The other day, Beth Loveland emailed me with her thoughts after she read Ashley McCall’s “What If We Radically Reimagined The New School Year?” As I read McCall’s article, I kept thinking about Lillian Smith and her comments to Mr. Hartley about education. McCall asks us, among a myriad of important questions, “What if we recognized that life—our day-to-day circumstances and our response to them—is curricula?” This, to me, is key. In her letter in Mr. Hartley, Smith tells him that its important to remember that “what one does with one’s mind outside of the classroom” is just as important if not more important than what one does inside the classroom. Bringing those experiences from our lives to our learning is important, and for me, it’s the most important aspect of education. We must connect students’ and our own experiences with what we teach. Below, you will find Beth’s email which she has graciously allowed me to share with you.
Last night, I gathered with some dear, friends who live just past the middle school. Poking through a bowl of pottery shards they have collected from Betty’s Creek over the years one told me, “See this glaze? That’s white-people pottery. But look at this, this is Cherokee. This creek was once a huge settlement and I heard that Betty was one of the last Native Americans who had become a citizen so she could keep her land, and of course they took it away from her shortly after that…”
Then there was a conversation about how they’ve personally boycotted a store in Dillard that, until recently, sold those awful black lawn jockeys. He showed me photographs he took of them to document the blatant -roadside racism. They told me of a local legend that those statues were reflective of old markers for the Underground Railroad. Not true of course, but a very curious tidbit of justification and an interesting commentary on the need to create stories.
Throughout COVID, I keep thinking that it seems as though the universe has banished each of us to our own little corner of the world for time out. So, I keep wondering, “what is the lesson? What are we supposed to learn?” And I wonder … what if the lesson is, “be there. Where you are. Teach there. Learn there. Because our nation is made of our collective “theres” and the whole is a sum of its parts.”
Last night I thought about Ancient Rome and the Mayan civilizations, how they would just build cities on top of cities and how there are layers and layers of domestic sediment just below the surface. How the stories of humanity are folded into the firmament. How the strata of the Cherokee, wiped out and exiled by colonization, is just under our feet. How we’ll add to it lawn jockeys and cell phones and protest posters and this mountain will get higher and higher. And I’m wondering what would happen if schools were to take this time while we’re banished to our corner, to dig down, right where we are – to start excavating and reckoning with the troublesome and beautiful parts of the past.
As we’re learning more and more about Lillian E Smith and Mary Hambidge, I am becoming more and more aware that there is a different and powerful side of a story around here that could also be told. Rabun Gap is a part of that story.
I’ve had a couple ideas. Maybe do some team teaching and turn a class into an explorative local history/documentary-making class. Or maybe it could just be a club that meets during tutorials. We could do some Zoom sessions and have conversations with locals to start harvesting material and pursuing the line of inquiry.
I don’t think anything is as powerful for developing empathy as making actual, human connections with real people. There’s also the thought that while kids are walking around with the internet in their pockets, modeling and teaching the skill of pulling the thread of a story will likely benefit them more than any fact they’ll be asked to learn.
I remember that I need to be patient. And my school’s schedule IS jam packed already and we have SO many new challenges on the plate with COVID and remote learning… but this strange season presses on my spirit as an educator in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I just don’t want to miss the opportunity to tap into the energetic current that is radiating through the nation.
This morning, I ran across this article and it inspired me to reach out.
When it seems as though each of us are being banished to our own little corners of the world, I have to wonder … what is the lesson here.
What will we do with this time? Will we waste it away, not thinking about the ways that we need to change our approach to education? Will we, as Beth and Ashley note, link the past, present, and future together in students’ minds, bringing about substantive changes not just to the curricula we teach but to the communities we inhabit? Education is important and affects a person’s lifelong worldview. There are other factors as well, but education is one of the factors at the forefront.
What would happen if we radically reimagine education? What would happen if we have students work out wealth disparities in math classes and come up with ways to distribute COVID spending to those most vulnerable? What if we taught students, in science, about the spread of diseases like COVID and their impacts on societies? What if we had students link, in literature or history classes, COVID to the past such as the 1918 epidemic and the Red Summer? These are all things that could be done, not just at this moment but at all moments.
What if we taught students, truthfully, about our past? What if we told them that those at the Alamo fought to maintain their right to enslave others? What if we taught them that George Washington became an enslaver when his parents gave him an enslaved person at the age of eleven? What if we did this? We would be able to move towards a more equitable society because students’ mind would not be so wired to believe in the myths that have affected us decades. I want to end with the recent clip from Last Week Tonight where John Oliver discusses the way we teach U.S. History in this nation.