In 2017, the Graphic History Collective launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project, a collaborative project featuring works by artists and writers committed to promoting art, activism, and alternative history in what is today known as Canada.
Remember | Resist | Redraw posters offer alternative perspectives on well-known historical events, and highlights histories of Indigenous peoples, women, workers, and the oppressed that are often overlooked or marginalized in mainstream historical accounts.
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
International Research Seminar on Social Studies Education
Place: Sala de Juntes de la Facultat de Ciències de l’Educació, & Seminari de Màster 2 (Building G5)
Dates: 6 and 7 February 2018
Critical research on Curriculum and Social Studies Education
1. What should we investigate today? Critical research and selecting a topic of research.
2. How should we investigate the social studies curriculum to do critical research? Research methodology.
With the participation of:
Dra. Liliana Bravo Penjeam. Professor of the Department of History at Universidad Alberto Hurtado (Chile)
Dr. E. Wayne Ross. Professor of Social Studies Education, at the University of British Columbia (Canada)
Dr. Joan Pagès. Emeritus Professor of Social Studies Education, at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Dr. Antoni Santisteban Professor of Social Studies Education, at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Presentation by the speakers and debate in small groups.
Call for Manuscripts
Learning Vietnam, Again
Rich Gibson, San Diego State University
E. Wayne Ross, University of British Columbia
January 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the Tet uprising in Vietnam.
While American elites belittled Tet as a military failure (if they noted it at all—General Westmoreland insisted the Battle of Hue was really nothing), their myopic view of the many Tet battles reflected their past and current inability to connect all the factors of modern warfare: the political, economic, military, international, and cultural matters that the National Liberation Front always tied as one.
To recognize the courage, perseverance, and later victory of the Vietnamese over the many invading empires, we plan a special issue of Cultural Logic, “Learning Vietnam, Again.”
We also hope to contend with the false narratives built up since the US fled Vietnam in April, 1975. These would include the fairly well known myths such as the “spat upon veteran,” and the “stabbed in the back” stories, as well as the Obama administration’s more recent whitewash, neatly exposed by Nick Turse, and the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick PBS documentary “The Vietnam War.”
We seek essays that address any aspect of the Vietnam war, but are especially interested in pieces that link the war and education—in any way you can imagine.
After all, the core project of the Vietnamese revolutionaries was education, while on the US side, the effort was either military propaganda, or promoting ignorance. Essays might also relate the United States’ contemporary problems with insurgencies to the history of the wars on Vietnam—and the national education programs of today.
Submissions may include essays, interviews, reviews (books, films, and other media) or poetry. Please use any one of the commonly accepted scholarly formats (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, Humanities, etc.).
Deadline: February 1, 2018.
For more information or to submit manuscripts email the editors:
rg [at] richgibson.com
wayne.ross [at] ubc.ca
Cultural Logic, which has been on-line since 1997, is a non-profit, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal that publishes essays, interviews, poetry, reviews (books, films, other media), etc. by writers working within the Marxist tradition. The editors will also print responses to work published in earlier issues. Texts may be of varying length and may conform to any of the commonly accepted scholarly formats (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, Humanities, etc.). Because this is an interdisciplinary journal, we do not demand that contributors adhere to one particular format, with which they might be unfamiliar. Copyright on texts appearing in Cultural Logic remains with the author. These texts may be republished by the author provided that Cultural Logic is acknowledged as the original place of publication.
Texts appearing in Cultural Logic are indexed in MLA Bibliography, EBSCO Databases, MLA International Directory of Periodicals, International Progressive Publications Network (ippn). Cultural Logic is archived by universities participating in the LOCKSS project initiated by Stanford University. Direct correspondence to E. Wayne Ross, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, University of British Columbia, 2125 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada. Email: email@example.com
I was recently interviewed about the impact of neoliberal capitalism on schools, universities, and education in general by Mohsen Abdelmoumen, an Algerian-based journalist.
Over the course of the interview we discussed a wide-range of issues, including: the fundamental conflict between neoliberalism and participatory democracy; the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and the possibilities of transforming schools and universities into forces for progressive change and, in particular, academic freedom and free speech on campus, schools as illusion factories, curriculum as propaganda; what it means to be a dangerous citizen; and the role of intellectuals/teachers as activists.
The interview has been published in English and French, links below.
I’m please to announce the publication of my new book Rethinking Social Studies: Critical Pedagogy in Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship (Information Age Publishing, 2017).
The book is published as a volume in the series: Critical Constructions: Studies on Education and Society, which is edited: Curry Stephenson Malott, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Brad J. Porfilio, CSU, East Bay. Marc Pruyn, Monash University. Derek R. Ford, DePauw University. Thanks to all the editors for their support of this project.
