Monthly Archives: February 2016

An Obligation

“A society that is concerned about the strength and wisdom of its culture pays careful attention to its adolescents.”

Theodore R. Sizer (1932-2009)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, February 26, 2016

One of the subtexts in The Great Debaters is Melvin B. Tolson’s political organizing, specifically his commitment to helping African American sharecroppers and workers achieve something like social and economic equity in the Jim Crow South. In the film, Mr. Tolson (again, Denzel Washington plays him) is seen meeting with African American farmers, which is soon broken up by the KKK. The redneck sheriff, played with fatmouthing aplomb by John Heard, holds Mr. Tolson’s political and social activism over his head, and the viewer understands that Melvin B. Tolson is probably a communist.

Anyone who had read the novel Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison or, more specific and literal to the subject, Richard Wright’s memoir Black Boy, has some background knowledge on the relationship between African Americans and the Communist Party, particularly in the 1930s.

Here, in the last of three Weekly Texts for Black History Month, is a reading on the allure of the Communist Party USA for African Americans, particularly in the 1930s. I understand that in certain school districts, this reading may well be forbidden fruit. That being so does not, I think, diminish the importance of understanding this part of our American past. I would think for educators teaching units on either Invisible Man or Black Boy. this reading would be de rigueur.

And that’s what I have to offer for Black History Month, 2016. As always, if you used any of this material, I hope you found it helpful; I would, again, as always, be grateful to hear from you about what worked or didn’t in your use of these readings.

Until next week….

On the Monday after a Break

“Any genuine teaching will result, if successful, in someone’s knowing how to bring about a better condition of things than existed earlier.”

John Dewey (1859-1952)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

What Is and Isn’t Learning?

“Ideas, facts, relationships, stories, histories, possibilities, artistry in words, in sounds, in form and in color, crowd into the child’s life, stir his feelings, excite his appreciation, and incite his impulses to kindred activities. It is a saddening thought that on this golden age there falls so often the shadow of the crammer.”

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1657) as Quoted in The Teacher and the Taught (1963)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, February 12, 2016

The Weekly Text for this week follows last week’s on readings related to Denzel Washington’s film The Great Debaters. This is the second of three entries on this unit; because I will not post a Weekly Text for February 19th (we have President’s Day Week off for a mid-winter break), I’ll post two readings here this week.

The first is a reading on Melvin B. Tolson, the peripatetic (although he was associated with Wiley College and other post-secondary institutions in the Southwestern United States, he went to Columbia to pursue a graduate degree in 1930-31, was present at the end of the Harlem Renaissance, and counted Langston Hughes among his close friends) poet and political organizer who coached the legendary Wiley Debate Team of 1935.

Following the article on Mr. Tolson, there is a reading on one of his mentees, the legendary civil rights activist, James L. Farmer, Jr. Mr. Farmer’s list of accomplishments is substantial. He was a great American whose efforts made this nation a more just and decent place.

If these are useful to you, I’d be much obliged if you’d leave a comment explaining how or why.

Until February 26th….

How We Waste Time at School

“We are being sold a bill of goods when in comes to talking about tougher standards for our schools. The standards movement is pushing teachers and students to focus on memorizing information, then regurgitating facts for high test scores. The shift is away from teaching students to be thinkers who can make sense of what they’re learning.”

Alfie Kohn, The Case Against Standardized Testing (2000)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, February 5, 2016

February is Black History Month. Initiated by Carter G. Woodson in 1926, Black History Month is justly a staple in school curricula in the United States. Far, far be it from me to second-guess Dr. Woodson or any of the proponents of Black History Month, but I have never been entirely at ease with the concept of one month of the year set aside for the study of the myriad and vital contributions Americans of African descent have made to our nation, because I think it is insufficient. It seems to me, when studying the history of the United States from the colonial period to yesterday, every month ought to be Black History Month. African Americans are an integral part of the history of the United States, and the U.S. History curriculum really ought to reflect that.

At the same time, I appreciate the opportunity to teach material that isn’t part of the standard curriculum. For the next four weeks, I’ll post reading assignments from a unit I developed to attend the film The Great Debatersdirected by and starring Denzel Washington. After watching the movie for the first time, it struck me that it would serve nicely as the foundation of a unit on both Black History and using prior knowledge to understand new material. I outlined a unit plan, fleshed it out, and began using it to great success. I’ve yet to present it to a class that wasn’t immediately interested in and engaged by the material–it has been that successful with the students I serve. The fundamental educative goal for this unit is to provide students with prior knowledge of the personalities and events–to wit, the 1935 Wiley College Debate Team led by Melvin B. Tolson–by way of reading comprehension worksheets and discussion in class. The first five lessons of the unit work to prepare students for a viewing of the film.

So, here, in the first of three Weekly Texts on The Great Debaters, is the first reading from the unit, on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I hope this has some usefulness in your classroom, and I would be grateful to you if you would let me know how.

Until next week….

The Road to Real Knowledge

“The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion—these are the most valuable coins of the thinker at work. But in most schools guessing is heavily penalized and is associated somehow with laziness.”

Jerome S. Bruner The Process of Education (1960)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.