Back in high school I had the good fortune of taking a “social studies” class that was not part of the standard curriculum. The teacher was very enthusiastic about his class, and brought in material based on his own choices.
It was through this class that I was first exposed to Michael Moore’s work by his series “TV nation”. Through watching these episodes in class, I learned a good deal about the consequences of business practices in our country; seeing the unemployed laborers in Flynt, Michigan, and hearing their stories. For a student living in a largely broken city such as Richmond, VA, it helped to illustrate why perhaps our own city had developed as it had.
This class built a solid groundwork in making me much more aware of the workings of our world.
The real benefit of the class was evident when talking with students who were not lucky enough to have taken this particular class; their overall level of social consciousness seem to be malaise and un-informed by comparison, even at such an early level in our course.
At some point in the year, my personal interests in the material collided with my teachers, resulting in a brief exchange in the hall, away from the ears of the class. I cannot remember the exact wording, or the issue upon which our disagreement was based, but my position was of “…and why can’t we also focus on this issue?”. The teacher responded with a fear of loosing his job should we step too much outside the realm of the “approved curriculum”.
And here is our problem: This teacher was obviously trying to show us an perspective of our country that was different from what the standard curriculum would allow, yet he still had to worry about the consequences of such actions, and first and foremost in his mind was the fear of loosing his job. I cannot blame him for his fear; read about the actions of teachers in similar positions around our country and you will find many who have lost their jobs on similar grounds.
The problem is obviously one of censorship in our schools. While it is not as blatant or heavy-handed as the censorship in other nations, these well-founded fears still prevent our students from being able to learn about the world from both sides of the trenches. In america, our censorship is much more low key, put forth as an unspoken rule, placing much of the burden on the individual teacher. It is not as if there was a massive government censor breathing down his neck, instead he has to worry about the potential of just a handful of students and parents complaining till the school board folds in on the issue. And the quickest way to clean up such a mess is often just to fire the teacher.
As the tactics employed to keep such curriculum sterile are so similar to the tactics used to isolate workers from achieving better pay and work conditions, I propose that the solution be similar as well: A union for social studies teachers. Such an organization could be easily formed with a Hippocratic oath similar to the ones used by doctors in our society. The solidarity of a union would ease the tension placed on individual teachers by being singled out for their beliefs. It could also serve as a platform to organize a much more holistic view of our society.
The overall effects of such an organization could be tremendous. Such an action would work well towards establishing a deeper consciousness in our students. On a more general level, I would suspect it would allow us a chance to bring our society as a whole to a greatness not possible with such ignorance of social issues.
As free-thinkers we must realize that our biggest obstacle in proposing social change is ignorance. And while this issue may seem quite small to the average intellectual, we must remember that our schools are ironically the place where free thought stops for some pupils. We must work to ensure that if such thought ceases , it ceases informed, and if we can help it, the intriguing reality presented by an encompassing view of our society would encourage it not to cease at all.