I would also like to thank Peter McLaren for writing the Foreword to the book. You can read of version of McLaren’s foreword to Rethinking Social Studies here: A Message to Social Studies Educators of the US in the Coming Trump Era.
Social studies is the most dangerous of all school subjects. Its danger, however, is a matter of perspective.
Like the schools in which it is taught, social studies is full of alluring contradictions. It harbors possibilities for inquiry and social criticism, liberation and emancipation. Social studies could be a site that enables young people to analyze and understand social issues in a holistic way – finding and tracing relations and interconnections both present and past in an effort to build meaningful understandings of a problem, its context and history; to envision a future where specific social problems are resolved; and take action to bring that vision in to existence. Social studies could be a place where students learn to speak for themselves in order to achieve, or at least strive toward an equal degree of participation and better future. Social studies could be like this, but it is not.
In practice social studies has been and continues to be profoundly conversing in nature. Social studies is the engine room of illusion factories whose primary aim is reproduction of the existing social order, where the ruling ideas exist to be memorized, regurgitated, internalized and lived by. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding! If you do not memorize these facts, accept these myths as truths so you can pass these exams to get those credentials, then you will not get any pudding. That is the way the world works. And good social studies teachers are here to make the meat palatable because they want everyone to be able to have some pudding.
Social studies too often teaches myths instead of encouraging critical explorations of human existence. Schools are fundamentally authoritarian, hierarchical institutions, they produce myriad oppressive and inequitable by-products and social studies is an integral component in this process.
The challenge, perhaps impossibility, is discovering ways in which schools in general and social studies in particular can contribute to positive liberty. That is a society where individuals have the power and resources to realize and fulfill their own potential, free from the obstacles of classism, racism, sexism and other inequalities encouraged by educational systems and the influence of the state and religious ideologies. A society where people have the agency and capacity to make their own free choices and act independently based on reason not authority, tradition, or dogma.
Does that sound too idealistic to you? Utopian even? I would not be surprised if it did. Many of my students (and more of my colleagues) say the same. They argue for the importance of being “realistic” or “adjusting to circumstances as they are” as if the really existing social studies classes in all their boring and socially reproductive glory are natural phenomenon beyond human capacity to change. I can understand this point of view, but cannot embrace it. You can just throw up your hands or argue for being realistic, but in the face of a world filled with injustices I do not believe sustaining the status quo is an admirable goal and neither is sustaining a social studies that offers conventional (non)explanations of the world.
In 1843, Arnold Ruge overcome with revolutionary despair, wrote a letter to Karl Marx lamenting the impossibility of revolution because the German people were too docile: “our nation has no future, so what is the point in our appealing to it?” To which Marx replied “You will hardly suggest that my opinion of the present is too exalted and if I do not despair about it, this is only because its desperate position fills me with hope.” This is an example of what philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called “the courage of hopelessness.” The courage of hopelessness is an optimistic response to pessimistic circumstances. The equivalent of responding to the criticism that you are “being too idealistic” with “be realistic, demand the impossible!”
The hegemonic system of global capitalism dominates not because people agree with it. It rules because most people are convinced “There Is No Alternative.” Indeed, as I argue in this book the dominant approach to schooling and curriculum, particularly in social studies education, is aimed at indoctrinating students into this belief.
Utopian thinking allows us to consider alternatives, such as the pedagogical imaginaries which this book explores, in attempt to open up spaces for rethinking our approaches to learning, teaching, and experiencing the world. These imaginaries are necessary because traditional tropes of social studies curriculum (e.g., democracy, voting, democratic citizenship) are essentially lies we tell ourselves and students (because democracy is incompatible with capitalism; capitalist democracy creates a shallow, spectator version of democracy at best; democracy as it operates now is inseparable from empire/perpetual war and vast social inequalities).
We certainly have plenty of fuel for our hopes. The challenge we face as social studies educators is to not warm our students’ hearts with empty hopes, but rather confront what are seemingly hopeless times for freedom and equality with a pedagogy and curriculum that come from a courage of hopelessness.
This book aims to rethink social studies so it becomes a site where students can develop personally meaningful understandings of the world and recognize they have agency to act on the world, to make change. Social studies should not be about showing life to students, but bringing them to life. The aim is not getting students to listen to entertaining lectures, but getting to speak for themselves, to understand people make their own history (even if they make it in already existing circumstances). These principles are the foundation for a new social studies, one that is not driven not by standardized curriculum or examinations, but by the perceived needs, interests, desires of our students, our communities of shared interest, and ourselves as educators.
