Howard Zinn, Studs Terkel, Gerald Bracey and me
The good news is people who never stop fighting against injustice. And other people who pay them tribute, reminding everybody else not to give up the good fight. As this writer says, "I shall continue the battle in my small way at the local level, and honor the memory of Bracey, Zinn and Terkel. They remind me of what is possible. They demonstrate the importance of courage and ideals. They inspire."
I had always tried to teach in the manner that Zinn advocated, and he validated my methodology. In my classes, I put my inclinations right up front. I never claimed to be an objective observer without a viewpoint. No teacher is ... though many claim to be. Those who claim to be totally objective are lying or fooling themselves. I was open about my viewpoints. Did I push my viewpoint? No. Did I introduce alternate explanations outside of what I called "Court history"? Absolutely. My classroom never presented a sanitized version of history. Columbus had faults. So did Washington, Jefferson, Grant, and Wilson, and so did my heroes Emma Goldman, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy and Eugene Debs. We learned about Native American viewpoints. We learned about labor history as well as corporate history. And we learned about the ordinary people that populated Studs TerkelĂ˘€™s books.
In my classes, I encouraged kids to think, and Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn were my mentors. In middle school and high school, kids are finding out who they are. In my classroom, kids could express themselves as long as it was on topic and respectful. Interesting enough, the kids who garnered the most respect from their peers were the ones who could articulate their points well. Many times a "geeky" student was accorded a new-found respect in my classroom for her/his ability to challenge conventional wisdom and the textbook, as well as the teacher ... especially the teacher. If Zinn and Terkel taught me anything it was to allow the kids to question authority ... all authority, even mine.
Another aging agitator, Gerald Bracey, who died in October of last year, provided additional inspiration when I became an administrator seven years ago. I discovered Bracey back in the early 90s while investigating the Sandia Report, a government funded study which was quashed by the Bush I administration because it found that public education was actually performing rather well.
Bracey was an outspoken proponent of public education who, with acerbic wit, took on the critics, privatizers, and the union-bashers, whom he referred to as the Educational Deformers, including President Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Were Bracey still around, he would be battling Duncan, who continues the war on public education with his Race to the Top (aka NCLB, Part III).
I shall continue the battle in my small way at the local level, and honor the memory of Bracey, Zinn and Terkel. They remind me of what is possible. They demonstrate the importance of courage and ideals. They inspire.
Tonight I am lifting a glass of fine Michigan brewed amber ale in memory of those three gentlemen. Like them, I wish to maintain my idealism as I grow older, and never sit around and grouse about the old days and whine about the youngster generation. These three men gave me hope for my own old age.
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