Sunday, June 22, 2008

What Are Dreams Worth?

This story through Feministe, about a teacher in inner-city LA fired for being too encouraging of political activism amongst her students, is interesting to me. Dyed-in-the-wool leftist I may be, but that does not make me comfortable with every manifestation of leftism. There are some things this teacher did which I think are fine and/or beneficial. I have no problem with afro-centric curricula. I certainly have no problem with the poetry of Langston Hughes (my hyper-White suburban high school taught Hughes, for crying out loud), or the autobiography of Malcolm X (one of the most important figures in 20th century American history).

And there are things that make me uncomfortable as well. The video the students created in support of the teacher, for example (it's on the Feministe post) -- where they refer to each other as comrades? That rang the wrong way with me. The Intifada poster? Obviously I'm not thrilled. In general, the type of leftism she seems to be encouraging is not the type that is to my liking, and I'd be lying if I said otherwise. So it does not surprise me that the LA school district is even less happy about it than I am.

But there was something else in that video that was worth mentioning. The part where the kids said that this teacher had made them believe they could do anything. That they could attend top four-year colleges. That they could become doctors and lawyers. It was a message, they said, that was being given by far too few educators at their school. And if that's the case, and this teacher is inspiring these kids to look beyond themselves and beyond their surroundings, I can deal with being made a little uncomfortable. It is well, well worth it.

Lots of people go through a radical left stage. A great many of the big conservative intellectuals of the 20th century spent time as communist or socialist sympathizers. Spending time as a leftist is not the worst thing in the world, no matter what your opinion of the politics. These kids are, if nothing else, engaged in the type of civic activism that is precisely what we want to see in our American democratic project. Particularly in the inner-cities, a more engaged, civic-minded citizenry is the first step to reform. People who care about their education, who care about their surroundings, and are willing to take on the bureaucracy to get what they think they need.

Any teacher who can inculcate those values, in my book, is a teacher who deserves to stay.

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