendly contact with others. The professional organizations are good places for elevating debates in the field, challenging yourself, and making friends. 

The Class is NOT Over

Many lesson plans are designed to simply begin and end. This demonstrates a vision that suggests the reason we are doing research is to finish it, perhaps to get to the questions on the test, in order to get to the next lesson plan, which will take us to the next test and the grade. This is tedium, and irrational. Tests and grades are not the reason to learn. Assessment can be done in many ways other than got-cha tests or falsely cut grades. Indeed, I believe tests and grades are always a form of alienation, setting teachers against kids, that damage the learning process. Tests and grades make kids dishonest, and they learn that early. For example, kids learn they are in a double bind: they need to repeat what the teacher says, and best in the way she said it. They learn that the truth is located inside the test, not in their own social practice. They learn that the reason to learn is to take the test to get a grade. Since the tests measure mostly class and race, many kids lose. And, as most people will agree, they wind up deciding that the construction of knowledge is a meaningless effort tied up with bubble-coding, not a question of life and death, as it is. Finally, testing suggests that once the test is done, so is the struggle over that subject, it is done and finalized. But nothing is done and finalized. We do know that what goes up will come down. We have a lot to learn about why that happens. Lesson plans should include steady assessment over time, of writing, art, etc. They should recognize the rationality in the notion that the struggle for knowledge simply does not end.

Imagine, Wonder, Guess

This is a vital social studies method. Without these factors, change is only incremental, never sweeping, never significant. Social change of any kind requires that people envision what they have never experienced in practice, and that they sacrifice to win it. This applies to research as well, which I have never found to be linear.  Serendipitous encounters with books on library shelves have often been my guides to the next stage of a research project. 

The Air on Both Sides of the Screen Door

If you wish to teach well, to gain and test knowledge in a reasonably free atmosphere in which risk taking and honest are privileged, you will need to develop deep ties in your community, and to bring the same changes to the community that you hope to see in school. In Detroit, for example, safe streets and good schools are key issues, and often issues that are captured by the right wing. However, Detroit Summer, the Whole Schooling Consortium, and the Rouge Forum are all working to change the schools and the city. Detroit Summer is uniting seniors and students in projects like urban farming, an educational community effort which ties youth together with everyone else, and makes the streets safer through positive collection action. The Whole Schooling Consortium is conducting action research projects, based mainly on inclusive education and democracy. The Rouge Forum is leading opposition to standardized tests, to the takeover of the Detroit school system by elites, and organizing educators, students, and community people in forums to discuss the school crisis throughout the US. The Rouge Forum is pointedly aimed at the contradiction between the working class and the employing class.

Here is a good question we are wondering about: Are closed schools better than open schools? Consider again the Freedom School of Mississippi Summer in the south. Surrounded by an energizing social movement, those schools were full of great teachers and why's to learn. They were superior in every way to the segregated schools of the south, except for supplies and roofs. Consider the decade long boycott of all schools led by the African National Congress during the apartheid years in South Africa. The opposition schools set up at the time were sometimes exemplary. Now, consider the parallel in your school. Having a community of others dedicated to a similar project is critical in remaining vibrant as a teacher. You are welcome to join the discussion.

I believe that if we are to struggle for what is true, at the end of the day we are going to have to bring an end to one key source of dangerous lies: inequality and its twin, authoritarianism. As long as these undemocratic birthrights are in place, there will be people underfoot who have a stake in lies. For example, some people profit from racism, although most do not. Racism poisons everything in a classroom, and often intrudes from the outside, in the form of standardized curricula and exams for instance. In order to address the roots of injustice, we need to go to the source, to political economy. Social change should not simply repeat the battles ofthe past, but learn from them. Clearly, the struggle against capitalism has created terrific advances, and huge errors and retreats. At issue is: what must people know in order to envision a better world and fight to create it, and how must they come to know it? That lesson is for another day. However, I do respect the work of Bertell Ollman on this and I invite you to a brief paper he wrote that is worth reading.


First, do no harm. Do not do to children what you would not do to yourself. Standardized tests, high-stakes exams, formal text books, harm kids. They constitute child abuse, a cycle that must be shattered. Find the ways to get enough power to stop using them. Break the pattern of abuse.

When you see children doing obnoxious presentations that you do not like, wonder where they got the model. Then, understand that teaching, perhaps better said as guiding, is a relationship in which all concerned are both teachers and learners. This is always an interaction, reciprocity, and implicit in the exchange is the reality of partiality. All knowledge is partial, so there is always more to be learned. When one player in the relationship feels full, complete, the relationship dies. There can be no exchange when a certain amount of humility, emptiness, isn’t offered as an opening. The wise teacher never loses the novice’s mind. 

