Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Attempting to Open Eyes...

In my life, I view it as my goal and life's mission to open people's eyes to things around them, information they've been fed or led to believe, and in general, make people think for themselves.  I seek not to make people think and feel as I believe, but simply to encourage them to think and know for themselves.

I am a lover of knowledge.  I don't profess to know everything, but the things I do know, I am sure of and sure that they are right for me and my life.  As my son ages and my second child makes his way towards this world, I grapple with wanting to impart my version of wisdom, truth, faith, kindness, and love of knowledge and progressivism compared with simply wanting them to seek their own truths--even if they depart from mine.  This is something I'm sure I'll battle for many years to come.  Strong willed parents tend to produce strong willed children.

Being a strong willed person herself, my mother raised me to be my own woman, to think independently, to seek what I wanted, and to work hard for what I believed in.  My father--not as strong willed, but still stubborn and strong minded--imparted political, historical, conspiratorial :-), and people-observing lessons to me.  Together, they raised me to be my own person, but truthfully, they happily shaped me into mini-versions of them.  So, of course, when our views diverged (which happened often as I've aged), debates and disagreements ensued.  But debating what you believe in and questioning it to reaffirm or reassess the belief is important in life.  Many of our views are still on the same path, but now, as an adult, I know what I know and believe what I believe for me--not because they told or want me to.

I carry these lessons with my into the classroom all the time.  I stress that I seek to make them aware of the world around them and for them to question what they've been told--not necessarily to change what they believe but to know what they believe and why they believe it rather than "because my mom/dad said..."

So today, a conversed briefly with a student before class about 20th century figures that she had confused.  We were in a room with a picture of Cesar Chavez; she looked over and saw "Chavez" in big letters on the picture and asked, "wait, Chavez? isn't he bad?"  
I replied that she was thinking of Hugo Chavez, and it depends on whose perspective of bad.  
Her: "oh, the guy on the t-shirt."  
Me:"no, that's Che Guevara."  
Her: "oh, well, he was definitely bad."  
Me"again, it depends on perspective."  
Her: "well, didn't he run in Cuba with communism and all that."  
Me: "well, no, that was Fidel Castro.  Guevara was his second in command during the revolution."  Her: "well, oh, communism, yeah, bad."  
Me: "again, it depends on perspective."  
Her: "well, it was communism.  And I mean, I admit I haven't study a lot of South American leaders, but isn't there a lot of communism?  And I've met Cubans who really disliked Castro."  
Me: "You've met Cubans who live in America."  

I then said, "it depends on perspective because some feel that the guy before Castro took office (meaning Batista) was much worse.  It all depends on perspective, but let's not demonize everyone in the South American continent or in the Southern Hemisphere.  But back to your original question, that guy (pointing to the picture on the wall) is Cesar Chavez.  He fought for the rights of farm workers."  
I then had to cut the conversation short because class was starting.

What I would've loved to have done was have an extended discussion about the biased version of communism, socialism, Marxism, and the other -isms (except capitalism) that students are taught in American schools.  And I say this NOT to say, "let's promote these other -isms," but I would've loved to have given her a fuller version of history to show that depending on perspective Hugo Chavez, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Batista, and even Cesar Chavez could all be viewed positively or negatively.  

Schools are so busy teaching kids one way to think that they don't bother to teach them simply to think.  Students should be taught to seek knowledge and truth for themselves and that it's ok to stand on that island or branch alone as long as you are sure in your thoughts and sentiments.  It's okay to have a different opinion.  It's okay to think that some aspects of another sort of -ism are ok while thinking that other aspects are horrid.  We don't have to stay in one box.  We don't have to always color inside the lines or stay in our own lane.  We don't have to agree completely with one thing and reject completely another thing.  It's okay to feel a little up, down, and all around at the same time.

I would've loved to have talked with her without constraints of time about why Castro and Guevara sought to overthrow the Batista regime, but that it turned into a dictatorship.  And let her ask questions, and I ask questions, and we seek those answers for ourselves.  I would've loved to have discussed to her who Cesar Chavez was/is as well as who Hugo Chavez is and why he seems to do what he do.  I would've loved to have explored why we are taught to think one way about communism, socialism, Marxism, etc. when other people in the world view these things differently.  I would've loved to have explored socialist democracies and what that means.  Or even explored capitalism with a critical eye.  

I don't have all the answers, but if I don't ask the questions and get them to ask the questions no one will ever have the answers and we'll stop seeking knowledge.

In my goal as a mother, I seek to give my kids all the things my parents gave me.  But most importantly, I seek to give them a love of knowledge and a desire to always want to know more.  If you're never full off knowledge, you'll always be hungry and always want more.  

And I seek to remind myself that it's definitely ok if my own kids don't always march to the beat that I want them too.  As a student once told me, "parents often forget that kids are their own people with their own minds when they arrive here."  Too often parents do forget this.  We're so focused on shaping them in our images or trying to relive our lives through them.  We have and had our chance.  Let them explore the world for themselves.  It's hard but must be done.

So, I suppose I seek to open my own eyes as well as others.

Be wise.  Seek knowledge.


  1. I know exactly what you mean. My students often just blink repeatedly when I tell them I'm less concerned with "correct grammar" or even worse--proper margin width--than that they are taking risks and willing to make mistakes but THINKING...seems like all we teach them is to follow rules and be afraid of breaking them for "losing points."

  2. So true. They are SO very alarmed when in the first weeks of class I drill in their head that they should burn and/or toss in the ocean most of the rules they've learned up to now.

    I had a nightmare the other night that I'd been sent to a large auditorium of because of some infraction I had broken. It was a weird sort of purgatory wherein I felt like a student but I still had my current degrees. Anyway, I'm flipping through this handbook I was given in order to learn how to do better once I return to the class, and the entire handbook was about students sitting quietly and obeying the teacher. The student and teacher in me stared at this book and wondered, "what kind of hell IS this? If this auditorium of reform is merely teaching the students to sit and obey, what are we really teaching them?"

    ODD, nightmarish dream that is too close to reality for too many students.