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Posts Tagged ‘a people’s history’

A Lesson Plan for Strikebreaking Substitute Teachers

By Russ Peterson

Editor’s Note: Portland, Oregon language arts teacher Russ Peterson sent this lesson plan to colleagues, who are preparing to strike beginning on February 20th. Given that part of the corporate reform agenda throughout the country is to attack conditions of teaching and learning for public school teachers, as well as to erode contract protections of all kinds, it seems that more and more teachers will be on strike “for the schools our students deserve.”

Russ Peterson teaches at Grant High School and has taught in Portland Public Schools for 13 years. Russ gave Rethinking Schools permission to share the lesson plan with teachers around the country.

— Bill Bigelow

Good morning, colleagues!  In the spirit of collaboration that teachers engage in, I have attached a lesson I put together as part of the district request that a lesson plan be provided in the event of a strike.  I thought it would be helpful given the circumstances, and would save you all the time and effort of putting one together yourselves.

Please feel free to share with your colleagues in other schools in the district, and with others in your department who I may not know.

- Russ

SUB NOTES

  1. Photocopy the attached poem, usually attributed to Jack London.
  2. Read the poem along with the class out loud.
  3. Have the class complete the  TPSS-FASST graphic organizer (copied below) as they deconstruct the poem.
  4. After reading the poem and completing the graphic organizer, ask the following questions for discussion:
    • What is a ‘scab’?
    • What images does Jack London use in describing a scab?
    • Given these images, what is London’s attitude toward those who work during a strike?
    • Why do you think someone would work during a strike?  What are the consequences of this?  How does this fit into the model of “ally, bystander, victim, adversary”?  Which of these is a scab?  Which of these are those engaging in a work-stoppage?
    • London assumes that the striker is a man. Why would he assume this? Does he also assume that scabs are men?
    • Why does management hire scabs?  What is their objective?
    • Many times in U.S. history, employers have used workers of different races or ethnicities to break strikes. How do you think these employer tactics have affected relations between different groups of workers?
    • Should unionized workers aim their hostility more at scabs or at those who hire scabs? Why?
    • Do you (students) know any scabs?  What do you think about scabs and what they are doing?

With the remaining class time, write either:

  1. a poem of your own about scabs
  2. an essay in response to London’s poem – do you agree with London’s assessment?  Why?  Do you think London is being unfair to those who cross a picket line?  Why? With either choice, support your thesis with evidence.

The Scab

by Jack London* (1876-1916)

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.

Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.

No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with.

Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.

Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver.

Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British army.

The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife, his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.

Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country.

A scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.

* There is some question as to whether Jack London wrote this poem.

TPS-FASTT ANALYSIS-GRAPHIC ORGANIZER

TITLE:  Examine the title before reading the poem. Sometimes the title will give you a clue about the content of the poem. In some cases the title will give you crucial information that will help you understand a major idea within the poem.  What does the title make you think about?  What images or ideas does it conjure?  What themes might it ignite?
PARAPHRASE:  Paraphrase the literal action within the poem. At this point, resist the urge to jump to interpretation. A failure to understand what happens literally inevitably leads to an interpretive misunderstanding.  To that end, “translate” the poem into straightforward, everyday English.
SPEAKER:   Who is the speaker in this poem? Remember to always distinguish speaker from the poet. In some cases the speaker and poet might be the same, as in the autobiographical poem, but often the speaker and the poets are entirely different.  What does the speaker value?  How can you tell?  What does the speaker like or dislike?  Can you discern anything about the speaker’s identity—gender, nationality, background, time period?  How?
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE:  Examine the poem for language that is not used literally. This would include, but is not limited to, literary devices such as imagery, symbolism, metaphor, simile, allusion, repetition, hyperbole, the effect of sound devices (alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance, rhyme), and any other devices used in a non-literal manner.
ATTITUDE (or TONE):  Tone, meaning the speaker’s ATTITUDE toward the SUBJECT of the poem. Of course, this means that you must discern the subject of the poem. In some cases it will be narrow, and in others it will be broad. Also keep in mind the speaker’s attitude toward self, other characters, and the subject, as well as attitudes of characters other than the speaker.  Are there specific words that convey a particular tone?  What are they, and how do they work together to create that tone?
SHIFTS:   Note shifts in speaker and attitude. Shifts can be indicated in a number of ways including the occasion of poem (time and place), key turn words (but, yet, then, etc.), punctuation (dashes, periods, colons, etc.), stanza divisions, changes in line and stanza length, and anything that indicates that something has changed or a question is being answered.
TITLE:  Examine the title again, this time on an interpretive level.  Based on what you noticed as you examined the poem, what new or different resonances does the title take on?
THEME:  First list what the poem is about (subject), then determine what the poet is saying about each of those subjects (theme). Remember, theme must be expressed in a complete sentence.

