Sunday, February 28, 2016

Black History "Month" Lip Service

"Okay class Black History Month is over, we will learn more (or not) about Dr. King and Rosa Parks next February...please complete your boring Eurocentric History Packet and turn it in at the end of the hour."

Black History Month (started as Black History Week in 1926), the vision of Dr. Carter G. Woodson is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this month...not even a mention at our school this year.

Is Black History Month even relevant anymore (after all we have President Obama - sarcasm mine) or just something that school districts do to help them feel good about themselves by taping up a few posters and maybe "celebrating" with a disingenuous assembly?

According to Teaching Tolerance, a project sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, public schools in America do a very inadequate job of teaching Black History. It graded all 50 states and found that many would receive a failing grade (Minnesota received a D!) for "incorporating" Black History (or anything but a Eurocentric view) into their curriculum.

Is the answer "Black History Month" or is it just a compartmentalized slap in the face?

In my opinion, any worthwhile public school curriculum would incorporate slavery, exploitation, classism, deportation, race and racism, classism, sexism, nativism, imperialistic colonialism, etc. into every unit of study in all academic areas...because these issues occur on a daily basis in America.

Talk about relevance...critical thinking skills...building critical consciousness...empathy...

Dr. Woodson was driven by the vision that all students were deprived of a true education if they weren't learning about each others cultural heritage, struggles, accomplishments, etc.

Are all students valued in the curriculum or just a side issue that can be studied during Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month, etc.?

Only the students know...

What grade would you give your school?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Three Cents

Recently in class we watched a tremendous documentary entitled Goin' to Chicago, a story of Mississippi sharecroppers who escaped the Jim Crow South for better opportunities in Chicago during The Great Migration Era...and of some who chose to stay and fight. 

I hope all (at least the ones who weren't texting, sleeping, or distracting others) of my students can come to appreciate the difficult past of African American sharecroppers (and of their own ancestors and parents)  and the sacrifices made for the freedoms and educational opportunities they now enjoy.


One of the stories (Mildred Fleming of Issaquena County, Mississippi) was especially poignant to me...

"I was born right down the road and I looked down the road and my mind goes back to when you just didn't have anything...when you go to school all day without anything to eat. And they would have a turnip patch for the school cafeteria for the cooks and that's how we would eat.

And most times in the wintertime we had just 3 cents to buy one box of milk...and by the time we came home we were so hungry that whatever was there to eat that's what we would eat.  Usually, it was a pot of beans.

But the last year of school my momma was sick, so that meant I had to come home and then I had to cook before I could eat...and my stomach is tearing up inside by you trying to cook.

And you know you can't eat while you're cooking 'cuz it gotta be enough for everybody else."

There is something about going back to your (even if its only in your memory...imagination...your parent's stories) home.

Please go back in your mind to those you never knew and say "thank you".

Then, tell those who sacrifice for you today how much you love them and live your life to make them proud.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Man's Best Friend(s)

WWI Carrier Pigeons

Over 16 million animals including dogs, horses, mules, donkeys, carrier pigeons, and even camels and cats were deployed during WWI. Unfortunately, 9 million of them sacrificed their lives in order to help soldiers survive.

Some astounding stats:

There were no radios in the trenches and all land wires were cut when the bombing pigeons (over 100,000 used with over 500 soldiers working with them) became the most reliable way (over 95% success rate) to send messages.

Over 1 million dogs were also used to carry messages, sniff out enemy soldiers, hunt/ kill trench rats, and warn soldiers through "quiet" growls of approaching enemy. Cats were also used to hunt/ kill rodents.

Millions of horses, mules, and donkeys were mainly recruited to haul heavy artillery and supplies. They were also used to make quick cavalry strikes against the enemy when necessary. Sadly, the average life span of a horse during WWI was 5 days.

Of course, maybe the most important contribution of animals in WWI was morale...bringing a sense of normalcy, innocence, and home in sharp contrast with the hell around them.  Truly these animals were Man's Best Friends.

The next time you are near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices and contributions of the millions of animals who served in WWI...

Peavey Fountain: Dedicated to WWI Horses

Monday, February 15, 2016

Happy Plutocrats Day!

As students (and teachers) across America celebrate Presidents' Day, I often wonder what are we celebrating...

A day off from school?

Presidents' Day Shopping and Sales?

The accomplishments, democratic aspirations, high principles, and prophetic vision of our 44 presidents?

The comfortable myths of American History?

Sadly and realistically, I have come to think of Presidents' Day as "Plutocrats' Day"...a day that reminds me of slavery, Native American genocide, institutional racism/ sexism/ classism, imperialistic colonization, unjust wars, political corruption and graft, exploitation of workers, etc.

Or maybe it was?

Therefore, I will symbolically remember today for those who suffer, for those who truly built this country, for those who have been silenced and oppressed, for those who have fought for freedom, truth, justice, equality, etc.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Before Bernie Sanders

Long before Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, there was Eugene Debs who also talked of a working class revolution.

Federal Troops arrive in Chicago to "end" the Pullman Strike

Debs, a labor union leader from Indiana, is probably most famous for organizing a strike against the Pullman Railroad Company in 1894 that paralyzed the nation's railroads and mail delivery systems. While serving time in jail as a result of the Pullman Strike he became convinced (mostly from reading Marx's Das Kapital) that the working class could only be helped through socialist policies and political activism...Debs founded the Socialist Party of America in 1901.

He ran for President of the United States five times during his political career...the most famous run was in 1920 (he garnered over 900,000 votes), while he was in jail (serving a 10 year sentence for treason at the hands of Woodrow Wilson) for the second time for encouraging Americans to resist the military draft leading up to WWI...insinuating that the war was being fought for the benefit of greedy capitalists.

"If war is right let it be declared by the who have your lives to lose, you certainly above all others have the right to decide the momentous issue of war and peace!"

Eugene Debs: A man who stood with the poor, the working class, and viciously attacked the millionaire class.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Age of Trump

Lessons from History and Richard Harding Davis:


In this day and age of exaggerated and sensationalized "news" coverage...what could fit more perfectly than "The Donald"?


Turn on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox and record how many seconds it takes before one of the talking heads mentions Donald Trump.  I'll bet it was less than a minute.

Next, count how many times Donald Trump is mentioned in a 30 minute "news" segment.

Richard Harding Davis

Richard Harding Davis is arguably one of the most well-known and influential journalists in US History. He was the primary American news correspondent to the Spanish-American War and WWI. But most importantly, his writing greatly influenced the military/ political career of his friend Teddy Roosevelt and the future history (The Imperialistic Age of Roosevelt) of the world.

Davis once stated:

"A good reporter could put a man on the pages of history."

There is no doubt that he made legend of Roosevelt at San Juan Hill (and kept others like The Buffalo Soldiers out of the news)...himself one of the most famous journalists in America...and sold millions of papers and magazines.


Can a good reporter put anybody (or omit) on the pages of history?

Is the glib 24 hour news cycle and the temptation to "get our information" from Twitter, Reddit, YouTube and other social media outlets a reflection of our society or an indictment of it?