Confessions of a Reluctant Teacher

July 13, 2009

A Teaching Moment

Filed under: Miscellaneous — christinag503 @ 10:43 pm

While doing research for my day job, I came across this post by a retired journalist, Saul Friedman.  He talks about a historic Fourth of July in 1970, when President Nixon tried to replace “Independence Day” with “Honor America Day.”  The administration intended it to be an answer to those protesting the war.  So all kinds of right-wing, conservative citizens swarmed the capital to show their support.

Mr. Friedman, trying to find an angle on the story, circulated a phony petition based on the words of the Declaration of Independence.  It stated, “Governments derive their power from the consent of the governed,” so the people have the right to overthrow the government if they aren’t happy with the results.

As you may expect, he could only get a few signatures.  Most attendees refused to sign anything in favor of overthrowing the government, even after they were informed of the document’s source.  However, he most clearly remembers his “encounter with a young civics teacher from the Midwest who had brought with him a number of his students. They were gathered about us when I asked the teacher if he would sign my petition. He read it carefully and refused, telling me, “I can’t agree with that.” I told him and his students, “The words and ideas come from the Declaration of Independence.”  I showed him the relevant passage from a copy of the Declaration. “You tricked me,” he said. His students laughed at his discomfort. But I think he learned something. And I had a story.”

This civics teacher exemplifies yet another disadvantage of relying on textbooks for information, rather than researching primary sources.  It’s far more intellectually stimulating to grapple with primary texts first-hand.  Not only will it increase your powers of critical analysis, but the text will actually engage you in a sort of discussion, provoking new ideas and questions in your mind as you read. Plus, you get to decide for yourself how to interpret the writer’s words, rather than only learning what other people want you to know.   When a radical political document like the Declaration of Independence is taught in schools, it is watered down and stripped of its revolutionary tone.  Why?  Because a public that learns from, and is inspired by, radical and revolutionary ideas is much more difficult to control.

Ultimately, letting an institution decide what you will learn is like being served pre-chewed food: you’re only able to consume what others choose to give you; it lacks nutrition; it’s disgusting, and certainly doesn’t make you feel eager for more.

No wonder I was always so bored in history class.



  1. love it!

    Comment by Lori — July 14, 2009 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

  2. I liked that analogy. I took history a long time ago and hated it also. Now, I find it fascinating and love to read synopses of history from different sources to get an overview. It is hard to pick up on subtleties.

    Comment by Rebecca G — July 15, 2009 @ 8:42 am | Reply

  3. I loved your blog. Didn’t know you had such strong feelings about education. Listen to the following Ted talk. The speaker presents his point of view on education in quite a comical way.

    What do you like best about your new job?

    Comment by marisa — July 15, 2009 @ 10:20 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for reading, Marisa! I’m glad you like it!

      What I like best is that I’m working for a company that really helps people. Also, I get to wear flip-flops and jeans to work if I feel like it! My coworkers are great, but they’ve been great everywhere I’ve worked, and the office is really neat. I feel really lucky to work here!

      Comment by christinag503 — July 22, 2009 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  4. Education was originally to encourage “thinking” rather than a “for sure way to get a job.” We take so much for granted rather it be advertising for a product or voting for a president. Thank you for thinking!

    Comment by Deborah D — July 16, 2009 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

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