It’s the end of Banned Books week and the weekend before Columbus Day (or better yet, Indigenous People’s Day), so it’s important to remember that when we teach students about Columbus and reduce the narrative to platitudes about his life and his “discovery” of the Taínos (should they even be mentioned by name) we are legitimizing European colonialism in favor of diminishing 500 years of genocide and ethnocide.
An excellent resource for teachers K-12 looking to incorporate a more justice-oriented perspective into their curriculum is Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow and edited by Bob Peterson. It turns the hero myth of Columbus on its head, instead celebrating the lives of native peoples and cultures who were not “discovered” but who encountered and conflicted with European explorers and invaders. It covers articles, essays, and lesson plans for educators to examine and present to their students, offering them a more critical and complete view of history and the cultural context of that history.
Why rethink Christopher Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is a foundation of children’s beliefs about society. Columbus is often a child’s first lesson about encounters between different cultures and races. The murky legend of a brave adventurer tells children whose version of history to accept, and whose to ignore. It says nothing about the brutality of the European invasion of North America. (x)
The Zinn Education Project offers sample lesson plans from the book:
- “Discovering Columbus: Re-reading the Past”: a lesson asking students to not only re-examine their previous understandings about Columbus, but to take an objective look at history textbooks and whose interests they represent.
- “The People vs. Columbus”: allowing students to engage in a mock-trial and roleplay activity over who is responsible for the crimes against the Taínos, asking them to think critically, cite sources, and draw their own conclusions.
It’s important to note that we shouldn’t qualify the existence of Natives solely in their relation to Europeans. Often lesson plans which even mention American Indians usually only do so as a matter of history, rather than treating Native cultures as living (unique, non-monolithic, myriad) cultures independent unto themselves.
All around the world, children are learning. They are learning all sorts of subjects and preparing for life and work in the world. Some children have access to excellent educational resources and possess all the tools they need for their early learning experiences. There are also students that do not have the access to a good education, and lack consistent teachers and infrastructure in their countries school system. Education varies all around the world, whether we realize it or not…
Peter Larsen takes large, complicated sets of data, gathered from his study of how microbial populations interact with their environment, and turns them into music. In the piece you’re hearing here, different melodies represent different groups of microbes, playing as their abundance changes throughout the year. The chords and key are determined by the environmental conditions at this particular site, in the western part of the English Channel.
Life is jazzy.
Hilary Rosner has more background at Tooth and Claw.
Subject: My students need your help!
This school year, I want to make sure my students have the materials they need to succeed. So I’ve created a classroom project request on a 501(c)3 charity website called DonorsChoose.org.
I’m writing to ask for any donations possible for my students - no matter the size, it will help my kids. This week only, any donation you make to my project will be doubled! If you know anyone who is passionate about education, please pass this along. Your tax-deductible donation will have a direct impact on at least 30 students (and many more in the future), and you’ll hear back from our class about your impact on our learning!
To learn more or donate:
1. Visit my Teacher Page, www.donorschoose.org/zthomas
2. Choose one of my projects, enter the amount of your donation, and click “Give”
3. During check-out, enter the word INSPIRE where it says “Match or gift code”, and your donation will be matched dollar for dollar.
The INSPIRE match code will double your donation for the next 7 days.
Please feel free to send me any questions you may have, and know that my students and I greatly appreciate your support.
It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.
Human trafficking was not something I knew much about before starting production on the Atavist story Stowaway. Stowaway is the journey of a young boy we call Fanuel who was a victim of trafficking. At the age of eight he became an orphan and lived on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, until a stranger befriended him and offered him a better life in South Africa. His “better” life was as a domestic servant for the man, who beat him, broke his promise to send Fanuel to school, and threatened to turn him in to the authorities if he tried to leave.
As for the rest, you’ll have to read the story! It costs $2.99, which gets you access to both the Web version AND the iPad/iPhone App version. It’s a collaboration between renowned nonfiction comics artist Josh Neufeld and investigative reporter Tori Marlan, who first met Fanuel in 2006. Marlan, a longtime friend of Neufeld, had never worked on a graphic novel but felt like it was a good fit for Fanuel’s dramatic story. “There is something about the comics medium that connects you with the experience of the characters,” says Neufeld. There’s a sense of intimacy. I certainly felt it while working on Stowaway, in a way that I hadn’t quite experienced before. It also raises some interesting questions about the collision of art and journalism, which Marlan and Neufeld address in some behind-the-scenes extras, available via the App.
Listen to Marlan and Neufeld on Public Radio International’s The World.
Initiate a National War on Ignorance. Forget the failed war on drugs; use that money to do some actual good by starting a campaign to change American attitudes about education, which are currently piss-poor. We did it with cigarettes. Once ubiquitous, smoking in public—when it’s even allowed—now practically makes you a social pariah. Madison Avenue convinced us we need designer jeans, Starbucks coffee, and smart phones. It can do the same with education. Imagine it. The message that learning is vital appears on billboards and TV. It saturates the internet, thunders from every pulpit. The eleven-o’clock news starts with “Did your children attend school today?” Actors and pop stars make public service announcements as conditions of their parole. When honor roll students are depicted as being as cool as teenage vampires, every kid in America will want an education.
