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Building Classroom After Classroom of Freedom Fighters

January 30, 2012

January 30, 2012 marks my first official day as student teacher in a Providence middle school. Amidst the butterflies about how I’m going to get a bunch of twelve-year-olds on my side, this word called ‘stance’ also keeps floating around in my brain.

What’s my stance as a teacher? What do I believe are the really essential aspects of good education? How will I make these essential aspects accessible to students? Especially as a History teacher, what do I believe about all the buzz words that would turn a spark on in any education buff – truth, objectivity, facts? How will I walk that thin line between acknowledging my biases and teaching them?

No one would argue that part of a teacher’s job is to give your students the information and the skills to understand the information. But the what is much easier than the how. Take, for instance, the case of Columbus, which often comes up as a topic of conversation in my graduate classes and in my household (I have three roommates – all Brown MATs, all Swatties, and all on the road to being super amazing teachers).  One could make the case that Columbus was a pretty great guy, and then they could find all the evidence they need to back their argument. If I’ve taught my students all the skills they need to make an argument in favor of Columbus, am I a good teacher? I would say so. But if I let my students walk out my classroom actually believing that Columbus really was a great guy, am I still a good teacher? Some would say that I’ve done my job by giving them the information about Columbus, but anything more than that treads on forcing my opinion on them – teaching my biases. I’m not so sure that’s true. Quite frankly, I’d be pretty upset if one of my students believed Columbus did more good than harm to the communities he came across. Here’s why:

In an airport, listening to a Stokely Carmichael speech will get you questioned by the FBI, the TSA, and the CIA.

In Georgia, math problems ask elementary school students to calculate how much cotton a slave could pick and in Tennessee, the Tea Party is pushing for important parts of slavery to be erased from textbooks – neither of which are appropriate  ways to deal with the issue of teaching slavery. In Arizona, curriculum changes force districts to ban books – including Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, and our favorite, Rethinking Columbus. And in Pennsylvania, entire school districts are being forced to shut down because of lack of funding.

One of our presidential hopefuls makes well into eight figures in one year, but pays less in taxes than the average middle class American – in our society, he can then propose a tax plan that would cut his taxes further. But when people turn to the ballot as their primary weapon to fight against these injustices, states consistently come up with ways to restrict voters from participating in elections.

In our world, private prisons offer huge financial support to schools and politicians, and the term “school-to-prison pipeline” is actually a term.

So with all of the things going on to skew, diminish, and re-write history and education in general, why can’t I be explicit about why Columbus was absolutely not a great guy?

I want to build classroom after classroom of freedom fighters. Scholars and intellectuals and thinkers who, yes, have the ability to research and compile information in favor of or against any topic, but more importantly, thinkers who also know the value of a living and breathing human being and question why our current society does not value all humans equally.

When I go into class tomorrow morning, that will be part of the stance I bring with me.

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