Rethinking Social Studies is organized into three parts. Part 1 – Redrawing the Lines, expands on the basic premises discussed above. Chapter 1 presents a description and critique of traditional social studies education. The chapter deconstructs the ideology of neutrality, which is frequently taught as part of social studies teacher education and examines the deleterious effects of conceiving of learning and citizenship as spectator projects. Chapter 2 presents a case study of right-wing think tank report on social studies as an example of the politics of the social studies and its connections to movement conservatism. By taking a close look at neo-conservative efforts to control the field and destroy the (at least theoretical) pluralism that has long characterized social studies we can better understand the normative nature of social studies and the inadequacy of adopting a neutral stance as social studies educators. Chapter 3, “Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship,” is in many ways the heart the book. This chapter presents an analysis of neoliberal education reforms in North America. Part of a Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), these corporate-driven reforms include three key strategies: (1) School choice and privatization; (2) human capital policies for teachers; and (3) standardized curriculum coupled with an increased use of standardized testing. The idea of “dangerous citizenship” is presented as a possible antidote to the stultifying effects of GERM on the freedom to think, learn, and teach social studies outside of a hegemonic worldview that is authoritarian and harbours racially, sexually, and class-based discriminatory traditions. Various possibilities for creative disruption of dominant assumptions and practices of social studies teaching and curriculum are presented as imaginaries for what might become insurgent pedagogies that foster dangerous citizenship.
The chapters in Part 2 – Social Education for Critical Knowledge for Everyday Life explore questions such as: What is the social justice? Chapter 4 takes a look at the relationship of social justice and power and argues that social justice requires much more that adopting a new vocabulary and socially and culturally inclusive curricula, rather it requires a revolution of everyday life.
Chapter 3 asks, What is critical pedagogy? Then takes a critical look at an approach that is filled with contradictions and too often comes across as either a theory-laden field for left wing academics or a radical idea that is domesticated by liberal teachers and teacher educators, or both. The chapter emphases the importance of everyday life and becoming as part of what it means to practice critical pedagogy.
Why is class an invisible concept in social studies? What would social studies look like if we put class at the center of the curriculum? Chapter 6, “Why Teaching Class Matters” describes both the invisibility of class in the social studies curriculum (and research) and presents an example of how class can be (and is) used as the organizing concept for a high school American Studies course. Chapter 7 analyzes the American empire – making connections between politics, foreign policy and the economy to illustrate the really existing class war in the United States (and the world) – as the context for the political and pedagogical project that is teaching and organizing for social change.
In an era marked by regimented curriculum, bureaucratic outcomes-based accountability systems, and corporatized educational aims, how do you keep your ideals and still teach? The answer to this question is multifaceted, but as argued in Chapter 8, there are at least two necessary, if insufficient responses. First, working in opposition to the mainstream of educational practice requires a question-posing approach. Secondly, collaborative thought and action are crucial to understanding and transformation of educational practices and social relations. Two counterstories are presented in this chapter. The first is based on the individual perspectives of two novice teachers. The second is the counterstory of a collective known as the Rouge Forum.
I often ask the social studies teachers to write about and examine the beliefs that inform their practice as educators. This task is useful in unearthing unstated assumptions that underlie our classroom practices and broader beliefs regarding the role of schools in society and reasons we teach what we teach. In Chapter 9, I have taken my own assignment and completed it, presenting a “my pedagogical creed” (based on the framework of John Dewey’s famously titled article). My hope is that you will be inspired to write your own pedagogical creed as a way analyzing and gaining insight into your practice as a social studies educator.
Part 3 – Beyond the Classroom, extends some themes from earlier in the book and provides an overview of key ideas found in Parts 1 and 2 (plus a few new ones). Democracy within the social studies curriculum is too often presented in its most weak and superficial form, that is, as process of electing of representatives and the functions of government. I say, “don’t vote, engage politics!” and Chapter 10 presents one approach to political engagement, writing for popular media. Chapter 11 is my own “educational autobiography,” another assignment I ask my students to complete, this activity aims to make sense of our current assumptions, thinking, and practices as educators by historicizing and analyzing their preconditions. The idea is that if we can better understand the sources of our present thinking and practice we can then better understand our present circumstances and more clearly envision how what we think and do today can help us achieve our goals in the future. The book closes with an interview conducted by Carlo Fanelli in which I discuss a wide-range of topics, including corporate education reform, critical pedagogy, and educational and politic activism. In many ways this interview is an overview and summary of ideas from the previous chapters.
