"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Teach Occupy

Educators have been encouraged to submit lesson plans to teach "Occupy Wall Street" to their students. They are not waiting to see if the Occupiers are the victors who usually reserve the right to write the history.  They are attempting to write it right now. From the Teach Occupy Wall Street site, this is one of the lesson plans submitted:
"Students asked what my BFT (Berkely Federation of Teachers) sticker "I'm one of the 99%" meant. With parent volunteers eagerly urging me onward, I asked students to define union and we reviewed it as a group of worker (sic) fighting to make things fairer in their workplace."
Is that what the teachers union is?  Not many teachers would agree with that statement.  The teachers unions are saying little these days about fair working conditions for the teachers.  They seem to focus primarily in forcing higher salaries. They are silent on the deluge of data reporting required, the blaming of teachers for poor student performance that is not attributable to their teaching, and the special needs students who are forcibly mainstreamed into their classrooms, whose sometimes violent behaviors,sere a real safety concern. These unions also force some teachers to pay them dues even when those teachers don't want to belong to the union. How is this fair? And they almost never provide their members with an accurate accounting of what their dues paid for.  This hardly seems like a group who focuses on fairness.  It should also be noted that many of the original labor unions were fighting for SAFER working conditions and were far less worried that things were FAIR.  The lesson continues:
To explain the 99% concept, I asked students to imagine throwing a pizza party with one pizza divided in 100 slices for 100 people, but the host took half for him/herself and the remaining 99% were left to fight over the other half. They got the concept of % easily, translating different percentages to fractions within minutes and were outraged at the inequity of the "party."

Actually, her set up for this portion of the lesson is correct, although she completely misses the point. At a party the guests do not provide the food. The host does.  The wealth pizza would not even exist were it not for the businessman/host who created it in the first place. The 50 pieces he took were then used to pay back the farmer who grew the wheat and tomatoes, the dairy farmer who made the cheese, the oven manufacturer and the electric company. In reality he probably was left with 10 pieces of pizza, 3 of which he had to pay to the government leaving him with just six more pieces than the average guest. Considering he made the effort to throw the party, invite all the people and will be stuck cleaning up after them (just as the NY sanitation dept will be once the Occupiers leave), can we really begrudge the host the extra 6 pieces? Finish the lesson by having them divide those 6 pieces among the 99 other guests and see if that portion of the pie is really satisfying for them.
"I told them people in our society were striking because they felt that our society was just as unfair as this party. When we concluded the discussion, I reminded them that everything I said was just my opinion and that it, as well as my math could be wrong and to check with their parents. Most insisted I had to be right. This is when I said not everyone here necessarily believes this and even if they are just a few of us, under the ideal of American democracy, we had a responsibility to make these few students feel safe expressing their views. Even though my Berkeley Federation of Teachers contract grants me academic freedom, have to exercise caution, because in the past administrators have written me up with other pretexts for exercising this right or for publishing such work with my students! I'm scared of the repercussions for what I've said here. But I understand this time, besides my union, Occupy will also come to my defense if there is retaliation."
This jumble of confused thinking masquerading as tolerance makes me feel a little sorry for the kids in her class who are forced to try to learn from this teacher.  I don't know where in the constitution or laws of this land we have the "ideal of American democracy," but even if we did, democracy does not have an inherent promise of safety for diversity of opinion.  Pretty much by definition, democracy only pays attention to the voice of the majority. Those who disagree are drowned out or ignored.

Clearly, by her statements, this is not her first effort to politicize her classroom.  I would caution her against relying on the Occupy movement to come to her defense if the other parents (who did not encourage her like those in her classroom this time) are unhappy about her lesson plan. The Occupiers seem to be struggling with the concept of right and wrong. They have not come to the defense of any of the victims of crime within their own midst, and have attacked businesses who profess to support them. It is misplaced trust to think they will come to her aid.

Other lesson plans are not so obviously flawed, but they are written so broadly that they leave a lot of room for the personal opinion of the teacher.

As long as we are encouraging teachers to be creative in developing new lesson plans, we'd like to open MEW as a place where teachers can submit their own lessons. We know of a local teacher who, after learning her 5th graders thought the pilgrims came to America to find gold, is working on plans to teach Occupy the Mayflower. Tell us what you would teach.

For more Occupy lesson plans check out https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?hl=en_US&hl=en_US&key=0AjEzv5-ybPvFdEJoSWlBYjNncmRSNEpTVE1VNzl0VFE&output=html

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