Teaching about whistleblowers

With Pfc. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden in the news this week, have you thought about if and how you will teach about these individuals and other whistleblowers in your classroom this school year?

Here are some ideas to get you started.  Offer your own suggestions/resources in the comments.

Use this powerful portrait of Pfc. Manning by Robert Shetterly at Americans Who Tell The Truth.

“If you had free reign over classified networks and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain — what would you do? God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth. Because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

ManningAWTT

And from our Zinn Education Project, check out lessons for teaching about whistleblowers based on the history of the Vietnam war and the Pentagon Papers case.

“This 100-page teaching guide . . . for middle school, high school, and college classrooms, enhances student understanding of the issues raised in the award winning film, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. . .

“Through the story of Daniel Ellsberg, students can explore the type of information revealed by whistleblowers, the risks and motivations of whistleblowers, and the tactics used to silence whistleblowers. . .

“Not only does The Most Dangerous Man in America Teaching Guide offer a “people’s history” approach to learning about whistleblowing and the U.S. war in Vietnam, it also engages students in thinking deeply about their own responsibility as truth-tellers and peacemakers.”

EllsbergGuide

Free access to Dirty Oil and Shovel-Ready Jobs

With the pending decision about the Keystone XL pipeline in the news–along with the recent huge anti-pipeline demonstrations in Washington, D.C.–we are sharing articles and resources from our archives about the proposed pipeline, coal, climate change, and environmental justice with you.

And in the spirit of taking black history beyond “Black History Month,” we’re also sharing articles that celebrate the role of African Americans in our history and today. We hope you will use these articles throughout the entire year.

Enjoy these articles, freely available to all friends of Rethinking Schools. 

Dirty Oil and Shovel-Ready Jobs:  A Role Play on Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline, by Abby Mac Phail

High school students learn about the conflict over the pipeline by participating in a role play.

Got Coal?  Teaching About the Most Dangerous Rock in America, by Bill Bigelow

Students play a game promoted by the coal industry-then dig beneath the surface to look at the realities of mountaintop removal mining.

Don’t Take Our Voices Away’–A Role Play on the Indigenous People’s Global Summit on Climate Change, by Julie Treick O’Neill and Tim Swinehart

Students learn about the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable cultures and geographic areas, then share their knowledge as they discuss strategy for saving the planet.

A Message from a Black Mom to Her Son, by Dyan Watson

An African American mother and teacher educator uses examples from her own childhood to describe how she hopes her child will be treated by teachers, and what she fears.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access!*

The Big One: Teaching About Climate Change, by Bill Bigelow

The environmental crisis requires a profound social and curricular rethinking.

A Pedagogy for Ecology, by Ann Pelo

Helping young children build an ecological identity and a conscious connection to place opens them to a broader bond with the earth.

“My Family’s Not from Africa–We Come from North Carolina!” Teaching Slavery in Context, by

Illustration by Robert Trujillo

Illustration by Robert Trujillo

Waahida Mbatha

An African American middle school teacher changes her African American students’ understanding of Africa and their own history.

Five Years After the Levees Broke: Bearing Witness Through Poetry, by Renée Watson

Students in the Bronx create startling poems after comparing the response to Hurricane Katrina with subsequent “natural disasters.”

Have you used any of these articles in your teaching?  If so, let us know about it in the comments.

In solidarity,

Kris Collett
Rethinking Schools

Rethinking Schools Fall 2012 Magazine: Race and Place

The fall issue of our magazine is now available on our website. The theme is Race and Place—teachers explore the context for today’s foreclosure and homelessness crises, and answer the question: Why don’t black and brown people in the United States have more inherited wealth?

In “Burned Out of Homes and History: Unearthing the Silenced Voices of the Tulsa Race Riot” master teacher Linda Christensen helps high school students begin to answer this question—and write historical fiction along the way—with an exploration of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.

Then Katharine Johnson brings the Civil Rights Movement home to elementary school students with a role play about redlining in their own city: “‘Why Is This the Only Place in Portland I See Black People?’ Teaching Young Children About Redlining.”

In “Boot Camp for CEOs,” education writer Alain Jehlen investigates the Broad Superintendents Academy, which filled 48 percent of all large district superintendent openings last year—including Chicago’s Jean-Claude Brizard.

PLUS an exclusive interview with esteemed educator/scholar/activist Lisa Delpitauthor of “Multiplication is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children. 

And much, much more.

Check our fall issue, subscribe, and return here to let us know what you think!