As researcher, teacher, book and journal editor I have had the privilege and honour to collaborate with many fine educators and scholars. When considering my work it is impossible to separate ideas and accomplishments that could be described as my own from those that are the result of collaboration with others. Mark Twain said,
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
Twain is right, but only up to a point. If we continue to manipulate that kaleidoscope at some point we will witness something entirely new, yet carrying forward aspects of what it was. We can understand and change the world and in the process we create ourselves anew. This is what I have experienced in my collaborative relationships with others and it is important for me to acknowledge those folks who contributed to who I am today as a person, a teacher, and a scholar.
This book emphases my collaborations with Kevin D. Vinson, Perry Marker, Rich Gibson, and Gregg Queen.
Kevin and I have had a long and fruitful collaboration as writing partners, but most importantly as friends. I came to now him when he submitted an manuscript to a journal I was editing and I like it so much I had to call him up and talk about it. That was, of course, back in the day when people actually called each other on the phone. Our interests and thinking has been so intertwined over the years that each of us has written pieces then given the other credit for writing. We allowed ourselves the conceit that our relationship was not unlike Lennon and McCartney, without the hits.
Perry and I met as graduate students when Ohio State University and Indiana University regularly held colloquia for social studies students and faculty, since then we have worked together on nearly twenty presentations, articles, and journal issues. Perry’s work as a social studies teacher educator and curriculum scholar is the exemplar of critical, democratic praxis and I have long admired his dedication to both the ideals of democracy and his students, but most of all I appreciate his friendship, particularly his willingness to engage with me in spirited discussions of politics and baseball, which are often fuelled by bourbon whiskey.
I was chairing the question and answer part of a conference session when this fellow wearing a black leather jacket stood up and asked a question that pulled the rug out from under the assumptions of all the prior presentations. Afterwards, I chased the guy down and found out his name was Rich Gibson and soon learned he was a full-time troublemaker and revolutionary. We began working together almost immediately, helping to found the Rouge Forum and writing articles for newspapers, political and academic journals, co-editing books and journals. He has been my mentor on Marx, martial arts, spaghetti westerns, revolution, and all things Detroit (and I reciprocate by sharing obscure blues, R & B, and rockabilly recordings with him).
Greg Queen is Rich’s former graduate student and in my mind he is one of the most unique and accomplished high school social studies teachers ever. He has provided leadership for social change in his community and nationally as the Community Coordinator for the Rouge Forum. His teaching embodies a critical, revolutionary spirit and he has been honoured for his dedication to teaching against the grain with the National Council for the Social Studies’ defence of academic freedom award. Greg does what most social studies teachers are afraid to do, objectively teach the unvarnished truth of United States history. When my students say nobody can teach that way and keep their job, Greg is the person I point to.
The influences of Kevin, Perry, Rich, and Greg are easy enough to spot in the pages of this book, but I must acknowledge a number of others who have influenced my thinking and practice as an educator. As a social studies educator I am deeply indebted to my professors, particularly Richard C. Phillips (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and M. Eugene Gilliom (The Ohio State University) and my teachers at Independence High School in Charlotte, NC, the epitome, in a curricular sense, of the “shopping mall” high school.
I have learned much from many superb colleagues in the field of social studies education, including: Ceola Ross Baber, Jane Bernard-Powers, Jeffrey W. Cornett, Margaret Smith Crocco, Abraham DeLeon, Ronald W. Evans, Stephen C. Fleury, Four Arrows (aka Don T. Jacobs), Todd Hawley, Neil O. Houser, Gregg Jorgensen, Joseph Kahne, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Christopher R. Leahey, Merry Merryfield, Jack L. Nelson, Nel Noddings, Paul Orlowski, Valerie Ooka Pang, Marc Pruyn, Doug Selwyn, Özlem Sensoy, Walter Werner, Joel Westheimer, and Michael Whelan.
It has been a privilege to collaborate with many great scholars on a variety of projects including, Derek Ford, David Gabbard, David W. Hursh, Kathleen Kesson, Johnny Lupinacci, Curry Stephenson Malott, Gail McCutcheon, Stephen Petrina, Ken Saltman, Patrick Shannon, Larry Stedman, Ken Teitelbaum, John F. Welsh, and Mark Wolfmeyer.
All the people in, and around, The Rouge Forum have continued to be a huge inspiration to me as a scholar, teacher, and activist, most especially Brad Porfilio, Faith Agostinone Wilson, Gina Steins, Bryan Reinholdt, Joe Wegwert, Amber Goslee, Dennis Carlson, Peter McLaren, and Adam Renner (1970-2010).
Colin and Rachel continue to make me a proud father. And, as always, the person who provides my life with love, happiness, and excitement is Sandra Mathison.
