This week I had some classroom victories. I wrapped up my unit on unionization with my sheltered an honors students. My goal with the sheltered students was to get them to understand the robber baron vs. labor union fight, and how each side tried to get what they wanted. The vocabulary was tough for them, but in the end my Nepali, Congolese, and Latin students got it. Small but important victory.
For my honors students, I prescribed a reading by Howard Zinn from A People's History of the United States. We contrasted Zinn and the textbook, followed up by a 50 minute discussion on the role of public schools. I asked: Created to form the new industrial worker and teach obedience, do schools still pursue the same goal, or do they attempt to create independent thinking citizens? Students were split, with most believing that school is what you make it, or by teacher. Thankfully, they said my class taught them to think and challenge.
The following day the students organized their own chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) using democratic values of that union. Students had to conduct the 1912 strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts and decide on the real life problems that arose during that strike, and resolve them through democratic cooperation and the ideals of the IWW. In the end the students had an unfacilitated discussion about the IWW, how to win, and had to use Eugene Debs' quote to explain the ideals and leadership model of the IWW, versus the corporate leadership model.
Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage.He has not come; he never will come. I would not lead you out if i could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your minds that there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves.This lesson really boils down to what I do. Create citizens ready to participate in a democratic society; independent thinking, questioning critical thinkers, who challenge misused authority, and lead, don't follow. This was one of many lessons on that topic. American history provides so many opportunities to teach the same message. Teaching this week was awesome, and I look forward to the rest of the year.