Meditate. You are both part of a collective of humanity, and your lone self; a relationship. We have discussed examining the collective in many of the sections above, and suggested that part of discovering yourself is a passage of understanding interdependence with the whole; a process that is made more complete by developing empathy, being mindful of others and their issues.  Now, consider yourself in this moment. With all of your faults and self-doubt, some kind of terrific education got you this far, and you have every reason for confidence. The acceptance of yourself in the moment, being here now, is equally vital to a teaching relationship in balance. Certainly, all is movement, but within that movement is this moment, perhaps a moment when some form of kindness can reach into another’s mind and share some greater understanding. To reach into that presence, you need sanctuary from time to time, sanctuary for reflection, and  for peace. That comes with meditation. Some people meditate sitting still, which I think is the higher form, but others find they can pass into peace and centeredness by meditating at a full sprint. You choose. 

If you are centered, mindful, balanced, at peace with your lone relationship of self/whole, you will be in a much better position to listen, to hear what is being said to you in its fullest, beyond interpreting others through your ego and seeing what it is they need, and when. 

As my Kung Fu instructor, Sifu Robert Brown, says, “You must persevere. Keep at it. Be patient. Let things unfold as you enjoy the process of learning. This is not an excuse for indecision, or practicing other what you want to perform. Instead, decide, and practice exactly what you want to perform. Then detach, reflect, look upon yourself and what you are doing, or have done. When you see that you have done the best thing without thinking, involuntarily, you are on the right path. This kind of centeredness will get you through many of the good and bad times of life.”

You are not pulling people. If you do, they will only learn to be pulled, just as it is difficult to remember the directions to a place when you are just the rider in a car. You are opening passages for people, with a certain belief that they will, in a relationship, make some good choices, and some bad ones. Recognize the difference: is it ego or danger that makes you decide to stop bad decisions before they are made? 

More often than not, in a classroom it is better to yield than confront. For example, I  got a paper from a student who had read one book about the Holocaust and had decided that she knew why the German people had done so little to oppose it: “They were too busy with day to day chores.” Now, this offended me, a great deal. The German people were not too busy with their chores to notice the Holocaust. After the resistance of the communists and socialists was crushed, the German people were volunteering to assist in the extermination of the Jews, and many others. I know a lot about that, and felt immediately that this student needed to be set straight.

I wanted to say, “Michelle, one book does not an expert make. The German people, as dozens of scholars have described, were not off doing the laundry as you seem to think. They were, by the millions, cooperating in what they knew was the genocide aimed at the Jews. You need to read ‘Ideology of Death,’ The Cunning of History,’ and most of Raul Hilberg’s books, now.” 

Then I realized that setting her straight would really only shut her up, and off. I was responding with my ego, defending turf that I understood, possessed. I was starting with me and it, not her. Fortunately, marginal competence saved me. I failed to respond properly to her email, and my system froze, giving me a chance to reflect.

 She had a good question to pursue. She had not posed it, but the question, “What were the Germans doing then?” is implicit in her response, as is the deeper question about why they did it. So, we began an email discussion about these questions, which, now three years later, still interest her. 

Yield. When offensive ideas are hurled at you, do not be there to be hit by them. Yield, step aside, let them go past, and address the student’s problem who is hurling them–using whatever strength they have to move them in a more positive direction. 

This is the spirit of harmony, only to be found with disharmony, seeking ways for the former to prevail in the classroom. This is the pathway that recognizes the direction of the movement of society, and the parts that people have in it, the totality of motion that is made up of disparate parts. Harmony and freedom, inseparable from struggle and discipline, are key components of the processes of enlightenment.

Talking about teaching,  Anatol Lunacharsky, the head of schooling in the USSR right after the Russian Revolution, put it like this: “ I would like every Soviet citizen to be able to play one instrument very well, but to also hear and understand the full sound of the whole orchestra.” Wisdom is not simply thought, the one side of meditation, but also how one acts in regard to others–the reciprocal relationship of the two, each influencing and recreating the other. Wisdom, as Ira Gollobin describes in his life-work, Dialectical Materialism, is directly connected to freedom, each both a means to an end, the pathways to “new vistas for the head, hand, and heart, no longer wrenched apart, to attain a mass level of wisdom.” (p.452) 

Good teaching runs parallel to the struggle for social justice. Both are tied up with the struggle for what is true. This too has interrelated elements that appear to be dualistic, but in fact form a relationship that cannot be torn apart. Good teaching must be motivated by a deep sense of caring, love. At the same time, good teaching recognizes that the struggle for the truth has enemies, people who gain from obscuring truth, who profit from irrationalism. Love recognizes struggle.