Table of Contents
Foreword, Peter McLaren.
PART I: REDRAWING THE LINES
CHAPTER 1: Redrawing the Lines: The Case Against Traditional Social Studies Instruction.
CHAPTER 2: If Social Studies Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right (with Perry Marker). CHAPTER 3: Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship (with Kevin D. Vinson).
PART II: SOCIAL EDUCATION AND CRITICAL KNOWLEDGE FOR EVERYDAY LIFE
CHAPTER 4: Social Studies Requires a Revolution of Everyday Life.
CHAPTER 5: Broadening the Circle of Critical Pedagogy.
CHAPTER 6: Why Teaching Class Matters (with Gregg Queen).
CHAPTER 7: Education for Class Consciousness (with Rich Gibson).
CHAPTER 8: How Do I Keep My Ideals and Still Teach (with Rich Gibson, Greg Queen, and Kevin D. Vinson).
CHAPTER 9: Teaching for Change: Social Education and Critical Knowledge for Everyday Life.
PART III: BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
CHAPTER 10: Social Studies as Public Pedagogy: Engaging Social Issues in the Media. CHAPTER 11: A Sense of Where You Are.
CHAPTER 12: Critical Education and Insurgent Pedagogies: An Interview With E. Wayne Ross.
About the Author.
Ron Evans has written an impressive series of books that critically examine school reform in the United States, with a specific emphasis on the impact of those reforms on social studies, civics, and democratic education.
In January 2015, I had an opportunity to interview Ron about his latest book Schooling for Corporate Citizens and this month, in Washington, DC, the College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies sponsored a symposium on the book, below is the text of my remarks at the symposium.
Remarks for Book Symposium on Schooling Corporate Citizens (Ronald W. Evans)
College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies
December 1, 2016
E. Wayne Ross
University of British Columbia
Why are things the way they are?
In Schooling Corporate Citizens, Ron Evans has written a compelling history of how bureaucratic, outcomes-based accountability reforms have “damaged” civic education and undermined democracy. Evans notes that social studies education is haunted by two ghosts, the first neoliberal capitalism and neo-conservative cultural warriors and secondly the progressive politics, philosophy, and pedagogy of 20th Century icons such as John Dewey and Harold Rugg.
Evans argues the dilemmas that define social studies at the moment are found (1) in classroom practice (drill and kill/content coverage, driven by testing versus inquiry- or social issues-oriented teaching); and (2) in curriculum politics, which encompasses the social studies wars, but more broadly has elevated a capitalist social efficiency conception of teaching and learning to hegemonic status in combination with an essentialist philosophy of education that focuses on content at the expense of pedagogy.
I agree with Evan’s analysis, but as Chris Hedges recently wrote about the election of Donald Trump as president of the US, “it’s worse than you think.” Evan’s book is an indispensable history of what has happened to social studies and civic education from the inside-out, but stepping away from the history of education reform and considering a much broader, messier, but real life question about relationship between what is taught in social studies and the political, social, economic, and cultural circumstances of the US (and the world) today, then it’s clear that in terms of social studies and civic education things are obviously much worse than the already dismal state of social studies as described in Schooling Corporate Citizens.
Perhaps it’s a professionally narcissistic question that implies too much import to what we do as social studies educators, but when he majority of people either actively or passively support destructive systems of power—white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy—we should be asking: What hath social studies wrought?
Mass ignorance. In explaining how it is that the Republican Party now rules a nation that hates it, Paul Street points to the “supreme ignorance that the nation’s dominant ideological and cultural authorities and institutions have bred in much of the U.S. populace.” The “double-whammy” of “infantilizing and unreal media” and the education students receive in capital’s schools that creates “millions of dumb-downed people” who know little to nothing about relevant issues of the day, like climate change or the nature and history of fascism. Hedges describes of the current cultural moment as celebrating ignorance—political discourse, news, culture and intellectual inquiry replaced by celebrity worship and spectacle. And social studies and civic education is far from blameless for this sorry state of affairs.
The distortion of democracy, or how democracy is taught in schools versus the really existing form of governance in so-called democracies. As research by Gilens and Page demonstrates the United States not a functioning democracy, rather it is a plutocracy. As social studies educators we need to stop teaching a mythic democracy and start teaching the real everyday political realities. Gilens and Page provide the empirical evidence that illustrates average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence on what their government does.
In our illiberal democracy (or what has been called inverted totalitarianism) the people, the electorate, are prevented from having a significant impact on policies adopted by the state. Our governing system has elections, yes, but citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power as a result of lack of civil liberties and a massive publications/propaganda machine that includes highly concentrated media corporations that project the illusion of a free press.
