Monday, April 25, 2016

The Texas School Book Depository

I have long advised/ warned students to trust no textbook publisher, biographer, or teacher...everything learned about history deserves a thorough scrutiny and analysis of primary sources, context, understanding the lens, etc. and here is why...

The state of Texas (IMO, politicians and education policy are a dangerous mix) has recently purchased 5 million brand new history textbooks to be distributed statewide. But, will these books teach an accurate and comprehensive (not to mention critical thinking, critical consciousness, social activism, etc.) view of American History or a myopic, riddled with half-truths and blatant omissions Texas-centric view?   "Thankfully", McGraw-Hill Publishing Company states (is this supposed to comfort us?) that they made these books especially for the state of Texas ($$$) and no other state will receive this version of their text.

Can any of this really surprise us when Texas Republicans voted to ban the teaching of critical thinking skills in 2012?

"We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills, critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

Following are some of the reported updates/ revisions to the "Whitewashed History of Texas".

A few examples of Texas "History"

  • Texas-Mexico lessons are "interesting" at best.
  • The Civil War was primarily fought over states' rights, sectionalism...slavery is downplayed as a secondary cause.
  • Certain aspects of slavery weren't necessarily bad...the "good master" theory...the benefits of so-called religion. 
  • Slavery is compared to immigration of workers.
  • There is no mention of the Ku Klux Klan and other White Power terrorist organizations.
  • There is no mention of the Black Codes or Jim Crow Laws.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Black Rain

"Black Rain"

Imagine a day like any other day - the regular routine - waking up, eating, school/ work, homework, etc...the uneventful, tedious, monotonous "black and white" moments of everyday life interrupted by a sudden, powerful, traumatic "full color" life changing disruption...

You avoid the "mushroom cloud" forming in the distance, but yet you can't run from the chaos of the blast or it's black rain.

"Grave of the Fireflies"

Black Rain (quite often very radioactive) is formed from the enormous amount of airborne materials combined with heat/ upward thermal currents produced from bombings.

This "rain" fell as the fallout particles mixed with carbon residue and high altitude moisture to produce a sticky, dark, and very dangerous rain.

"Black Rain on White Wall"
on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial 

As we view the atomic bombs (or for that matter war in the Middle East, drone attacks, global suffering, terrorism, police brutality, etc.) from the safe distance of books, classroom notes, video, CNN, etc. we should remind ourselves (and never forget) that true humanity can not allow a safe, respectable distance from black rain.

"The bomb that fell on Hiroshima fell on America too. It fell on no city, no munition plants, no docks.  It erased no church, vaporized no public buildings, reduced no man to his atomic elements.  But it fell, it fell."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Recently in class, we listened to/ studied the Japanese American Nisei Units of WWII.  A word (Yamato-damashii) was used to describe their willingness to die for America in spite of the fact that their families were being held as prisoners of war in Japanese Internment Camps.


Yamato-damashii is a Japanese term loosely translated the "Japanese Spirit" or "Japanese Soul"...which manifests itself as a plethora of virtues.

  • An "Indomitable Spirit" based on family and community harmony
  • To think of yourself as unique, distinct, great
  • Common-sense/ "real life" wisdom
  • Resourcefulness and good judgment
  • Bravery and resolve
  •  A willingness to sacrifice one's life
  • A resolute faith
  • Persistence and competitive vigilance to always try harder

Do any of our words (maybe the idea of Collective Unconsciousness) do justice to the concept, imagery, and deep expression of Yamato-damashii...was there ever an "Indomitable American Spirit" based on family and community harmony or was it just a dream?

"If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for...he isn't fit to live." 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Over the Rainbow

Later this week, our students will attempt the daunting task of performing the all-time classic The Wizard of Oz in our annual spring musical...break a leg!

Listen to "Over the Rainbow"

Early in the story as Dorothy (Minnesota's own Judy Garland) longs to escape her dusty and dreary life in Kansas she sings "Over the Rainbow".  The music was written by Harold Arlen and the lyrics by Yip Harpburg (especially famous for their previous hit "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" and many other collaborated hits).

Did you know?

  • Shirley Temple was pursued to replace Garland for the part of Dorothy...but, was unable to be released from her contract with another movie studio or hit the range of notes in the song.
  • The lyrics had many interpretive meanings especially political and religious...a prophetic hope that FDR's "New Deal" program would deliver the country out of The Great Depression and Dorothy longing for an escape from Kansas and her tough circumstances to go to heaven.
  • In order to reduce the 2+ hour movie down to 90 minutes, MGM executives attempted to cut the "long, slow moving and too sad song" out of the movie during the second editing of the film. This led to a firestorm of criticism...the producers of the film argued passionately to keep "Over the Rainbow" in the film and threatened to quit the film if MGM executives cut it. Louis B. Mayer (Executive Head of MGM) finally stopped the argument when he announced to the whole room... 
"Let the boys have their damn song!"

  • Ironically in 2001, the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts named "the song that nearly got cut" the #1 "Song of the Century".

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lessons from Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire

In 2016, when memory is being erased (or not even formed)...

Students (and many others) don't know the difference between the Korean War and the Vietnam War or The Civil War and Reconstruction, John Brown and Nathan Bedford Forrest (I could go on and on and usually do!), or the difference between various political ideologies...or fail to ponder the "humaneness" of drone warfare...or know the historical background of our involvement in worldwide colonialism/ imperialism and its effect on current events...or appreciate the importance of public values/ morality or civic responsibility, etc.

In 2016, when students and teachers (and many others) lack the motivation/ skills to...

Define critical thinking (even though our #1 goal in public education is to develop critical thinking skills...sarcasm mine), or contemplate topics such as Intersectionality/ Matrix of Domination, or foster a social consciousness/ activism mindset, etc.

In 2016, when public schools across the nation...

have sold out/ are under siege of corporate influence, focus mainly on "accountability" and so-called "excellence" geared toward conformity and high-stakes testing (our state is MCA standardized testing today), and have become (IMO) intellectual dead zones and B.F. Skinner-like punishment centers.

Isn't it time that we heed the wisdom of Paulo Freire (he hated menu-like solutions) to...

  • govern our choices by principle.
  • recognize oppressive and authoritarian tendencies in our society.
  • develop agency and voice by connecting knowledge/ truth to power.
  • develop agency and voice through "reading the world". 
  • develop a consciousness of humanity and true democracy.
  • challenge the assumptions of "conventional wisdom/ history".