“When public schools are judged by how much art and music they have, by how many science experiments their students perform, by how much time they leave for recess and play, and by how much food they grow rather than how many tests they administer, then I will be confident that we are preparing our students for a future where they will be creative participants and makers of history rather than obedient drones for the ruling economic elite.”—Mark Naison, Fordham professor and social justice activist
“Here’s another way students are cheated. In elementary school, which I teach, we tend to go through genre studies. We take a genre of literature at a time and go through it. Well, now what more and more schools are doing is teaching the test itself as a genre—that is, studying the features of a test, as you would a novel, or as you would historical fiction or mysteries. You’re laughing, but this is very serious. Any teacher watching this knows what I’m talking about, that you, in elementary school, in many schools, especially the schools where that gun to the head is already cocked—in the poorest schools, in the schools that teach the most disadvantaged students, students of color, in schools in Harlem—you have to teach students how to take a test. You have to tell eight-year-olds about multiple choice, right? And the thing that gets me is that the, you know, wealthy individuals who promote these policies send their own kids to schools that look nothing like that, where inquiry is promoted, where they don’t spend all day obsessing about how they’re going to do on someone else’s test. I’ve seen schools that begin right away, that begin the first week of school, where they begin with pretests to try to, you know, tell the kids—if you ask a kid in Harlem—go to any school in Harlem and ask a young elementary school student, "What’s the point of school? Why are you here?" They’ll tell you, "It’s to pass tests, so that I can get a job." There’s nothing about—you know, I heard Jonathan Kozol speak at the Save Our Schools march, and he said something that really stayed with me. He said, at the wealthy schools, at your Phillips Exeter and Andover Academies, you know, those kids get to feast on the treasures of the earth. They get to enjoy literature and savor it. And they get to savor their savoring of it. And in our schools, too often kids are given these kind of cardboard passages that are meant to show them what a noun is. But there’s no joy in it. And there’s no—I would argue there’s no real learning.”—
This is just incredibly true and important and pressing and you should all read it right now because it is vital. I’m completely serious.
The text of the e-mail I just sent to my daughter's teacher about her school project. Open to a comments/suggestions, since this is the first time I've had to "complain" about a teacher.
I love the idea of a Living Museum, but I had a few concerns when I was reading over the instructions for this project. The introduction to the project as well as the grading criteria for it specifically explain that the people the students are supposed to choose as their subjects should be American leaders, explorers, inventors, or scientists. However, several of the people you’ve included in your list of suggestions were not, in fact, Americans.
- Jane Goodall [Jane Goodall IS NOT AMERICAN. Maybe you mean Diane Fossey?]
- Marie Curie [WAS NOT AMERICAN. She was Polish, married a French man, and did all of her work in Europe, with the exception of fundraising tours in the US in 1921 and 1929. However, she is constantly used as a token lady scientist on these sorts of lists.]
- Albert Einstein [ALSO NOT AMERICAN, although he did do a lot of work in the US and finally became a US citizen late in life. I’m iffy on this one. He wasn’t born or educated here, so I don’t like the idea of erasing the first half of his life in order to claim him as American.]
- Isaac Newton [Not even remotely American. He died in 1727 and never even set foot in the New World.]
- Christopher Columbus [NOT AMERICAN. As the “discoverer” of America, I suppose he is applicable. However, his contributions and the consequences of his actions are a bit complex for 2nd graders to understand.]
Sylvia has chosen to do her project on Marie Curie, which I have allowed because she was so excited and because it’s inspired her to read the Marie Curie biography I got for her some time ago. Not to mention the fact that there aren’t many other woman scientists who are household names, and it’s really important to me as a parent to make sure that Sylvia is encouraged in her interest in science. I have, however, had to discuss with Sylvia that Marie Curie was not American and try to explain why there seems to be such an obvious error in a list of recommended people for a project on famous Americans. I just wanted to be sure that you were aware of this inconsistency in the project instructions.
My other concern with your list of recommendations was that, while I can see that there is an attempt at diversity, it fails to be truly inclusive while at the same time suggesting a couple of people that I am not sure can be discussed in an age appropriate manner without over-simplifying their stories and glossing over some very ugly facts about American history.
I find Christopher Columbus and Pocahontas both to be quite problematic as people to discuss with very young children unless, of course, you are going to be discussing Columbus’ enslavement of the natives that he found already living in the New World or the importance of Pocahontas’ story as illustrative of (and her story later helping to perpetuate) white European colonialism and forcible assimilation of Native Americans into European culture. Indeed, Pocahontas herself, although already a wife among her people, was captured by the English, converted to Christianity, had her name changed and her previous marriage invalidated so that she could be married to John Rolfe, at which point she was taken back to England and exhibited as an example that Native Americans were educable after all. This all seems a bit heavy for children to understand at age 8.
As far as increasing the inclusiveness of your list, I do have a few suggestions of my own. I would also suggest including writers and artists along with “leaders, explorers, inventors, and scientists” to help account for the fact that, historically, all of the fields that you originally named in the assignment have been heavily dominated by white men. Also, there is no reason to devalue the arts by failing to include them as influential parts of American history.
Here are my suggestions for a more inclusive list:
Isabel Allende - Chilean-American writer
Luis Walter Alvarez - American physicist and inventor
Amy Tan - Writer
Chien-Shiung Wu - Chinese-American physicist
Wilma Mankiller - First female Chief of the Cherokee Nation
Grace Hopper - American computer scientist and Navy officer who helped develop some of the earliest computer programming languages
Madam C. J. Walker - African-American entrepreneur and philanthropist
Maria Mitchell - American astronomer
As I said at the beginning, I think the project is a great idea, and I’m looking forward to helping Sylvia with writing her paragraph about Marie Curie this weekend. Just wanted to let you know my concerns and throw a couple suggestions your way.
Thanks for your time.
Pedagogy of the "Oppressed"
There’s a very specific type of complaining that I’m tired of hearing about when it comes to the American school system. I’m not talking about inner city schools where the administration has all but given up and police officers stalk the halls. I’m not talking about underfunded school systems in dangerous and chaotic neighborhoods where kids have face more serious problems than a standardized test. No, I’m talking about American teenagers who went to a good school, hated it, got into college, wrote an essay on Paolo Freire, and are now sitting there acting like they’ve unraveled some great conspiracy about the evils of public school. I’m talking about posts like this:
…and the tens of thousands of people who apparently agree with them. But you know what, I’m not going to sit there and tell you that there are children in third world countries who risk life and limb for a chance at an education like you have. That there’s low hanging fruit. Instead, let’s take a magical journey to the Commieland of yore, and take a look at what a legitimately fucked up and authoritarian school system looks like.