And why there won’t be a Newsday Tuesday today.
Article by Kia Makarichi
First, if you’re going to write an article about a movie, and in that article sarcastically pick on the public education system, you should make sure that there are not double words (check until). Maybe this is that odd version of karma for all the teachers that are reading your article and shaking their heads. I’m not insulting your grammar, because everyone knows I’m still learning, but I was really hurt as a teacher who works overtime every single day that in a movie review, you felt the need to attack public education.
That being said, what does a middle aged man know about current education within the public school system. Was he there when the teachers on my team sweat through a summer without air conditioning just so we could meet to implement the common core standards to help our students succeed in college. Was he there this morning during my planning period when I decided to print thinking maps so that my freshman (who are great in diversity and learning styles) could hold and highlight on the paper, but the printer jammed nine times in seven minutes because our technology is not always up and running in small town America where we’re lucky our students eat on Saturdays. It says, Mr. Makarichi that you are the “Senior Editor for Mobile and Innovation” at Huffington Post, and rather than cheer on technology and innovation within school programs, or helping educators become technological facillitators, you decided to tear down the way we teach history.
I want you to know that I teach 9th graders, children who range from 12 to 15, if they haven’t been failed by someone else before they’ve reached me. I want you to know how one of my students last year cried over the raw quake of Billie Holiday’s swooning voice when she sang, “Strange Fruit.” This was while reading To Kill a Mockingbird, an often mocked classic story that is said to be “old” and “not of value” within public education by non-educators. If you don’t remember from your own “sterling publication school education,” To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of Scout, Atticus and Tom when a white lawyer represents a black man who is obviously innocent of the crime of rape against a young and lonely white girl. The story unfolds with the town’s reactions to Atticus’s representation. Both Tom and Atticus are two of the strongest male characters within literature, and Tom is one of the strongest black males, who ultimately dies at the hand of a town that can only see color. During the teaching of this book, we discussed and analyzed the Scottsboro boys’s story, Emmitt Till’s story with current day parallels to Trayvon Martin and violence against people who are not of the majority. We read poetry by Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Toni Morrison, Rita Dove. I quizzed my students on excerpts from “Black Boy” by the great Richard Wright, where they had to tell me the significance of the quote, “Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity.
It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.” Isn’t that what history is, our recording of the world around us? But you want to know how much my students know about the history of slavery? How the beautiful daughter of hair weave and crab grass in my second period wrote the most beautiful poem about Harriet Tubman calling her, “Queen of the bees/born a servant to a cold world.” After researching Tubman’s life, she went on to compare her own poem to the lyrics of modern day rappers and word artists who in her world of broken houses and barefooted children was the way she could relate to the strongest women of revolution, moving men, and women in sacks of flour through the basements of white houses that they were not allowed to call home.
You say, “but in the classrooms of my youth, slavery was something bad that sort of just “happened” — a curious institution that was afforded importance mostly because of the emphasis put on the heroism of what people like Abraham Lincoln “did” about it” (Huff Post). This isn’t about Abraham Lincoln’s contribution to the start of freedom (which was far off by my standards) because my students can tell you how many slaves traveled through the Dominican Republic and what year they become free from Haiti. They can write you a dramatic monologue about how it feels to ride those ships through the “gateway of slavery” because they’ve compared and contrasted African American slave narratives to the Pulitzer winning, Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. You might ask them why Dominicans today do not claim they are black, but instead Indio because of their own dirty history.
They will not be able to tell you how tall Abraham Lincoln stood in the river of the Mississippi, but they can tell you what Langston Hughes was saying both explicitly and inferred in, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” This is the history that you claim we missed, correct? Why stop at slavery when we can educate our children about the world around them, not just their world, but the world of their grandparents, the world before anyone they knew even in six degrees of separation was alive. Next time you ask yourself why we might still teach The Odyssey, ask yourself what character can teach loyalty and you will find yourself in the lines of Penelope’s face twenty years after Odysseus has set sale to build a horse of cleverness.
I’m disappointed that in an essay on an upcoming movie, you attack the public education system. We have the duty of teaching our students the history of America and beyond that, the history of the world. When we discuss “The Declaration of Independence” and the men held most high on monuments in our nation’s capitol say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” my students will be able to tell you how many children were had between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson according to the Smithsonian exhibit (and this is all without computers in my classroom). They’ve watched videos. They’ve analyzed equality in Fahrenheit 451, “Harrison Bergeron,” and “The Declaration of Independence” and then used chart paper to determine which were the most equal according to their collaborative definition. After learning about Sally Hemings, they were unable to “hold [those] truths to be self-evident” because our fore fathers did not mean “all men,” but only white men, and don’t even get me started on women’s roles. They are able to argue why “The Declaration of Independence” wasn’t written for the men who broke the land for their “equality” or for the men who fought beside those that wouldn’t call them “equal” in everyday life for at least one-hundred and two years when the “Civil Rights Act” was passed in 1964.
I want to issue an invitation for you to come to my classroom and have this discussion with those students who bled their way through To Kill a Mockingbird and American history to earn their credits in the history of racism and brutality. Please keep in mind that I am only an English teacher and so not certified to teach them true history. After having spent some time in a classroom, perhaps then you would feel differently about our education system and teachers too.