slave-poster

Another Education


I must admit that I’m impressed with the likes of The New York Times and Forbes for including perspectives from progressives about the state of education. It seems that the counter-narrative about the current state of education is delving into a solid set of talking points: no corporatization, inquiry-based learning, publicly-funded learning centers, elevated teacher professionalism, and financially equitable institutions, which will all create a much improved education system than the one proposed by edu-deformers.

These sound great in the larger scheme of these, but now that it’s become the modus operandi for my compatriots to sit in this lane, I have to push the envelope further.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the US Civil War, a battle ostensibly fought for the soul of a nation at the brink of its own dominant legacy, with an added major issue of slavery as a linchpin driving many of the nation’s conversations and holding this story together. What strikes me about the history of underrepresented peoples in this country is that, whether they sit on the left or right side of the aisle, it’s OK to abstain from discussing the ideologies that drove this country for the better part of three centuries so long as we can say we’ve given a verbal pittance to poor, colored people. Much of this is tied into money, certainly, but if the money didn’t exist, there would still be a driving principle of inferiority and denigration in varying degrees.

Even when many of my colleagues put in their best efforts, they must understand their privilege has a context they can’t ignore.

For instance, when many of us discuss education these days, we speak of it in terms of the policy, a worthwhile discussion. However, how often do we discuss the content of the ideas delivered to the children of the most disadvantaged? I’m not a big believer in saying the pledge of allegiance every day or every week. I don’t get into arguments about the practice and am respectful of those who disagree, I can’t in good conscience say I want to. There’s a founding document for these states that tells 35 million Black people in this country that they’re only 3/5ths of a person, and a founding father who justified his own contradictory beliefs about Black people by denigrating their humanity. There’s a centuries-long struggle for indigenous people in this hemisphere who are considered bookmarks to mock in the grand scheme of things. Women rarely have any opinion about anything in the world (to the canon-makers) until the late 19th century. Furthermore, these ideologues prefer to discuss the Holocaust primarily because it didn’t happen in America and we are so different from the America pre-Civil War.

All things considered, we can discuss what education looks like, but in this purview, we might also consider coming off our perches to see the underbelly of misinformation granted to those who can least afford it. Furthermore, education doesn’t need “business” to make it evil; sometimes, it can do the job all by itself.

There’s little reason why the only opportunity for this nation’s children to understand the nuance of America’s history should come in an elective 14-18 years into their educational careers. Maybe those of us who consider ourselves most educated have it all wrong about kids who refuse to learn in the classroom. Maybe they already see the lack of representation in the curriculum and would rather live outside of the lies they’re often led in the name of patriotism. Maybe they are merely reflections of the abuse and tyranny we’ve seen over these centuries turned on its ugly head. Maybe they know like we do that it’s the upper 10% who write the stories of success here and don’t want any part of the brainwashing.

Pardon my cynicism, but please understand: inquiry shouldn’t be about leading students to what you believe the answer is. It should be about giving them the tools to analyze the world for themselves. They get it eventually. I assure you.

If people knew that Abraham Lincoln was as reluctant about “freeing the slaves” as any Southerner, then they’d see the need to speak up more often. If people knew that Muhammad Ali the conscientious objector against the Vietnam War was ahead of the rest of the country without so much as a high school degree to his name, then they’d see the need to speak up more often. If people knew why Che Guevara and Dolores Huerta matter so much to so many people, then they’d see the need to speak up more often. If they knew how few people actually made it to shore from the Transatlantic Slave Trade, then they’d see the need to speak up more often.

If they saw that the 13th amendment abolished slavery for everyone except as punishment for a crime and how that directly ties into the current state of the prison industrial complex, then they’d see the need to speak up more often.

Or maybe not. By the time a young student even thinks of rebellion, they’re either taught compliance or residuum. We do need as many people who believe in the oligarchy’s ideology to clean up after them for next to nothing.

Jose, who will now go back to his regularly scheduled programming …

Jose VilsonAnother Education

Comments 6

  1. Michael Doyle

    Dear Jose,

    Keep it up, and I may start to howl alongside you.

    Most of us have had a lifetime of getting stunned into silence–you keep stunning the silence. My classroom is a different place now than it was before I stumbled onto your words.

    Not much else to say–talk’s cheap. Thanks for the kick in the ass–I need to get to work.

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  3. Stephen Lazar

    Good stuff, Jose. I read this right after reading Liza’s piece on Gotham. There’s a common thread that we need to start doing a better job of naming and discussing: it’s how we engage with our students in the classroom that ultimately matters.

  4. Mike Kaechele

    “these ideologues prefer to discuss the Holocaust primarily because it didn’t happen in America and we are so different from the America pre-Civil War.”

    This line cuts deep and I will be reflecting on it for awhile. As I prepare to teach social studies in a PBL school that hopefully will have a large ethnic mix of students I have been contemplating how to teach from as many viewpoints as possible, not just the conservative right, white male one. I definitely plan on teaching history subversively. Even if my students end up being predominantly white, I want them to understand that life has given them privileges and for them to understand alternative perspectives.

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