Put teachers in charge. School administrators are necessary—for administration. It’s questionable, however, whether a former business teacher who hasn’t been in the classroom for fifteen years can lay much pedagogical acumen on seasoned science, math, and art teachers. Administrators frequently accept administrative positions as stepping stones to better positions. As they travel along their career paths, they feather their CV nests with “flavor of the month” initiatives. I once assisted in developing a highly touted comprehensive ten-year district improvement plan that no one remembered five years later. Teachers tend to be less transient, often staying in one place for thirty-plus years. They are repositories of school history. Educational Leaders would be teachers chosen by their peers to oversee evaluations, address educational challenges, and maintain consistent pedagogical initiatives through shared decision making. An Educational Leader would not receive extra pay, but would have greatly reduced course loads. School administrators would still create schedules, manage budgets, enforce discipline, and stand in the hall and wave as kids arrive. This could be tried now in magnet or charter schools.
Restore respect for teachers and schools. If you are over fifty, you remember when educators were admired and respected. This was before movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and The Breakfast Club popularized the image of teachers as insensitive dolts. Just as unrealistic are the largely fictionalized “true-life” teachers portrayed in films like Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, and Dangerous Minds. There were few, if any, teachers like this when we were in school, and it’s no different now. Teachers are not miracle workers or saints. But few resemble Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller either. The truth is, there are far fewer bad teachers than you probably imagine. Low performing schools are virtually always in areas hindered by poverty or language barriers, and need the greatest support and encouragement. Instead, they are threatened with accountability for that over which they have very limited control. A continuous drumbeat of blame is undermining the morale of the professionals educating our children. For a comprehensive account of the problems with standardized testing and teacher accountability, read Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.
Emphasize the arts. Stop sacrificing the arts to raise standardized test scores. Years of brain development and cognitive research link arts to academic achievement, social and emotional development, creative problem solving, and civic engagement. This is what we say we want out of our schools, right?
Make charter schools what they were meant to be. Charter schools were intended as laboratories for experimental education. They should demonstrate this intent before being granted a charter, and their funding should not be diverted from traditional public schools. Charter school enrollment should reflect the populations from which they draw or they fail as experiments. Successful charter schools should welcome other public schools to learn from them or they fail in their mission.
Make all schools excellent. Fully fund all schools equitably. Then provide extra funding where immigrant populations, single parent households, socio-economic challenges, and other known educational obstacles are prevalent. So Buffalo would receive more per pupil funding than Clarence, for instance.
End school budget votes and funding through property taxes. All funding should be state or national. We don’t vote on police, street sanitation, or parks and recreation budgets; why should education, a vital national birthright, be left to the capricious whims of provincial voters?
Learn from countries that do better. Specifically, Finland. My plan would closely emulate Finland’s model because following best practice is what everyone agrees we should do. The well-funded Finnish education system emphasizes equity and quality over choice; there are no private or charter schools. All students receive free health care. Virtually every child attends free or low-cost daycare from infancy through kindergarten, with one daycare teacher and two nurses for every twelve students. The emphasis is on play, but children learn nutrition, health, communication, empathy, responsibility, self-awareness, and respect for the individual. Parents are welcome. Formal education starts at age seven. There’s no selecting, tracking, or streaming; students of all capabilities learn together. Nine years of required education is followed by non-compulsory academic or vocational training. Teaching is a highly respected, well-paid, unionized profession requiring a master’s degree. Competition to enter teaching is fierce, with only ten percent making the cut, same as doctors and lawyers. Teachers are given complete autonomy, right down to choosing their own textbooks. Classes are small, rarely more than twenty. Teachers spend just four hours a day in the classroom, and two hours a week on professional development. There’s no merit pay. Finland’s government does not gather data to assess schools; teachers and principals are trusted to report how they are doing. Finland’s Director of Education Pasi Sahlberg has said, “We know very well that the inequality that our students have through the parents’ socio-economic background is a very strong factor explaining their performance, and, in many cases, this is far beyond the teacher’s control.” Finns study art, music, cooking, industrial arts, and two languages. Homework is minimal. Finnish students eat one or two healthy meals a day at school. Schools are spotlessly clean, and the atmosphere is relaxed and informal. Struggling students are tutored, with thirty percent getting extra help during their first nine years. Tests are scarce; grading is often verbal, and for the first six years, children are not measured at all. Finns take only one standardized test, at age sixteen. Finnish students beat the pants off other nations in international measurements in science, reading, and math, and yet Finland spends thirty percent less per student than the US does. Norway is similar in size and culture, but follows an education model similar to ours; they rank where we do.
Don’t expect overnight success. We don’t give schools enough time to implement one educational philosophy before replacing it with a trendy new one. Radical improvement doesn’t occur overnight. If we overhaul the system tomorrow and remain consistent, we could expect comprehensive results by the time this year’s newborns reach their senior year. Seventeen years may sound like a long time, but if we had spent ten years transforming our system after “A Nation at Risk” identified the problem in 1983, last year’s graduating seniors would have provided the first cradle to grad results. Think long term, not quick fix.
I agree with the majority of these ideas, and think this is a great place to start. As a teacher of 15 years, and an elementary and now jr. high principal, I do want you to know that there is such a thing as a “teacher’s principal,” working to make great change for kids and to support our teachers the same way I appreciate the support I received from my best principals. It’s hard for an administrator to support teachers and students when that “us vs. them” outlook is in place. I hope, and my wish for you, that you have a principal who remembers what it is like to be in the classroom, and one that has the moral imperative of what we do in mind: helping students achieve and prepare for their future leading our nation.
1) Have at least 3 conferences per class
2) Pay attention. Don’t let any kids “get away” with not learning. Specifically, ensure that each student has an independent reading book they can be engaged with.
3) Have a casual/personal conversation with at least one student, per class, per day.
We cannot plant seeds with closed fists. To sow we must open our hands.
—Adolfo Pérez Esquivel