NAME:  __________________________________________  Poem/Essay/Extract __________

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Those of you who follow us on Facebook know that we regularly post articles, stories, and resources that we think would be of interest to Rethinking Schools readers. At the risk of jumping on the top-10 bandwagon, we decided to review our posts for the year and to highlight the ones that were the most popular, judged by total reach. Some are funny, some are moving, some are outrageous—all are provocative and worth reviewing.

1. Dec. 15: “Wrong” answers on tests from brilliant kids.

2. April 18: Today’s Democracy Now! had an excellent segment — “A Rush to Misjudgment” — about some of the hurried and racist mainstream media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. This would be an excellent segment to use with students.

3. Nov. 2: Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au was the scariest thing ever for Halloween this year: a high-stakes, standardized test!

WayneHighStakes

4. Oct. 5: History matters. Today’s patterns of wealth and power have their roots in slavery. “Top 6 Countries That Grew Filthy Rich From Enslaving Black People

5. April 2:  Our friend and colleague, Bill Ayers, has written a fabulous letter to the New York Times about the Atlanta cheating scandal. Read it here.

6. Oct. 17: The brilliant and magnificent Cornel West. Please watch and share. “Cornel West on the ‘shameless silence’ of progressives about Obama and education reform

7. Aug. 22: This is a fascinating expose at Daily Kos of how Time Magazine covers in the United States differ from Time covers throughout the world. Great questions to raise about this with students. Shared by Rethinking Schools author Özlem Sensoy.

8. May 3: Have you followed the story of the 16-year-old girl in Florida who was arrested and expelled for her science experiment gone awry? An example of the school-to-prison pipeline in action.

9. April 15: Rethinking Schools friend Dave Zirin reflects on the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, and offers some moving people’s history in the process.

10. September 7: Betsy Toll of the organization Living Earth, wrote this wonderful letter to The Oregonian, in Portland, saying we’re not weary of war, we’re sick of it. War is an “educational issue.” Read Betsy’s letter.

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Earlier this month, we set up shop at the annual meeting of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). It’s always a joy to see old friends and meet folks who are new but no less passionate about multicultural education.

If you follow our blog, you likely share this passion, and know that Rethinking Schools has offered insights and resources on critical, multicultural teaching since our inception in 1986.

carberry-1

Here are a few examples, free to all friends of Rethinking Schools:

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education,
by Wayne Au
Multicultural education has to be based on dialogue, both among students and between students and teachers.

“If There Is No Struggle…” Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow
Students “become” members of an abolitionist organization and grapple with the strategic dilemmas faced by one of the most significant U.S. social movements.

Multiculturalism: A Fight for Justice, by the editors of Rethinking Schools
The introduction to a special report on multicultural education.

Precious Knowledge: Teaching Solidarity with Tucsonby Devin Carberry
A high school history teacher centers a study of social movements on the fight over the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. His students spread the knowledge.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access! (All subscribers enjoy access to our online archives. If you have a subscription, but are not sure how to activate your online account, please call customer service at 1-800-660-4192.)

What Do You Mean When You Say Urban?: Speaking honestly about race and students, by Dyan Watson
“Urban” has become one of a series of euphemisms for African American and Latina/o students. What preconceptions hide behind the language?