Authentic political participation can be found – look at movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock – but the version of democracy long taught in most social studies classes is a victim of political cleansing. As Sheldon Wolin argues, US electoral democracy is now a “political form in which governments are legitimated by elections they have learned to control.”
As Huxley wrote in Brave New World, the old forms remain – elections, supreme courts, parliaments and all the rest, but the underlying substance is a new kind of totalitarianism.
All the traditional names, all the hollowed slogans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days. Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial. Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.
Corporations have corrupted and subverted democracy – capitalism trumps politics – every natural resource and every living being is commodified and exploited to death as the citizenry is lulled and manipulated into surrendering their civil liberties and their participation in government is reduced to excessive consumerism and sensationalism.
There are two main totalizing dynamics in the US, according to Wolin, (1) the war on terror; and (2) neoliberal, free-market, economics, which subjects the population to economic rationationalization (e.g., downsizing, outsourcing, dismantling of the welfare state) destroying the commons and creating a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that makes it even less likely people will engage politically, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of illiberal democracy. All the while social studies continues to teach faith in the system, nostalgically looking back to the past, unthinkingly maintaining a corrupt system while stuck in the mire of the unholy apocalypse that is now.
Disconnection between what the people want and reality of everyday life. As Street argues in his book They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy, Washington runs on corporate and financial cash, connections, reach, and propaganda, not public opinion. The “unelected dictatorship of money” is not interested in crafting policy that responds to public opinion polls that show:
- Two-thirds (66%) of Americans think that the distribution of money and wealth should be more evenly distributed among more people in the U.S.
- 61% of Americans believe that in today’s economy it is mainly just a few people at the top who have a chance to get ahead.
- 83% of Americans think the gap between the rich and the poor is a problem.
- 67% of Americans think the gap between the rich and the poor needs to be addressed immediately, not as some point in the future.
- 57% of Americans think the U.S. government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S.
- Almost three-quarters (74%) of respondents say that large corporations have too much influence in the county, about the double the amount that said the same of unions.
- 68% of Americans favor raising taxes on people earning more than $1 million per year.
- 50% of Americans support limits on money earned by top executives at large corporations. (Street, 2015)
The disconnect between public opinion and reality of government’s (non) responses to inequality and injustice and its attacks on civil rights, is a direct challenge to our work as social studies educators. We can no longer rely on the old tropes of democracy and freedom that have dominated the curriculum and classroom discourse; to do so to sell students a lies about history and contemporary life.
Obedience. Why are things as they are? Part of the answer, a big part of the answer is consent, we’ve let things become this way. We need to learn, practice, and teach disobedience, in the name of social justice, in the name of trying to achieve the visions of democracy that are so often glibly taught in social studies classrooms.
In an open letter posted on Susan Ohanian’s website by Omaha lawyer, Rob Bligh writes:
I think that I understand the political malice that guides the Republicans. I think that I understand the political correctness that guides the Democrats. I think that I understand the arrogant ignorance that guides the Gates crowd.
What I do not understand is the deafening silence of nearly all … teacher-training faculty employed by America’s colleges and universities. They are allowing their graduates to be roasted slowly over a flame of lies and they are doing nothing about it. Perhaps the professors think that they will escape to early retirement before Gates and the politicians come for them. Some profession!
Ohanian herself writes, in an article that amounts to a call to arms for critical educators titled “Against Obedience,”
When teachers stoically keep their silence while corporate politicos shovel shit on them, they really can’t expect that tomorrow they’ll get roses. Or even less shit. I’m thinking of getting cards printed so I can distribute this message: You deserve what you accept. We can see the stages of teacher reaction to Common Core Standards: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression … But please, please, we need to skip ‘Acceptance’ and move to resistance. Real resistance, not just Twitter/Facebook/blog complaint.
Whining is not the same thing as doing something. Whining is whining. Action is something else. …. Not to resist is to become what you do. …. There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolution or you stand against the needs of children, and you aid the destruction of your own profession, not to mention democracy.
We MUST build a mass movement. Revolution is the only answer.
