I was thinking …

By Boyd Allen

The present is the beginning of history for our youth. Let that sink in. My consciousness of history started with news from Vietnam, war protests and the civil rights movement. My beginning was bookended by the social movements of the 60s and 70s and Watergate.

My ideas have been formed by a history in which thinking people became active and fought to change the world for the better. If you disagree that equality and peace, or at least restraint in using military force, are worthy goals, you should stop reading now.

When I grew up, women and African Americans were taught to stay in their place, and their place was lesser than a man’s place and lesser than a white’s place.

People now are echoing those sentiments again, and many of our leaders remain silent in the face of this moral backsliding in order to retain power.

Worse, we have to ask, “Who will stand up for Jamal Khashoggi and risk the president’s wrath?”

We now have to question our country’s stance on the state-sponsored murder of journalists.

My resolve was built in a country that stood up for the rule of law and against a president who committed crimes. Men who stepped down and refused to do a tyrant’s bidding helped to save the country during Watergate.

What history are we creating for our youth now?

Does their narrative of history begin with racist marchers in Virginia being met with equivocation.

What are the ideas driving their future, if money is not an idea and power not an ideology in itself?

The government forces schools to teach to tests that measure skills but not ideas, that compare our children to others on a ladder of success but do not create an understanding of ideas or how they develop.

Test-prep classes teach students how to find the correct answers without knowing the content or understanding the concept.

We teach empathy as diversity and force it on our youth as a test, and we grade community service, turning it into another grade necessary in their climb to get ahead.

We no longer teach students to become better humans by forcing them to face other humans. It’s time consuming and messy and requires respect for other points of view. You can’t put a number on it.

Eleventh graders are being tested on how well they read, not on how well they respond to what they read.

For reading to gain substance, it must present ideas with substance and worthy of argument. Students should be facing each other across the table over difficult texts, they should be analyzing those texts and ideas in order to define themselves as individuals while seeing themselves in a community.

Paradoxically, they need to become comfortable in an intellectual community wherein some people espouse ideas that make them uncomfortable.

There are great teachers everywhere teaching context and conceptual understanding, but they often have to fight the norm to so so.

When reading, writing, math and science are taught outside of this practice, they become hollow skills possessed by hollow people.

Political parties that haven’t created ideas to better the country present hollow goals to an enthralled populace that accepts what has been scientifically designed and programmed to sound good.

The young demand so little because the only people willing to do anything now are throwback baby boomers who protest a bit on weekends in well organized marches that end at a bagel shop.

Youth rally on Facebook or Tweet back at those they vilify, but everyone gets up and goes to work on Monday, and the money flows and nothing changes.

I worked for a principal once who began each year by passing out expectations for the state tests, mapping out the meetings where we would study the data – to learn how to manipulate targeted populations to pass – and put her hand up to shush the teachers as she pushed state mandated curriculum into their classrooms.

“We all know this isn’t the way to teach,” she’d say. “But we have mortgages to pay.”

And the students learned what we taught: “Don’t worry whether something is right or wrong. Pay no attention to the ideas, research or goals behind an action. Just pay the bills.”

Khashoggi was silenced because he wanted better. Maybe the next stage in our history begins there:

“In 2018, the United States faced a situation in which Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally, openly murdered a US resident, Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident for writing articles critical of the Saudi government.

The United States responded by …”

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com .

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