 

Howard Zinn at 90: Lessons from the People’s Historian

Howard Zinn was a great friend of Rethinking Schools. He generously allowed us to reprint articles of his in the magazine and our books. He agreed to be interviewed by Rethinking Schools editors.  He gave us kind blurbs for our books. He mentioned our work in his talks and referred teachers to us. Most important, Howard Zinn taught us about the world and inspired us to think more deeply about social change. To commemorate his 90th birthday, Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow wrote this article as part of the Zinn Education Project’s article series, “If We Knew Our History.”


This Friday–August 24–would have been the 90th birthday of the great historian and activist Howard Zinn, who died in 2010. Zinn did not merely record history, he made it: as a professor at Spelman College in the 1950s and early 1960s, where he was ultimately fired for his outspoken support of students in the Civil Rights Movement, and specifically the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); as a critic of the U.S. war in Vietnam, and author of the first book calling for an immediate U.S. withdrawal; and as author of arguably the most influential U.S. history textbook in print, A People’s History of the United States.

“That book will knock you on your ass,” as Matt Damon’s character says in the film Good Will Hunting.

Painting of Howard Zinn by Robert Shetterly

It’s always worth dipping into the vast archive of Zinn scholarship, but at the beginning of a school year, and as the presidential campaign heats up, now is an especially good time to remember some of Howard Zinn’s wisdom.

Shortly after Barack Obama’s election, the Zinn Education Project sponsored a talk by Zinn to several hundred teachers at the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference in Houston. Zinn reminded teachers that the point of learning about social studies was not simply to memorize facts, it was to imbue students with a desire to change the world. “A modest little aim,” Zinn acknowledged, with a twinkle in his eye.

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In this talk, available as an online video as well as a transcription, Zinn insisted that teachers must help students challenge “fundamental premises which keep us inside a certain box.” Because without this critical rethinking of premises about history and the role of the United States in the world, “things will never change.” And this will remain “a world of war and hunger and disease and inequality and racism and sexism.”

A key premise that needs to be questioned, according to Zinn, is the notion of “national interests,” a term so common in the political and academic discourse as to be almost invisible. Zinn points out that the “one big family” myth begins with the Constitution’s preamble: “We the people of the United States…” Zinn noted that it wasn’t “we the people” who established the Constitution in Philadelphia — it was 55 rich white men. Missing from or glossed over in the traditional textbook treatment are race and class divisions, including the rebellions of farmers in Western Massachusetts, immediately preceding the Constitutional Convention in 1787. No doubt, the Constitution had elements of democracy, but Zinn argues that it “established the rule of slaveholders, and merchants, and bondholders.”

Teaching history through the lens of class, race, and gender conflict is not simply more accurate, according to Zinn; it makes it more likely that students — and all the rest of us — will not “simply swallow these enveloping phrases like ‘the national interest,’ ‘national security,’ ‘national defense,’ as if we’re all in the same boat.”

As Zinn told teachers in Houston: “No, the soldier who is sent to Iraq does not have the same interests as the president who sends him to Iraq. The person who works on the assembly line at General Motors does not have the same interest as the CEO of General Motors. No–we’re a country of divided interests, and it’s important for people to know that.”

Another premise Zinn identified, one that has become an article of faith among the Tea Party crowd, is “American exceptionalism” — the idea that the United States is fundamentally freer, more virtuous, more democratic, and more humane than other countries. For Zinn, the United States is “an empire like other empires. There was a British empire, and there was a Dutch empire, and there was a Spanish empire, and yes, we are an American empire.” The United States expanded through deceit and theft and conquest, just like other empires, although textbooks cleanse this imperial bullying with legal-sounding terms like the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican Cession.

Patriotism is another premise that we need to question. As Zinn told teachers in Houston, “it’s very bad for everybody when young people grow up thinking that patriotism means obedience to your government.” Zinn often recalled Mark Twain’s distinction between country and government. “Does patriotism mean support your government? No. That’s the definition of patriotism in a totalitarian state,” Zinn warned a Denver audience in a 2008 speech, included in a new volume, Howard Zinn Speaks, edited by Anthony Arnove (Haymarket Books, 2012.)

And going to war on behalf of “our country” is offered as the highest expression of patriotism–in everything from the military recruitment propaganda that saturates our high schools to the social studies curriculum that features photos of U.S. troops heroically battling “enemy soldiers” in a section called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in the popular high school textbook Modern World History.

Howard Zinn cuts through this curricular fog: “War is terrorism … Terrorism is the willingness to kill large numbers of people for some presumably good cause. That’s what terrorists are about.” Zinn demands that we reexamine the premise that war is necessary, a proposition not taken seriously in any high school history textbook I’ve ever seen. Instead, wars get sold to Americans–especially to the young people who fight those wars — as efforts to spread liberty and democracy. As Howard Zinn said many times, if you don’t know your history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. Leaders can tell you anything and you have no way of knowing what’s true.