Believing in and teaching faith in the system is a fool’s errand for anyone claims to claims to be working for democracy, justice, and equality given present circumstances – a world plagued by climate change, species extinction, imperial war, and systematic violence against women, people of color, and the poor, and the rise of 21st Century fascism. If as social studies educators we are serious about working for democracy, then our work requires practicing and teaching disobedience and resistance, which would be an about-face for the field. The old tropes of democracy have failed us as social studies educators and have failed the public. Here’s a workout plan for anyone who’s ready to challenge totalitarianism:
Start with a warm up: protests, strikes, and public events. Push your boundaries and find out what your skills are. Then comes the cardio: organizing, the long distance running of the movement. Weight training is composed of civil disobedience and low-level hit-and-run techniques, gaining experience with each strike. Finally comes the competition itself: the revolutionary confrontations, sabotage, undermining, hacking, and other actions necessary for dismantling empire. (Max Wilbert, Counterpunch, 2016)
No magical thinking. Warming our own and our students’ hearts with myths of democracy is a dangerous practice. In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, Chris Hedges warned that societies in terminal decline often retreat into magical thinking. The reality is just too much to bear so people are susceptible to “fantastic and impossible promises of a demagogue or charlatan who promises the return of a lost golden age.”
These promises, impossible to achieve, are no different from those peddled to Native Americans in the 1880s by the self-styled religious prophet Wovoka [aka Jack Wilson]. He called on followers to carry out five-day dance ceremonies called the Ghost Dance. Native Americans donned shirts they were told protected them from bullets. They were assured that the buffalo herds would return, the dead warriors and chiefs would rise from the earth and the white men would disappear. None of his promises was realized. Many of his followers were gunned down like sheep by the U.S. army.
We need a revolution in our thinking and the courage to act in politically and pedagogically in revolutionary ways to build mass democratic movements to combat totalitarianism. We must not allow social studies to become a ghost dance of democracy … or perhaps we already have.
Date: Friday, February 26th 2016
Venue: Scarfe Room 310
Time: 12:30 – 2:00 p.m.
Title: Dangerous indeed: A response to Wayne Ross’ “Courage of hopelessness”
Speaker: Dr. Peter Seixas, Professor, EDCP
Light lunch served at noon outside Scarfe room 310. The Lecture commences at 12:30 pm. There is no need to RSVP.
Yes, yes, the past gets in the way; it trips us up, bogs us down; it complicates, makes difficult. But to ignore this is folly, because, above all, what history teaches us is to avoid illusion and make-believe, to lay aside dreams, moonshine, cure-alls, wonder-workings, pie-in-the-sky—to be realistic.
–Tom Crick, the history teacher, in Graham Swift’s Waterland, p. 108
In his EDCP Seminar on January 15, Dr. Wayne Ross challenged commonplace notions of schools, teacher education, the subject of social studies, democracy and freedom. In this talk (text, video, powerpoint), I review the arguments and confront them as a colleague—in the department, in social studies education, and in the project of educating teachers for British Columbia schools. As the basis of my critique, I offer a theoretical framework through the concept of “historical agency,” which calls attention to the abilities of people to act individually and collectively to shape the course of history, as well as the limitations on those abilities. It offers a way to steer a course between the two closely related traps of hopelessness and utopianism. I sketch its utility specifically in relation to 1) understanding our own social and political situation, 2) thinking about the role of schools and teachers in democratic societies, 3) developing useful curriculum and pedagogy in Canada today, 4) educating student teachers in the Faculty of Education, and 5) conducting educational research that matters.
Wayne Journell, secondary social studies education professor at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has put together a new book on social studies in a post-9/11 world.
The book, to be published by Rowman & Littlefield next year, examines social studies curriculum from a wide-range of perspectives (see the Table of Contents below). The book will be a unique contribution to the fields social studies and curriculum studies.
A draft version of my chapter is available to read at the link below.
Table of Contents
Margaret Smith Crocco
Michael J. Berson and Ilene R. Berson
Introduction: September 11, 2001: The Day that Changed the World . . . But Not the Curriculum
Chapter 1: International Conflict and National Destiny: World War I and History Teaching
Keith C. Barton
Chapter 2: 9/11 and the War on Terror in American Secondary Curriculum Fifteen Years Later
Jeremy Stoddard and Diana Hess
Chapter 3: Including 9/11 in the Elementary Grades: State Standards, Digital Resources, and Children’s Books
Chapter 4: How Patriotism Matters in U.S. Social Studies Classrooms Fifteen Years After 9/11
Mark T. Kissling
Chapter 5: National Identity and Citizenship in a Pluralistic Society: Educators’ Messages Following 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo
Chapter 7: Civil Liberties, Media Literacy, and Civic Education in the Post-9/11 Era: Helping Students Think Conceptually in Order to Act Civically
Stephen S. Masyada and Elizabeth Yeager Washington
Chapter 8: Role-Playing and Role-Dropping: Political Simulations as Portals to Pluralism in a Contentious Era
Jane C. Lo and Walter C. Parker
Chapter 9: The Psychology of Controversial Issues Discussions: Challenges and Opportunities in a Polarized, Post-9/11 Society
Christopher H. Clark and Patricia G. Avery
Rich Gibson, guest blogger, presents some starter questions that few teachers are willing to ask in serious ways.
