To the Editor:
As I was walking in a precinct in East Los Angeles before the Nov. 4 election with an advocacy organization made up of parents, teachers, and students, I met an elderly Latino man who was 21 years old during the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. He told me he would be voting for Sen. Barack Obama because the candidate reminded him so much of F.D.R., and the current economic crisis recalled to him the Great Depression.
Now that Mr. Obama is the president-elect, his future administration, the nation’s schools, and grassroots organizations—such as the one that supported my precinct walking—must rise to this occasion. We are in a historic moment, and the feeling is much like that when we teachers get a challenging class excited about figurative language or any subject seemingly distant from the hearts and minds of our students.
We have an opening and must act by preparing meaningful lessons and engaging in difficult discussions about discrimination and democracy. As teachers, we must embrace our roles as public intellectuals.
Schools are not the builders of a new social order, but, to quote John Dewey, “schools should consciously be partners in the construction of a changed society.” Teachers in alliance with their communities must seize this moment to “develop the character, skill, and intelligence that are necessary to make a democratic social order a fact.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 19, 2008 edition of Education Week as Teaching in the Wake of a Historic Election