The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans during WWII, by Moé Yonamine
A role play engages students in exploration of a little-known piece of history-the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps.

Diversity vs. White Privilege: An Interview with Christine Sleeterby Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner
Christine Sleeter explains why multiculturalism, at its core, is a struggle against racism, and must go beyond an appreciation of diversity.

Putting Out the Linguistic Welcome Mat, by Linda Christensen
Honoring students’ home languages builds an inclusive classroom.

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Bill headshotRethinking Schools is in the final stages of producing a book on teaching about the environmental crisis, called A People’s Curriculum for the Earth. If you’re a subscriber or regular visitor to our website, you have probably noticed that over the past several years Rethinking Schools magazine has featured increasing numbers of environmental justice articles. We are pleased by what we’ve assembled in the new volume–which is patterned after our 2002 book, Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World.

But we still need some help. We have a few “holes,” wishes, or would-like-to-have-mores. These are of two types:
  1. articles that describe classroom teaching (story-rich, replicable, critical)
  2. student-friendly readings: short articles, interviews, testimonies, stories, excerpts from novels, poems, graphics, and the like.

Some areas for which we want more material, both for the book and for future issues of the magazine, include:

  • Indigenous struggles around environmental issues — e.g., the Idle No More movement
  • Teaching about oil exploitation and natural gas fracking
  • Rachel Carson and early work against pesticides
  • The “people’s history” of struggles against environmental racism
  • Teaching about nuclear issues — e.g., nuclear testing, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, uranium mining
  • Water issues, everything from the disproportionate impact of corporate practices on poor communities and communities of color to the implications of the decline of glaciers
  • Food sovereignty, and the activism of groups affiliated with La Via Campesina
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • The political economy of hunger
  • Stories of resistance and hope — how responses to environmental crisis can also be responses to economic crisis

Yes, these intersect and themselves are overwhelming. But we’re hoping that in putting out this final call that some of you may have pieces of your curriculum in hand that you’d be willing to let us consider for Rethinking Schools magazine and/or A People’s Curriculum for the Earth.

If so, please get in touch with me at bill@rethinkingschools.org.

Thanks for all your important work in these tough times. And thanks for your support of Rethinking Schools.

Warmly,

Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor

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In every issue of our magazine, our editors and contributors hand-pick a variety of books, films, websites, and other media for all ages.

Here are seven resources we recommended in our fall issue.

The Speech_frontThe Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream,
by Gary Younge
171 pp., $19.95

You may know Gary Younge from his fine columns on race and politics in The Nation magazine. Here Younge offers the riveting story behind one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address at the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The book includes a chapter on “the moment”—an especially valuable look at both the national and international context of 1963; background on the march; an analysis of the speech itself; and commentary on the legacy of the march and speech. As Younge wrote recently: “Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call [the March on Washington] off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one.” This is important background for teachers, but also readable by many high school students.

resources-staysolidStay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth,
edited by Matt Hern and the Purple Thistle Centre
319 pp., $20

There may be school libraries that would deem this book too risqué or soft on drugs. But Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth is a remarkable assembly of testimonies, stories, advice, poetry, cartoons, lessons, short essays, and “other stuff to check out” from more than 100 radical activists divided into diverse subjects, including family, race, gender, school, friends, sex, disability, indigenous struggles, ecocide, and “your physical body.” Sprinkled throughout are rich, evocative quotes. This is not a G-rated book. The text does not adhere to a “Say no to drugs” admonition, and it is joyfully sex-friendly. As one young Teaching for Change intern wrote in recommending this book, “These views are incredibly important in supporting youth to be agents of their own decisions and, at the same time, are radically different from mainstream views.”

EdActivistAlliesEducating Activist Allies: Social Justice Pedagogy with the Suburban and Urban Elite,
by Katy M. Swalwell
161 pp., $41.95

Katy Swalwell opens this unique book with a quote from the late Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire: “In the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, [the oppressors] suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.” For Swalwell, a Rethinking Schools contributor, critical teaching for social justice benefits everyone—even the very privileged. As such, this work contributes to building a more just society for us all. In this accessible, story-rich volume, Swalwell offers example after example of how educators in different elite contexts attempt to teach for social justice—described in many instances through her own careful observations of their teaching. Interviews with students offer a window into how this teaching was received. This is a valuable book for any educator trying to clarify what it means to teach for social justice, but especially for those who find themselves teaching the children of the wealthy.

resources-gaslandGasland II, directed by Josh Fox
125 min.

