Why This Huffington Post Article Pissed Me Off

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.

Richard Wright @ California Newsreel

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.

TKAM by Harper Lee

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.

Junot Diaz

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.

Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson’s descendants from Sandra Seaton’s site.

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.

15 thoughts on “Why This Huffington Post Article Pissed Me Off

  1. fumblingmuckwit says:

    As the child of two teachers and the brother of another, I completely agree with your points about being dedicated to helping the kids you teach to grow their understanding and how you try to do a often difficult job with very limited resources.
    I would however also agree with part of the gist of the original article – the part about politics and ‘government’ (of all levels) interfering and twisting what ‘should’ be taught. Be it editing out distasteful parts of history or insisting on creationism being given the same credence as evolution, or insisting on a particular slant being put on what out children are taught. That is wrong on too many levels. What that author missed was it is very rarely the fault of the teachers and they shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush as the legislators and administrators and political/religious interest groups.
    Oops, longer comment than I’d planned :)

  2. Heather says:

    I am SO GLAD that you teach all of this stuff in your classroom–you get a standing ovation from me. Seriously.

    BUT…

    The author of that article is correct about what I would bet is the majority of classrooms in this country. I never learned that much about slavery in middle school and high school, and neither have my kids (and they go to a different school than I did). I have had this conversation with many of my friends (who are from all over the country), and they didn’t learn much about the real details of slavery, either. It just isn’t normally taught in that much detail.

    I’m not knocking public education as a whole, by any means–I got a fine public education and I had wonderful teachers. I am a firm proponent of the public education system. But there are many areas lacking in the public education system in general, and this is one of them.

    So I think the author of the article is right, unfortunately. You should feel proud that he wasn’t talking about you, and that you’re doing such a great job of teaching this stuff in your classrooms. :)

    • Cassie says:

      I think the problem you mention is also mentioned in the last comment. The reason teachers may not teach what certain people deem important is because there is SO MUCH to cover in such a short period of time, but also because parents and community members are so outspoken about what teachers SHOULDN’T teach students. Just last year, I got a nasty letter for teaching Steinbeck.

      I’m more concerned with how the author of the article deemed public education unfit and sarcastically said “sterling” about the system when it’s only one topic his teachers missed out I the wide range that they could have covered. He could have said something about more education about slavery, without degrading the system.

      People are always welcome to critique the system, but if you want to critique then you need to also stand up and help fix it. Find a way to have this movie shown in your children’s school, speak up about the standards that your teachers use to educate your children. It’s the same with politics, if you didn’t vote, you can’t whine.

      • Heather says:

        Back when I was in school (and where I went to school), it wasn’t a matter of teachers not having time or parents complaining. We didn’t have any standardized testing to be taught for.

        There’s no denying that the public education system is pretty broken right now, and you’re right–it isn’t the fault of teachers in many, many cases. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to stand up and do something about it. I do what I can all the time.

        I guess I just saw the author as stating a fact–I didn’t see it so much as a riff on teachers (or maybe I did and I just automatically went a step up in my brain because I know what crap teachers are going through at the present time).

        (I do, though, wholeheartedly disagree with the whole “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” idea.)

    • Cassie says:

      It’s also concerning because I can cover all this while other students may never get it because there’s no content standards only learning standards. We will keep up the good fight though! :)

    • Cassie says:

      I just hope all the parents who read this blog go out and buy their students books about slavery, fiction and non. Chains is a great trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson that I can think of.

      I think we also have to remember the limits of public education. Probably, a great many parents would argue against their students reading slave rape stories due to the content and brutality. It just isn’t always educations fault but all the people that want to complain who have a say and good connections.

      • Cassie says:

        Haha! I think we were both reading with a slant. I was reading and then this was the straw that broke the camel’s back because I live in NC and our government is doing just awful things to teachers. So, I’m already ready to be angry. :)

      • Heather says:

        I was just thinking the other day that I’m glad my sister and her kids moved out of NC a couple months ago. The more I hear about what the gov’t of NC is doing there, the more angry I get. Sigh.

  3. Bea says:

    Can I join in? I know several teachers, and they are hard working, enthusiastic, wonderful human beings. They do their best all the time. It is not appreciated. Miley Cyrus gets more attention than any hard working teacher. Enough said there. I am proud to say that my daughter is a teacher and does all she can to help the children see what slavery and the holocaust are, and how they continue to damage our world. As for voting, I would be SO FOR a law like they have in Australia. Everyone must vote. They don’t try to make it harder to vote, shorten the early voting, close precincts, take early registration away from teenagers. Instead, they make it mandatory. When will we learn that involvement makes changes, and we can’t sit on our couch watching an idiot tell us who to vote for. We need to be informed and ready to cast that vote. So sorry for my rage, and so sorry to be off topic. Hear this teachers, this parent has nothing but love and respect for all you do.

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