Howard Zinn wanted educators to be deeply critical, but never cynical. When speaking to the teachers in Houston, Zinn insisted that another premise we needed to examine is the idea that progress is the product of great individuals. Zinn pointed out that Abraham Lincoln had never been an abolitionist, and when he ran for president in 1860 he did not advocate ending slavery in the states where it existed. Rather, it was largely the “huge antislavery movement that pushed Lincoln into the Emancipation Proclamation–that pushed Congress into the 13th and 14th and 15th Amendments.”

Zinn urged educators to teach a people’s history: “We’ve never had our injustices rectified from the top, from the president or Congress, or the Supreme Court, no matter what we learned in junior high school about how we have three branches of government, and we have checks and balances, and what a lovely system. No. The changes, important changes that we’ve had in history, have not come from those three branches of government. They have reacted to social movements.”

Thus when we single out people in our curriculum as icons, as “people to admire and respect,” Zinn advocated shedding the traditional pantheon of government and military leaders: “But there are other heroes that young people can look up to. And they can look up to people who are against war. They can have Mark Twain as a hero who spoke out against the Philippines war. They can have Helen Keller as a hero who spoke out against World War I, and Emma Goldman as a hero. They can have Fannie Lou Hamer as a hero, and Bob Moses as a hero, the people in the Civil Rights Movement — they are heroes.”

And to this, there is one final “people’s history” premise we need to remember — whether in education or the world outside of schools. As Howard Zinn reminded the audience of social studies teachers in Houston: “People change.” Zinn did not look to President Obama to initiate social transformation; but in 2008, he saw the election as confirmation that the long history of anti-racist struggle in the United States produced an outcome that would have been inconceivable 30 years prior. And this shift in attitude should give us hope.

As we remember Howard Zinn on what would have been his 90th birthday, let’s count him among the many social justice heroes who offer proof that people’s efforts make a difference — that ordinary people can change the world.

Related Resources:

A People’s History for the Classroom helps teachers introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of U.S. history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula.

It includes a new introductory essay by veteran teacher Bill Bigelow on teaching strategies that align with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Fists of Freedom: An Olympic Story Not Taught in Schools

The latest “If We Knew Our History” column from the Zinn Education Project is by Dave Zirin. In the article, Zirin tells the story behind the famous photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The ongoing “If We Knew Our History” columns show why it is so important for teachers to “teach outside the textbook”–to bring a people’s history to our students. The Zinn Education Project is a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

Fists of Freedom: An Olympic Story Not Taught in Schools

by Dave Zirin, Sportswriter

This iconic photo appears in many U.S. history textbooks, stripped of the story of the planned boycott and demands, creating the appearance of a solitary act of defiance.

It’s been almost 44 years since Tommie Smith and John Carlos took the medal stand following the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and created what must be considered the most enduring, riveting image in the history of either sports or protest. But while the image has stood the test of time, the struggle that led to that moment has been cast aside.

When mentioned at all in U.S. history textbooks, the famous photo appears with almost no context. For example, Pearson/Prentice Hall’sUnited States History places the photo opposite a short three-paragraph section, “Young Leaders Call for Black Power.” The photo’s caption says simply that “…U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists in protest against discrimination.”

The media—and school curricula—fail to address the context that produced Smith and Carlos’ famous gesture of resistance: It was the product of what was called “The Revolt of the Black Athlete.” Amateur black athletes formed OPHR, the Olympic Project for Human Rights, to organize a black boycott of the 1968 Olympic Games. OPHR, its lead organizer, Dr. Harry Edwards, and its primary athletic spokespeople, Smith and the 400-meter sprinter Lee Evans, were deeply influenced by the black freedom struggle. Their goal was nothing less than to expose how the United States used black athletes to project a lie about race relations both at home and internationally.

OPHR had four central demands: restore Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight boxing title, remove Avery Brundage as head of the International Olympic Committee, hire more black coaches, and disinvite South Africa and Rhodesia from the Olympics. Ali’s belt had been taken by boxing’s powers-that-be earlier in the year for his resistance to the Vietnam draft. By standing with Ali, OPHR was expressing its opposition to the war.

By calling for the hiring of more black coaches as well as the ouster of Brundage, they were dragging out of the shadows a part of Olympic history those in power wanted to bury: Brundage was an anti-Semite and a white supremacist, best remembered today for sealing the deal on Hitler’s hosting the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. By demanding the exclusion of South Africa and Rhodesia, they aimed to convey their internationalism and solidarity with the black freedom struggles against apartheid in Africa.