High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas—more commonly known as “fracking”—is one of the scariest technologies on the planet. A recent open letter from Pennsylvania residents described the effects of fracking: “In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish . . . and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime.” Josh Fox’s new film Gasland II illuminates this grim reality. With a blend of storytelling, outrage, science, and, yes, humor, Fox offers a student-friendly look at this technology from hell. The first Gasland film—which featured the now infamous images of residents lighting their kitchen tap water on fire—was nominated for an Academy Award. As Julie Treick O’Neill writes in her Summer 2012 Rethinking Schools article on teaching this earlier film, “Fox was a hit with my students: He was real enough, cool enough, and smart enough to take on fracking.” Gasland II is an important resource to help our students navigate the world’s disturbing new fossil fuel terrain. For middle school and high schools classrooms.

resources-asfastAs Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck,
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
32 pp., $18.95

Based on her father’s experience in 1960s North Carolina, Pamela Tuck tells how a family and community challenge racism where they work, shop, and go to school. The protagonist, 14-year-old Mason, is the letter writer for the local African American civil rights committee. In appreciation, they give him a typewriter. His typing skills help him open doors when he attends the formerly all-white high school. There is no sugarcoating of the racism Mason faces. In fact, when he wins a county typing competition, not one audience member applauds. Instead, Mason finds love, admiration, and strength from his family and community. This picture book could be used to introduce the history beyond the big demonstrations about the fight for civil rights. It would lend itself well to a group read and discussion, and could also be a wonderful source of prompts for writing from the perspective of different characters. For grade 3 and above.

resources-democracynow

Democracy Now! Hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez
(free podcasts)

We previously included Democracy Now! in the Rethinking Schools resources section. But, as we begin a new school year, we thought that it was worth reminding people that, in our judgment, this is the best Monday-through-Friday news broadcast in the United States. The news headlines that open each hour are a rundown of vital stories often ignored or distorted in the mainstream media. Headlines are followed by several in-depth reports, many of which make ideal classroom viewing: striking fast-food workers, conflict in Egypt, NSA revelations, stop-and-frisk policing, the true history of the 1963 March on Washington, drone strikes, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the climate crisis, and more. One recent episode that could and should be used in class is Cornel West’s critical commentary on President Obama’s talk on race relations following the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Each broadcast is available as simple audio or as audio/video. All are archived and available for free at the website.

resources-ifieverIf I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth
373 pp., $17.99

Eric Gansworth’s first young adult coming-of-age novel hits a home run. The main character, Lewis “Shoe” Blake, navigates relationships with family and friends on and off the upstate New York Tuscarora Reservation in the mid-1970s. Debbie Reese, editor of the website American Indians in Children’s Literature, alerted us to the novel. She explains that it offers “a rare but honest look at culture and how people with vastly different upbringings and identities can clash. And dance. And laugh. Gansworth informs readers about cultural difference, but he doesn’t beat anyone up as he does it.” Young adult author Cynthia Leitich Smith calls it “a heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family, and friendship.”

v28.1This collection of resources from our fall 2013 magazine was reviewed by Rethinking Schools curriculum editor Bill Bigelow and Teaching for Change Executive Director Deborah Menkart. Bill and Deborah are also co-directors of the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between the two organizations..

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If you’re not yet familiar with the Zinn Education Project–a collaboration of Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change in Washington, D.C.–and the “If We Knew Our History” column–today is a great day to get acquainted with it.

Rethinking Schools curriculum editor and co-director of the Zinn Education Project Bill Bigelow wrote the most recent article on the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

Here’s an excerpt.  Read the rest of the column here.  (Thanks to Common Dreams for also posting it.)

