This post is by Anthony Conwright, who teaches humanities at High Tech Middle Media Arts in San Diego.
Many of us were struck by President Obama’s words in reference to Treyvon Martin: “If I had a son, he would look like Treyvon.” I do not have my own children, but I teach children, and, lately, I have had a similar revelation: Michael Brown may be in my classroom. At this point, I am struck by a stronger, more poignant revelation: Darren Wilson could be in my classroom, too. What would I teach Darren Wilson? What would I teach Michael Brown and those who protest in his name? What Common Core Standard would lead us to understanding inequality? Where are the standards for equity?
When it comes to curriculum and instruction, it seems that Common Core Standards and 21st century skills are all the rage. These are presumed to represent the values of our culture; however, one could make a case that teaching students how to interact with the police, detect aspects of inequity in schools or at work, and engage in civil disobedience are also 21st century skills. Students and teachers in suburban Denver recognized this when they protested against proposed changes to Advanced Placement History that would require that materials “Promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and for individual rights.” The changes would also ensure materials not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” With the killing of unarmed citizens by police and the rioting in Ferguson, a lesson in understanding and constructively expressing social concern, how to properly engage in civil disobedience and proper disregard for the law (e.g., the sit-ins in 1960s) would be a propos.
When are we going to set high curriculum content standards for social justice? How can we expect protesters to learn how to protest, if we do not teach them? How can we expect young African American boys to know how to react to injustices inflicted upon them by the police if they are not taught? Are the current social standards equitable for African Americans who feel they have to be hyper-obedient to authority, more so than white citizens? How can we expect someone to not shoot to kill, if we do not have standards that teach that threats present within a black body do not need to be neutralized, fatally?
These ideas are not new. In “The School as a Means of Developing a Social Consciousness and Social Ideals in Children” (1923), John Dewey maintains that the public school system is the way to create unity among citizens:
We need the schools to bring about recognition of the problems which are common problems, things which the American people have got to work out together in a spirit of unity and cooperation if they are ever to be worked out at all.
Expressions of grievance, racial profiling, and the use of excessive force by law enforcement are common problems, so let’s teach our children solutions. Similarly, in “The Purpose of Education” (1947), Martin Luther King, Jr. expresses the sentiment that the aim of education should be to create strong minds and strong character.
Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.
Dr. King’s statement is sobering when we consider the amount of men we consider “college ready” but still sexually assault women or that we have police officers, after graduating from a police academy, who shoot unarmed citizens. It’s time to ask what standards of equity and social justice we want to set in our schools, so that our children can live together in the 21st Century.
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