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Thompson: Education from the Bottom Up

Commie-schoolAt the Shanker Institute, Ernest Green of the Little Rock Nine condemned the top-down teaching of history that has been made worse by NCLB-type accountability. Green cited the preoccupation with the single hero of Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the neglect of the 11/2 year bottom-up process where an alternative transportation system was designed and operated. Similarly, we ignore the foundations of the movement laid by Parks, Martin Luther King, and others at the Highlander Folk School.  When a hero of the civil rights movement speaks, those of us who see education as the civil rights movement of the 21st century must listen.

Joy Hakim then explained the professional risks that often are required of teachers resisting the educational malpractice that can be dictated in the name of "accountability."  She recounted the story of teachers who won the right to teach the full richness and drama of America’s history because, it turned out, the superintendent had read Hakim’s work. Teachers take minimal risks, however, when compared to the danger faced by Eleanor Roosevelt when she traveled to the Highlander School, at night with a loaded pistol on her seat, after the Tennessee Klan placed a $25,000 bounty on her.  

If we dare take the reasonable risk of challenging lockstep curriculum alignment regimes, teachers can learn the stories of Green, Parks, Roosevelt, and the thousands of unnamed Americans who have struggled for democracy through the incomparable curriculum created by PBS. So it was a special treat to listen to Ronald Thorpe of WNET and Gail Leftwich Kitch of McNeil Lehrer Productions. Why today’s reformers are so intent on cobbling together a new set of Standards when so much of the heavy lifting has already been done by Hakim, Public Broadcasting, NPR, and Core Knowledge is a mystery to me.

Recalling the words of Patty Quinzi, legislative counsel of the Texas AFT, perhaps I should place an asterisk on this post.  Nowadays, it might require more than reasonable risk-taking for a Texas teacher to tell the story of Thurgood Marshall. 

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