Grenada: ‘A Lovely Little War’

by Bill Bigelow

Anti-bullying curricula are the rage these days. But as teachers endeavor to build a culture of civility among young people in school, the official history curriculum they are provided often celebrates, or at least excuses, bullying among nations. Well, at least when the United States is the bully. A good example is the U.S. invasion of Grenada—Operation Urgent Fury, as it was called by the Reagan administration—launched exactly 30 years ago this week, on Oct. 25, 1983. Grenada made an unlikely target of U.S. military might. Its main product was not oil but nutmeg. Its naval fleet consisted of about 10 fishing trawlers. Grenada’s population of 110,000 was smaller than Peoria, Illinois. At the time of the invasion, there was not a single stoplight in the entire country. So what put Grenada in the crosshairs of the Reagan administration?

grenadaposter

In 1979, the socialist New Jewel Movement had overthrown the corrupt and unpopular dictator Eric Gairy in an almost bloodless coup. For years, Gairy ruled through fear. His secret police, the “Mongoose Gang,” had been supplied by the U.S.-backed Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The revolution launched by the New Jewel Movement—the “Revo,” as it was affectionately dubbed—was immensely popular. By 1982, when I first visited the island, a literacy campaign was under way, new schools had been built, and unemployed youth in the countryside benefited from new agricultural cooperatives. Grenada welcomed Cuban aid: teachers, health professionals, and construction workers on the new international airport who aimed to replace the antiquated and dangerous airstrip up in the mountains. In just four years, unemployment was cut from 49 percent to 14 percent. Instead of advertising cigarettes and booze, colorful billboards throughout the island promoted education: “Each One Teach One,” “If You Know, Teach; If You Don’t, Learn,” and “Education Is Production, Too.”

Grenada’s ‘threat’

On a steamy August night, with hundreds of other Grenadians I squeezed into a high school auditorium in Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, to watch musical and theater performances from throughout the Caribbean—Dominica, Barbados, and St. Vincent. Each group closed its act with a short speech on how inspiring they found the changes in Grenada. With shouts and smiles they pledged to return to their islands and spread the word about the Grenadian Revo. This West Indian cultural evening exemplified Grenada’s real “threat”—not a launchpad for invasion, but a socialist-inspired revolution with a reggae beat that sparked imaginations throughout the Caribbean. To use Noam Chomsky’s expression, Grenada was the threat of a good example.

Grenada map / A small island with a population less than 110,000, Grenada was, as Noam Chomsky said, a threat of a good example.The United States responded to developments in Grenada with hostility. In August 1981, more than two years before the actual U.S. invasion—in naval maneuvers called “Ocean Venture 81”—the United States staged a mock invasion of Grenada on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Code-named “Amber and the Amberdines,” the supposedly fictitious eastern Caribbean country of Amber was accused of being a pawn of Country Red to “export terrorism to a number of Caribbean countries.” A Ranger battalion based in Fort Lewis, Washington, was airlifted to Vieques. Paratroopers landed in mountainous areas of the island and were backed by air attacks and the amphibious landing of thousands of marines. The obvious similarity between “Amber and the Amberdines” and Grenada and the Grenadines was a not-so-veiled threat. President Reagan claimed that Grenada’s construction of the international airport was a ruse for “Soviet-Cuban militarization”—this despite enthusiastic support for the airport from such un-radical entities as Grenada’s Chamber of Commerce, the Grenada Hotel Association, and the Employers’ Federation.

Then came October 1983. In the space of a few days, the leadership of the New Jewel Movement imploded. Grenada’s hugely popular prime minister, Maurice Bishop, was arrested by a faction of his own government and then executed along with many of his close associates. In massive demonstrations following Bishop’s arrest, the Grenadian army fired into the crowds. Shortly after, a military government was formed and announced a 24-hour shoot-to-kill curfew. This violence was the culmination of sectarian infighting whose origins are still murky—a flammable concoction of ambition, ideological rigidity, and leadership isolation, made more volatile by the ever-present threat of U.S. intervention.