The wind went out of the sails of a broader boycott for many reasons, partly because the IOC re-committed to banning apartheid countries from the Games. The more pressing reason the boycott failed was that athletes who had spent their whole lives preparing for their Olympic moment simply couldn’t bring themselves to give it up.

There also emerged accusations of a campaign of harassment and intimidation orchestrated by people supportive of Brundage. Despite all of these pressures, a handful of Olympians was still determined to make a stand. In communities across the globe, they were hardly alone.

The lead-up to the Olympics in Mexico City was electric with struggle. Already in 1968, the world had seen the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, demonstrating that the United States was nowhere near “winning the war”; the Prague Spring, during which Czech students challenged tanks from the Stalinist Soviet Union, demonstrating that dissent was crackling on both sides of the Iron Curtain; and the April 4 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the urban uprisings that followed—along with the exponential growth of the Black Panther Party in the United States—that revealed a black freedom struggle unassuaged by the civil rights reforms that had transformed the Jim Crow South. Then, on October 2, 10 days before the opening ceremonies of the 1968 Olympic Games, Mexican security forces massacred hundreds of students and workers in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Square.

Although the harassment and intimidation of the OPHR athletes cannot be compared to this slaughter, the intention was the same—to stifle protest and make sure that the Olympics were “suitable” for visiting dignitaries, heads of state, and an international audience. It was not successful.

On the second day of the Games, Smith and Carlos took their stand. Smith set a world record, winning the 200-meter gold, and Carlos captured the bronze. Smith then took out the black gloves. The silver medalist, a runner from Australia named Peter Norman, attached an Olympic Project for Human Rights patch onto his chest to show his solidarity on the medal stand.

As the stars and stripes ran up the flagpole and the national anthem played, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised their fists in what was described across the globe as a “Black Power salute,” creating a moment that would define the rest of their lives. But there was far more to their actions on the medal stand than just the gloves. The two men wore no shoes to protest black poverty, as well as beads and scarves to protest lynching.

Within hours, the IOC planted a rumor that Smith and Carlos had been stripped of their medals—although this was not in fact true—and expelled from the Olympic Village. Brundage wanted to send a message to every athlete that there would be punishment for any political demonstrations on the field of play.

But Brundage was not alone in his furious reaction. The Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a “Nazi-like salute”. Time had a distorted version of the Olympic logo on its cover but instead of the motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” it blared “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier.” The Chicago Tribune called the act “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” Smith and Carlos were “renegades” who would come home to be “greeted as heroes by fellow extremists,” lamented the paper.

But the coup de grâce was by a young reporter for the Chicago American named Brent Musburger who called them “a pair of black-skinned storm troopers.”

But if Smith and Carlos were attacked from a multitude of directions, they also received many expressions of support, including from some unlikely sources. For example, the U.S. Olympic crew team, all white and entirely from Harvard, issued the following statement:

“We—as individuals—have been concerned about the place of the black man in American society in their struggle for equal rights. As members of the U.S. Olympic team, each of us has come to feel a moral commitment to support our black teammates in their efforts to dramatize the injustices and inequities which permeate our society.”

Smith and Carlos sacrificed privilege and glory, fame and fortune, for a larger cause—civil rights. As Carlos says, “A lot of the [black] athletes thought that winning [Olympic] medals would supersede or protect them from racism. But even if you won a medal, it ain’t going to save your momma. It ain’t going to save your sister or children. It might give you 15 minutes of fame, but what about the rest of your life?”

The story of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics deserves more than a visual sound bite in a quickie textbook section on “Black Power.” As the Zinn Education Project points out in its “If We Knew Our History” series, this is one of many examples of the missing and distorted history in school, which turns the curriculum into a checklist of famous names and dates. When we introduce students to the story of Smith and Carlos’ defiant gesture, we can offer a rich context of activism, courage, and solidarity that breathes life into the study of history—and the long struggle for racial equality.

Summer Reading Recommendations

It’s summertime, and who doesn’t need a few good books to take to the beach or park?

Listed here are some of the books we’ve recommended in Rethinking Schools magazine in the past year, and we think they would make fine choices for your summer reading list.

Our own Rethinking Schools titles also make for great summer reading.  Take 25% off any of our titles with discount code 5BSummerG12 until August 1, 2012.

