The quote above is from Darren, of Right on the Left Coast blog. It concerns the idea of the combination of math education and social justice education. Specifically, it references "ReThinking Mathematics" offshoot of "Rethinking Schools". I plan to debunk it. In order to truly and honestly respond, I must offer a few confessions.
- I don't teach math, and didn't do well in math in high school. If I misuse some terms or concepts, please forgive me, as I consider it my fault and not that of my past math teachers.
- I do teach in an urban school district.
- I do have something to do with the "L" word. Liberal, that is. I'd like to think I'm pretty moderate, but I acknowledge the fact that your position on the political spectrum is all relative. I wouldn't, however, call myself a leftist. I've always been right-handed.
Now, with that out of the way....
I was introduced to Rethinking Schools through a project I worked on roughly four years ago. I have been interested ever since.
I will tell you that some of the most thought-provoking and most interactive lessons that were not of my own doing were from RS. Teaching in an urban school district, I've realized our students define their world by the boundaries of their neighborhood. These boundaries are set by what interstates run through their community, where the territory of rival or hostile gangs begins or ends and where the public transporation will take them. More often than not, my students' world is contained within their zip code. In their mind's eye, everything that is good, holy and important occurs within this small area.
The lessons that I have used from RS are powerful. They are so powerful that they blasted the students into orbit and out of the confines of their interstates, rival sets and zip codes. They were able to see the bigger picture behind things outside of their zip code. They saw how people, culture, ideas, government, math, science and life in general collided in ways that were completely alien yet comfortingly similar across the world.
One lasting impression that I have had was using a poem regarding the election of Allende and then his overthrow and installation of Pinochet in Chile back in the 1970's. Long story short, it is a spoken word piece from two points of view, one of a peasant woman with a family and another woman of the upper class. Through the poem, you see the changes in the country as the result of Allende's reforms (including land reform) which are positive for the peasant, but frustrating for the rich woman. His overthrow and Pinochet's rise to power make life better for the rich, but miserable for the peasantry.
The reason that poem sticks in my head is because of the reactions of my kids after they heard it. It struck a chord with my young ladies, many of them asked to keep a copy of the poem. I of course obliged.
Yes, Allende was a socialist, and the last time I checked, socialism is a leftist political value system. So yes, kids learned something about a leftist political/economic country that didn't glorify the superior nature of free market capitalism.
On the way out, I didn't hand them each a copy of the Communist Manifesto, nor did I give them an "Impeach Bush" bumper sticker. I didn't text them the address of a leftist website, nor did I give 'em a podcast about evil Republicans. Nor did I want to.
When I teach politically sensitive lessons, I make sure to tell the kids that I'm not teaching them something that is right or wrong, I'm just teaching something that happened. I try to examine ideas from both points of view; sometimes I take positions on items that I myself abhor. I do it so that my students can critically examine ideas, people, issues and items of the day. I cringe when my kids look at me and half-ask, half-tell me that "You voted for Bush in the last election, didn't you? I know you did." I just want to scream, "No I didn't!" but I don't ever tell my kids who I voted for.*
I think it's wrong to condemn an entire movement simply because of a lack of faith in individual teachers. That's what it boils down to-- a lack of faith in the ability of our fellow warriors in the trenches to discern the source of a movement and decide for themselves how they want (or whether they want) to integrate the ideas, lesson plans or activities of this movement into their instruction. The unspoken word here is that teachers will simply regurgitate the prepackaged material, just as the leftists have planned it. (Diabolical music plays in the background.)
The idea that social justice is leftist claptrap...is quite honestly...claptrap itself! (Kudos on the use of claptrap, as I rarely run across it in my travels throughout the blogosphere).
The social justice movement is one that encourages students to take an active role in their communities. Unfortunatley, adults in power see "active role in communities" and think "Hey, now someone can rake dear old Mrs. Stutley's lawn." That's not community service-- that's corporal punishment.
The idea of social justice (and this concept of course extends to unionism, but that is a different post altogother) as it is taught in the classroom is that we use the curriculum to pique our students' interests in the world around them, in the plight of others in their community (local or world) and move them to action to solve problems of discrimination, inequity, inequality and various other sundry topics.
Gosh darn liberal, leftist tree-hugging do-gooders. We'll fix 'em in the next election.
* One more confession, I do tell my students who I voted for. The only time they can ask me is when they're getting ready to walk down the aisle to go onto the stage right before "Pomp and Circumstance" is playing. Call it a perk. Graduation has its privilleges.