In the midst of these traumatic events the United States launched its invasion—sending 7,600 troops into the tiny island—mostly from the United States, but with some from Jamaica and other Caribbean nations. An equivalent force invading the United States would total more than 20 million soldiers. Ronald Reagan defended the invasion, saying Grenada “was a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy. We got there just in time.”

Read the rest of “Grenada: ‘A Lovely Little War.’” 

Photo credit:  Forward ever, backward never! poster. North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).

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Today is the 68th anniversary of bombing of Nagasaki.  Our friend and ally Pat Elder describes in his op-ed below how high school text books get the history wrong.  See our Zinn Education Project for resources for teaching about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

- Kris Collett

pat-elder-20120105-190This summer the world will pause to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most Americans are still supportive of Truman’s decision despite overwhelming historical evidence the bomb had “nothing to do with the end of the war,” in the words of Major General Curtis E. LeMay.

Americans suffer from a misinformation campaign initially perpetrated by the Truman administration and carried on to this day by high school textbooks that continue to tell the story as if Hiroshima and Nagasaki were indispensible in ending the war and saving countless American lives. The historical record is clear, however. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

There is no hint of controversy regarding the decision to drop the bomb in the majority of texts in use in American classrooms and many textbooks contain blatant historical inaccuracies, but the greatest purveyor of historical mistruth is the U.S. Army’s Leadership, Education and Training (LET 3) Custom Edition for Army JROTC. JROTC is the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. More than a half million American high school students are enrolled in JROTC classes nationwide.

JROTC students do more than march in uniform on the football field. They study government (the unit on constitutional law is entitled “You the People”), and they study a “history” of sorts. The JROTC treatment of Truman’s decision to drop the bomb is riddled with falsehoods and leaves students convinced that destroying those cities was the right thing to do.

Thanks to policymakers and military leaders of the era who have subsequently told their stories, we know today what transpired. We can also thank Professor Gar Alperovitz of the University of Maryland for a stellar academic career dedicated to analyzing American policy in this regard. Quite simply, President Truman dropped those bombs on a defeated Japan to tell the Russians and the world to back off. We had two bombs and we were going to use them. In a typically cavalier fashion, Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander, U.S. Third Fleet remarked, “It was a mistake to ever drop [the bomb]. . .they had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it. .”

Today we know:

  • The bombs weren’t needed to win the war. Every top U.S. military leader of the era has since stated that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were militarily insignificant.
  • The idea that dropping the bombs saved a million American lives is completely fabricated. The war against Japan could have been “won” without additional loss of life.
  • The Japanese had been trying to surrender for months. They simply wanted to guarantee their emperor’s safety, a desire the Americans eventually allowed.
  • The Japanese would have unconditionally given up without the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the Soviet Union entered the war.
  • The bombing was not so much the last military chapter of the Second World War as it was the first Chapter of the Cold War.

The authors of the JROTC course book grapple with the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan within the context of an ethical case study where students discuss ethical choices and consequences inherent in a series of historical events. Rather than presenting an unbiased version of events, the discussion is tainted by a strong preference toward bombing Japan, complete with falsehoods and inexcusable omissions.

The JROTC text packages all the most prevalent misperceptions regarding Truman’s decision into one outrageous historical account. The U.S. Army is teaching high school students that using atomic weaponry was necessary to forestall a costly invasion of the Japanese mainland that would have cost a million American lives. The text leaves the impression that the Japanese military in mid-1945 was extraordinarily powerful and that the Japanese were fanatical in their resolve to resist. The text also perpetrates the falsehood that the top brass supported the bombing when in fact all of the top brass subsequently came out to object to its use. Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, the Army’s version of events distorts the complex geostrategic mix involving the Soviets.

The Army text leaves out Japanese attempts to surrender. The book makes no mention of the prior agreements to bring the Soviets into the war against Japan or the Soviet declaration of war on August 8th. The JROTC text fails to recognize that Japanese power quickly disintegrated during the first 6 months of 1945, especially after the US firebombing campaign destroyed 180 square miles of 67 cities, killing more than 300,000 people, figures that exclude the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The book doesn’t describe absolute American control of Japanese skies in the summer of 1945.