I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters

Edited and introduced by Michael Long. 522 pp. $18.95

Although Rustin was the logistical genius behind the historic 1963 March on Washington, this was just one of his accomplishments over many decades. Textbooks have left Rustin in obscurity, no doubt in part because he was gay and for a period of time a socialist. Rustin was active in civil and human rights struggles dating back to the 1940s.  This book is a collection of more than 150 of his letters to fellow progressives including Ella Baker and Martin Luther King, Jr.


Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation

Edited by Jeff Bale and Sarah Knopp, 285 pp. $17

Bale and Knopp write as partisans in the struggles to transform schools in the process of transforming society—and they have invited contributors active in teachers’ unions, solidarity movements, and classrooms. The book’s foreword is an interview with Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow by teacher-activist Adam Sanchez.

What Teaching Means: Stories from America’s Classrooms

Edited by Daniel Boster and Marni Valerio, 235 pp. $20

At a time when everyone from computer geeks to talk show hosts pontificates about what should happen in the classroom, the press and the government ignore those who know schools best—teachers.  This collection of essays from the classroom reminds readers that what matters in our schools isn’t laws or standards, but the lives of students and the teachers who nurture them.  For the teachers in this book, classrooms are about the messy, painful, sometimes tragic, sometimes delicious work of teaching at a time when so many in our country struggle to survive. Readers will weep and laugh along with the teachers who crowd these pages.


Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage

by William Loren Katz, 254 pp., $19.99

This startling and readable new edition chronicles both the attempts to keep black people and Indians divided in the Americas, and their efforts to unite. Two lessons in the Zinn Education Project draw on Black Indians: “The Color Line,” about conscious efforts in early America to create divisions between the races; and “The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play,” which helps students explore events leading up to the Trail of Tears.


Crow

By Barbara Wright, 298 pp., $16.99

Crow is a historical novel about the brutal repression of African American voters that brought an end to the short-lived Reconstruction era. Shining a light on the 1898 Wilmington Massacre, Wright creates the character of 5th grader Moses Thomas, whose father is an alderman and reporter for the only African American paper in the South. Through young Thomas’ adventures and his conversations with his grandmother, who lived for decades in slavery, readers learn about day-to-day life in the black community.


No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and
Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Artwork by Gregory Christie, 188 pp., $17.95

An honest and engaging story about Lewis Michaux, whose Harlem bookstore was a center of African American history, scholarship, debate, and activism from 1932 to 1974.  The book is full of diary-like chronological entries—written in the voices of Michaux, his family and those who frequented the store, including Malcolm X and Nikki Giovanni—interspersed with reports from Michaux’s FBI files, newspaper reports, photos and Christie’s gorgeous illustrations.


News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media

By Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres, 456 pp., $29.95

The book documents how the media have played many roles with respect to race and racism—from ignoring institutional racism to actually functioning as a key pillar of racism by stirring up hatred and violence against people of color. Also included are dozens of inspiring stories of the Native American, African American, Latina/o, and Asian American  journalists and news outlets that we rarely learn about in school.


The John Carlos Story

By John Carlos with Dave Zirin, 210 pp., $22.95

The image of John Carlos and Tommie Smith with their fists in the air at the 1968 Olympics is recognized around the world. Yet, as with so much of history, we know about the event but not the story of the organizing by athletes leading up to the Olympics, nor what happened to Carlos and Smith afterward. Read this beautifully written book and you will realize that the full story is as powerful and gripping as the photo.

Have you read any of these books?  Tell us what you thought in the comments.

The Silence of Struggle in the Curriculum

by Bill Bigelow

One of the great silences in the mainstream school curriculum is the role that social movements have played in making this a fairer, more peaceful, more democratic world. If you think things are bad today, imagine what they would be like without the movements to abolish slavery, to demand women’s rights, to end unjust wars, to fight for civil rights, to defend the environment—or for workers to bargain collectively for a living wage and workplace dignity.

Bread and Roses CentennialOne of the most significant struggles for workers’ rights began exactly one hundred years ago, on January 12th in Lawrence, Mass., when thousands of textile workers began a walkout that would come to be known as the Bread and Roses Strike, as well as the Singing Strike.

You’re unlikely to find much more than a mention of this important strike in a typical high school history textbook, if that. But as Norm Diamond points out in his article for the Zinn Education Project, “One Hundred Years After the Singing Strike,” this was a remarkable struggle that united mostly young women workers speaking dozens of languages in a dead-of-winter contest with some of the richest men in the United States. And the workers won.

The Zinn Education Project includes a number of teaching materials about the strike:


The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the use of Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States and other materials for teaching a people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country. The website offers more than 100 free, downloadable lessons and articles organized by theme, time period, and reading level. The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.