Critical Issues in Democratic Schooling: Curriculum, Teaching, and Socio-Political Realities by Kenneth Teitelbaum

11. Critical Civic Literacy in Schools

  • Ken argues for the importance of taking literacy past basic reading and writing skills to include the type of civic literacy required to create students who can be active and engaged community members. This requires legal, constitutional, and current events knowledge along with the ability to analyze the power structure that can lead to social inequalities. This will allow them to participate in the civic life of their communities and ideally improve conditions for the otherwise powerless.
  • These efforts will be found in social studies lessons. Ken sees key challenges to this effort that include finding time in the schedule, training and supporting teachers that know how, finding appropriate curriculum materials and activities, overcoming student and parent apathy, avoiding too much controversy, and taking into account the different social backgrounds of students in each class. He also offers fifteen examples of lessons from around the country that you can consider trying in your class.

12. Curriculum and Socialism in the United States, 1900-1920

  • During this period socialism made inroads into government and schooling. In this form of government, the production and distribution of goods and services are socially owned, usually by the government. This is opposite to capitalism where the poduction and distribution are privately owned. With private ownership comes economic and social inequality along with the possibility of dispoilization of nature.
  • In addition to influencing public schools, socialists of the era started weekend schools where socialist values and concepts were featured. These included questioning our country’s history and efforts to counteract individualism, competitiveness, nationalism, militarism, and anti-labor themes that seemed pervasive in public schools. The emphasis was also on reflection and questioning the status quo. The redistribution of wealth to ensure adequate levels of food, housing, and clothing for all is also a common theme.

13. Everyone a Writer

  • Writing is difficult for most of us, but we all have something to say, and we should engage in the process. Ken shares some of his own history of reading and writing and how both shaped his character. The very act of writing aids in the recall of what you write about. It is the most accessible artistic medium as you just need a pen and paper or a word processor. First drafts are often terrible, but you have to start somewhere. It can help you in the process of self-discovery and in discovering the world around you. It involves exploration, clarification, and deep thinking. It is something that all educators should encourage and support as the potential rewards can be significant and satisfying as you communicate with others.

14. What About the Arts?

  • The arts have the power to lift us up, make us happy, and make the world a more livable place. The focus on reading and math, however, has made the arts seem more like a frill and many schools have decreased their art offerings thanks to the emphasis on standardization. Art, however, is not something separate from life. It is part of life. Ideally, it should be integrated into all subjects and will pay off with better learning results. This is supported by research. The shift from STEM to STEAM in some schools is encouraging. It can engage diverse, reluctant, and recalcitrant students. Teaching is an art, and teachers need to see themselves as artists. Unfortunately, the income gap comes into play here as poor schools have fewer artistic opportunities. Art, however, is an excellent tool for exposing sociopolitical injustice.

15. The Value of Recreation and Play

  • Ken recounts his youth spent playing on a nearby playground with little or no adult supervision. This is a time when kids learned to self-organize, stay fit, and just have fun. Kids had to develop social skills by learning how to negotiate, get along, and be more creative. He regrets that this type of activity seems to have vanished, being replaced by organized team sports and only in neighborhoods where the parents can afford them.
  • In addition to the reduction in playtime outside of school in the US, we also have seen how the emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing has led to less or even no recess in most schools. With less play where children control their destiny, we have seen large increases in anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, and school shootings as more students feel like victims who have no control. Ken sites Finland where this isn’t the case, and kids are required to have 75 minutes of recess a day. Fortunately, we are starting to see some states and localities push back as they lobby for more recess.

Part III Multiculturalism and Social Justice
16. Multicultural Education: A Rational

  • The bottom line here is that we can all benefit from a better understanding and acceptance of people not from our race or culture. If you are engaged in hating those who are different, you are the one doing the suffering. Even students in all-white schools can benefit from programs that help them understand other people as they will almost certainly have to deal with them in the workplace, either as coworkers or customers. We all benefit from having a positive sense of our value, potential, strength, and agency, and we gain when we help others do the same. We gain when we are exposed to art, music, drama, film, literature, and food from the world’s cultures. Being exposed to multiple viewpoints can promote critical thinking. That does not mean that we accept cultural practices that oppose human rights and equality. Be sure to check to see that there are a significant number of books in your library that deal with and are authored by diverse authors.
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