“The constant frustration of dynamic movement towards truth prevents personal expansion and blocks the source of personal freedom. And all genuine love rests upon truth” (Charles Davis in John Cornwell’s Hitlers Pope, p.342). 

Those who oppose the struggle for what is true (a process), are often ruthless. Sometimes an abstract sense of love is not enough to harness them, but at the end of the day, a sense of love is what reaches into truth, and to social change that lasts. 

We often hear the phrase, “It’s for the children,” and who can oppose that? But just which children are we talking about? Whose children? Are we addressing the Dupont kids, or the Hernandez kids? Children do not exist outside society, outside their neighborhoods, which are routinely segregated by income and race. The “for the children,” line is too often a dodge, an effort to mask the class struggles that swirl around every child. For example, opposition to standardized high-stakes tests is often posed as being for the kids. But some of those kids do indeed benefit from the testing, though, carefully ensconced in private schools, they rarely have to take them.

Truth is a process and a product. It may spring eternal, but it springs within given social contexts; the context at hand being one mobilized by inequality and authoritarianism. I believe that, within a sociological perspective, the working class and all of its adjuncts is the body that has an interest in engaging processes toward truth, while dominance, the ruling class, has only limited interests in discovering deeper kinds of enlightenment. For example, it is in the interest of elites to have atomic scientists who know atomic science, who are also racists and nationalists.

However, a sociological perspective is clearly not enough to actuate the kinds of social justice that I hope to serve. It is quite clear that the working class does not instinctively discover the sources of its oppression and act. The working class does not possess truth, although it surely has a stake in it. Truth is external to the working class, and its representatives. Finding processes to reveal what is true, in ever deepening fashion, is a work that requires other disciplines as well, from ethics to philosophy to science and religion, each of which can contribute historical understandings that can suggests ways to leap beyond what is, to what can become. 

You are the Text, You are the Method, You are the Question

People have conducted great educational experiences in caves. Yes, money, time, class size, health benefits, academic freedom, a more just tax system, and a clear understanding of the workings of capital are all important. But nothing is more decisive than you. If you disturbed about the politics of this paper, here is a traditional site you may like:

Thanks to Amber Goslee, Hope Linstruth, Sandy Huber Donan, Ashlyn Rheam, Vickie Hall, Evan Hughes, Tommie Lee Suber, Mrs Sutfin, Teeyah and Moshe Swindle, Ann Smith, Tony Hernandez, Mary Coomes, Paul, Dan Harmeling, Mrs Pacheco, Art Delvero, Michael and Georgie Peterson, Sue Horning, Bill Boyer, Marty Kaye, Dick Bagg, Judy Depew, Greg and Katie Queen, Mr Willie Larry, Wayne Ross, Kevin Vinson, Nancy Lee, John Dewitt, Fredy Perlman, Ken Macrorie, Lyn Bartley, Patrick Shannon, Nancy Love, Susan Harmon, Miss Hitt, Sally Papavian Shephard, Jamie Myers, David Hursh, Steve Fleury, Doug Selwyn, Lucille Kosek, Marc Pruyn, and Val Oona Pang for their help.

Other sources? See my www page, the education classics section. In the recent social studies, Linda Levstik (who cannot be blamed for anything here) has a wonderful book, "Doing History," that is more than worth reading. Pat Shannon’s “Reading Poverty,” is an important demonstration of the connections between learning to read the word, and to read the world. Paulo Freire’s, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” is a classic  opening to the topic. 

I also recommend "Democratic Education" by Wayne Ross and Steve Fleury. For a sound, basic, text on the social studies, see Murry Nelson's work. He too should not be sullied by my suggestion to read his material.

I was asked by my students in 1999, "If you had time to read just three books in history or the social studies, before your student life ended and you became a teacher, books that we may not have read already, what would you pick?"

I had to think about that a lot, considering that what they seem to want are books that will be helpful pieces of information, that will be examples of good work in the social studies, and that will be enough out of the mainstream that they may not have encountered them So, I was not asked, "What three books would you take to a desert island?" Thank goodness.

This is what I say in 2000, recognizing that I change my mind sometimes.

1. Black Reconstruction in American by W.E.B. Dubois

2. Capital (as many of the 3 volumes that I can get away with) by Marx

3. David Copperfield by Dickens, or The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

(Cannot make up my mind. What is this, a test?)

Is it cheating to say that I thought Zinn's "People's History," Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Taught Me," Staughton Lynd's “Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism,” and Riordan's "Plunkett of Tammany Hall" are all mainstream? Then a good baseball encyclopedia and.....

Prometheus Bound by Rubens (

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