What is it to be free, fulfilled, and confident that you will be able to meet your human potential?
Are we free? Are we free at work, at school, at play? If we are not free: What would we need to know, and how would we need to know it, in order to be free?
Are there people among us who appear to be much more free than others? If so, what is it that makes them different? What do they have in common, worldwide?
Who is less free? What elements do they have in common?
Is freedom achieved through isolation, or friendly connections with other people?
If we are not free, in part because we are isolated from each other, often in ways that we do not see (the normalcy of segregated schooling), then what might we do to be more free?
These questions rise from the Critique of Tyranny. This critique has been applied to every society, ever since the first food surpluses made inequality possible, and it became possible to make an argument that separation from others might be a good thing–in contrast to early societies where those who behaved the most collectively survived longest and best. The critique was the interrogation of domination that, in ideas, forged the US revolution. It is absent from most social studies textbooks.
The Critique of Tyranny leads to a question that can be asked of any society–to judge it: How does this society treat the majority of its citizens, invariably the workers, or slaves, troops, i.e., the common citizens, over time?
This reasonable question sweeps aside the notion that poisons conservative forms of postmodernism, which insist that there really is no rational way to judge any society, that one society or social movement or idea might be as good as the next, that all is mere viewpoint and, at the end of the day, maybe Mussolini was not such a bad guy after all.
Are teachers willing to ask these questions to students in their classrooms, not of abstract distant societies, but of their condition inside school? My experience is that most teachers are not willing to seriously pose the issue, in fear of lack of control.
Psychiatrist Robert Kaye says students in the world’s classrooms are not free, using a metaphor that suggests that compulsory attendance laws make them “incarcerated.” This would be a good place to start. Are we here because we want to be here?
Indeed, many teachers will insist that they live in a free society. But they will also agree that they cannot probe the question of freedom in school, or really speak their minds. The Bill of Rights, for example, stops at the door of most work places.
Most teachers are not free to interrogate the key issues of life:
- Work–because it is illegal in most states to teach positive things about Karl Marx, about “all of history is the history of class struggle,” and it’s therefore impossible to say much about any labor movement.
- Love–sexuality, because in most states it’s illegal to teach that sex is fun; rather it is taught as a matter of fear: STDs, unwanted pregnancy, exploitation.
- Rational knowledge or reason as the Enlightenment can only be taught as an abstraction, one religion being as good as the next instead of “people make gods; gods don’t make people, there isn’t any magic and fairies are not dancing on the earth.
- The relentless struggle for freedom and fulfillment–freedom non-existent in schools.
In examining a contradictory relationship, a unity and struggle of opposites in which unity is temporary and struggle perpetual, it is quite possible to not only probe historical reality, but the crux of how and why things change–as they do.
Here are some questions that students can work out themselves to, perhaps, better understand the foundation of most societies throughout history: The Master-Slave Metaphor.
In a “Let’s pretend” Master-Slave Relationship:
What does the Master want?
What does the Slave want?
What must the Master do?
What must the Slaves do?
How do Masters Rule?
How do Slaves resist?
What does the Master want the Slaves to know?
What does the Slaves want the Master to know?
What does the master want the slaves to believe?
What does the slave want the master to believe?
Is truth the same for the Master as it is for the Slaves?
Who has the greater interest in the more profound truths?
What mediates the relationship of the Master and the Slaves-both in theory and practice?
What elements within this relationship, as it exists, provide clues to how the relationship might be changed?
How will the slaves get from what is, to what they think ought to be, without relying on magic?
What will the Masters do in response to the struggles of the slaves?
What would be the masters’ greatest victory–or the slaves’ worst defeat?
Is it possible to end the relationship of Masters and Slaves, or are people trapped within this forever?
What would be the Masters greatest victory?
If people are not trapped in the Master-Slave relationship permanently, and if they should actually overcome it, what will preserve their common freedom?
Having conducted this exercise more than fifty times with college students, high school students, and veterans groups; the most difficult answer for most groups, the one they never get, is: What is the Masters greatest victory?
If you’ll do the exercise, send me what your group responds. I will be happy to send you expanded answers–if there are any.
On Tyranny, by Leo Strauss (the classic in the field)
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx (and all of the rest of Marx’s work)
Alienation by Bertell Ollman (why we are estranged from one another and how we might reason our way out).
Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor at San Diego State University. He is a co-founder of the radical schools group, the Rouge Forum, which involves teachers, professors, students and community people in the English and Spanish speaking world. Prof@Richgibson.com