Saturday, January 16, 2010

Teaching Citizenship

I've written here both recently and in the past about how the application of the business model to education is at best useless, and at worst a real danger to our efforts to educate children to be citizens in our democracy, rather than just mere workers.

Yesterday, I wrote about a real rebellion in our classroom, incited by my efforts to distribute some small plastic jewels. I was trying to teach them a lesson about fairness by only giving them to the girls, then the boys, then the curly haired, and so on, but they rose up as a single body with righteous anger and demanded that everyone get a jewel. This was an honorable act of citizenship, because this is how democracy works. If I were just educating workers, it would have been a punishable act of insubordination, because that's how dictatorships work.  (For better or worse, that's how most businesses are organized, as self-contained, private dictatorships, and it's why it frightens me every time someone says government or its institutions should be "run more like a business.")

When I distributed the little jewels to all the children, I made the comment that I was giving these jewels to them to remind them of Martin Luther King and his message of fairness. It was the kind of thing a teacher says hopefully, but I didn't really expect it to sink-in in the face of a bright and shiny object. Again, I was wrong. Yesterday, Jaimee, the parent of one of the rebels wrote:

. . . despite having a zillion "sparkly things" at home, Ella clutched that "ruby gem" like it was pure gold. She carried it with her all day, and when people asked her about it, she very matter-of-factly explained that it it was in celebration of Martin Luther King and how we should be fair to everyone. Sometimes little people are much better at teaching big people!


Needless to say I'm in teacher heaven right now. I may not be able to buy groceries with it, but this is the kind of payday for which teachers work. And I will be living on it through this long Martin Luther King Day weekend.

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Deborah Stewart said...

I just got goose-bumps reading the response from your parent:) How awesome is that. Sometimes teaching has those moments that are so rewarding - I am glad your parent to time to share with all of us!

Unknown said...

I love that she learned that lesson so well. And I love that she is able to share it so eloquently with anyone who inquires!

carlylennox (learningparade) said...

How wonderful Tom! Those children are so lucky to have a teacher who cares so much about educating the WHOLE child. Isn't it fabulous when parents come forward with positive comments? It's not just children who deserve praise. :)

Christie - Childhood 101 said...

What a rewarding teaching moment. Treasure it, it really is what it is all about, isn't it? How wonderful that a parent took the time to share that response with you. I would love to see your cooperative preschool in action, it certainly sounds like a marvelous place to grow and learn.