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Monday, November 21, 2016

Before the Common Core and 1968 Chicano Student Walk Outs

Remembering the 1968 Chicano student walkout. Thinking about students who fought to learn about social justice. Those were the days my friend.
Imagine yourself a fly on the wall? 
In a discussion with a Hispanic high-school student I worked with when his teacher was sick last week. 
I asked what are you learning about?
" You know Stuff"

What kind of stuff?

"I don't really know..
It's just stuff Dr. Turner"

Are you learning about history?
What books are you reading?
Tell about something interesting you're learning in school?

"I don't know what I'm learning about...
Honestly it's boring...
We aren't really reading about anything.."

You have to be reading about something.
Show me what you are reading?
Show me what books you have in your back pack?
There has to be something in your backpack?
Tell me about your history class?
Tell me about your English class?

"No, I don't have a History class.
I don't have an English class..
"We don't have any books..
We go to websites"

Can you show it to me one the computer?
So we went to the site, and it was boring, and lacked any real focus in my humble opinion. It was like pulling teeth, but I found out this website is used for their humanities project. The student had a humanities project, and needed to write about a social justice issue, and they could pick the issue. This is the kind of assignment that would be exciting to me. I was excited, and started trying to get him excited.  I told him social justice is cool. 

" Dr. Turner it's not really about social justice. I was kind of interested at first, but it's about the five paragraph essay. All we talk about every day is the introductory paragraph, first paragraph, second paragraph, third paragraph, and the concluding paragraph stuff.....I'm not really interested in writing..." Then he took me to the Five Paragraph Essay site the class uses. 

We brainstorm social justice issues that I thought might be interest him. He wasn't biting. The social justice website was a site that was a high school search engine for finding trusted peer reviewed articles. He said you need this site in college... It really provided no guidance or sample projects. It was of little help. I also understood his teacher did a great deal more with this assignment then he was sharing with me. Trust me teachers always do more. But, we are but a mere fly on the world of a 16-year-old boy here. 
Looking at the world of school through the eyes of a 16-year-old boy informs my teaching. Imagine if our Ed Reformers, policy makers, and legislators could look at their reforms through the eyes of 16-year-olds? Only in the era of high-stakes testing would looking at the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old be radical. Getting back to the social justice site. It was a search engine for peer reviewed articles on social justice.  Being 61 year-old I found it somewhat interesting, but at 61 everything seems interesting to me these days. I asked him if his class was reading any connected books or stories about social justice...

" No we just read articles and sample essays..."

Do you talk about them?

What is everyone saying?

"Just a bunch boring five paragraph stuff.

Boring in college you'll have to write essay stuff."

I left worried about our conversation. I understood this should be an exciting assignment. I knew the real problem was purpose. The young man had no personal purpose for this assignment. He was just going through the motions. I worried about it until Sam Cook "Wonderful World" came on the radio. 

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book,
Don't know much about the French I took.
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be.

Don't know much about geography,
Don't know much trigonometry.
Don't know much about algebra,
Don't know what a slide rule is for.
But I do know that one and one is two,
And if this one could be with you,
What a wonderful world this would be.

Now, I don't claim to be an "A" student,
But I'm tryin' to be.
For maybe by being an "A" student, baby,
I can win your love for me."

Heraclitus said: "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."  Yes, no one steps in the same river twice. But, I recognize this river. 
It's hard to be a teacher in this Common Core no textbook river where the purpose of school is to go to college. Not why, just go to college. 
We never read Alfred Lord Tennyson's Forward Rode the Light Brigade to go to college. We  embedded into our hearts Tennyson's line "Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die." We learn something about ourselves in those lines. Our teachers filled our hearts with a greater purpose than going to college. Our teachers had something else in mind, and to be honest in my high school most of us weren't going to college. These days a great deal of high school is not to reason, but to do and die. There are millions of young minds dying in public schools driven by high-stakes testing and standards without personal purpose. 

Purpose, inquiry, and personal investment are not required in state mandated reasoning. 
As for the river, I stepped in it myself one or twice as a teenager long ago, but I also had teachers/guides who somehow turned those waters into a radical revolution of discovery. Not all our teachers were great guides, but those few who were made all the difference. 

I can't wait to talk with his teacher. We have some real possible learning hooks here. Personal purpose, inquiry, liberation, and revolution. The waters might be different, and I might not be the same man, but in many ways it's always about my generation...Not to throw us off track, but the "Who" knew this river as well It's aways about my generation people. Dr. Turner is going to be a guest not that classroom next week, and hopefully together with his teacher we''ll turn those water into medical revolution. 

Crossing generation borders is one of those exciting teacher conversation stuff that informs great teachers.  It's the genuine stuff teachers like to talk about. We don't need another Common Core PD workshop; we just need time and each other.  I am going back armed with history of the 1968 Chicano student walkouts. If that doesn't work we'll keep going back until we find something that does. It's what teaching is all about. At least it was until curriculum became scripted, standards became benchmarks, and testing became everything.

It's not his teacher's fault, but it is someones fault when high school students have had no history classes in middle school, and have no history class in high school now. Welcome to the revolution of history matters. In my day, history mattered enough to be called history, and my high school history teacher use the 1968 Chicano student walk outs to inspired a walk in to learning for us. Can't wait to step back into that river. 
Here's to those teachers who make a difference,

Jesse The Walking Man Turner 

If you like to listen to the tune I listened to on my walk this cold snow flake morning...its Sam Cooke's "wonderful World"


  1. Thank You that was inspiring. I am not teaching this year and I don't know that other than private and group lessons I shall ever be able to step back into that world and see the silent suffering and watch the deadening of creativity. Why on earth take the seeds of creativity blooming big in a child or teen agers brain and spray them with Round Up. It is sheer evil to me how our government permitted toxic testing and toxic pesticides for the goal of producing both unnatural children and unnatural plants and animals walk straight through the front door with no questions, no certifications, only Greed as their reference. I have been that child and I have gone back in the cave all these years. Me too soon to be sixty, Each time with the exception of in Independent schools where I am loved, each time I go into a public or charter school I am loved by my students and swiftly slaughtered by the work house administration. How odd I found it when I had every child, 750 so dedicated to helping the Grey Wolf either by drawing or writing and submitting all of this to the government and will letters to the students from Senator Nelson and even President Obama, How odd did I feel when the principal had her photograph taken with all this and let me go with the words that my Leonardo da Vinci mix of art and science was not for those kids.

  2. Carolyn, the insanity driving education is hurting people on so many levels these days. In my view more Leonardo da Vinci and science are exactly what is needed.