Consider the following selections from Leadership, Education and Training 3:

“The Soviet Union had not participated in the Pacific campaign, choosing to remain neutral with Japan while fighting for survival against Germany. Truman was in Potsdam meeting with Churchill, trying to enlist the aide of Stalin, when he learned of the atomic test at Trinity.”

At face value this is true, but this statement represents the totality of the Army’s discussion of the Soviet role. The JROTC text minimizes the importance of the Soviets while elevating the significance of the atomic bombings in bringing about Japan’s surrender. The Soviets are portrayed as being weak but it was Stalin’s decision to enter the war and the Red Army’s assault on Manchuria on August 9th and subsequent rapid advance through weak Japanese defenses that caused the Japanese to immediately sue for peace.

Truman and his trusted advisor, Secretary of State James Byrnes both believed the bomb would keep the Russians in line in Eastern Europe. Dropping the bomb launched the Cold War. It wasn’t necessary to end World War II.

During the Tehran Conference in 1943 Stalin agreed that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan after Hitler was defeated. In 1945 at the Yalta Conference Stalin agreed to enter the War with Japan within three months of the end of the war in Europe. The Soviet invasion began on August 8, 1945, precisely three months after the German surrender on May 8th. The start of the invasion fell between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, on August 6, and Nagasaki, on August 9. In the words of Air Force General Claire Chennault,”Russia’s entry into the Japanese war was the decisive factor in speeding its end and would have been so even if no atomic bombs had been dropped.” An examination of the Japanese historical record confirms this point. It is reprehensible for the Army to omit a more thorough discussion of the pivotal role of the Soviet Union in bringing about an end to the war.

“Truman was troubled by the mounting casualties in the Pacific as Allied forces drew nearer the Japanese home islands. Driven by the Bushido warrior code, the Japanese were prepared to resist to the last, and more willing to die than surrender.”

Truman knew a week before Potsdam that Japan’s emperor had intervened to attempt to end the war and there were several attempts at peace before this. Japan was prepared to surrender, provided that it could retain its emperor but Truman had two bombs and he was determined to use them to fire a kind of a shot across the bow to the Soviets as post-war Europe was taking shape. General Douglas MacArthur understood it this way. “The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.”

Colonel Charles Bonesteel, Chief of the War Department Operations Division Policy poignantly described the situation in the summer of 1945, “The poor damn Japanese were putting feelers out by the ton so to speak — through Russia.”

“The Joint Chiefs told Truman to expect over 1,000,000 American casualties and even larger number of Japanese dead in the pending attack on the home islands.”

This is false. There’s no record of the Joint Chiefs of Staff formally studying the decision and they never made an official recommendation to the President, according to Alperovitz. Additionally, the Joint Chiefs never claimed to be involved. The claim of 1 million casualties as a result of an (unnecessary) American invasion is a complete fabrication. It originated from a 1947 Harper’s article by Secretary of War Stimson. Stimson invented the number. It is not based on a shred of historical evidence.

For his part, President Truman randomly selected the number of American lives ostensibly saved as a result of dropping the bomb. He said it would “save thousands of American lives.” He later remarked, “It occurred to me that a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood was worth a couple of Japanese cities, and I still think they were and are.” He also said, “I thought 200,000 of our young men would be saved by making that decision.”

The Japanese position was hopeless by the summer of 1945. They were trying to surrender because they were defeated. According to Brigadier Gen. Carter W. Clarke,“We brought them down to an abject surrender through the accelerated sinking of their merchant marine and hunger alone, and when we didn’t need to do it, and we knew we didn’t need to do it, and they knew that we knew we didn’t need to do it, we used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs.” Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry H. “Hap” Arnold looked at the situation from the air, “The Japanese position was hopeless even before the first atomic bomb fell, because the Japanese had lost control of their own air.”

“By August 1945, the United States had two nuclear bombs in its arsenal. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Over 140,000 Japanese were killed in the blast, and an uncounted number died from the lingering effects of radiation. On August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The next day, August 10, 1945, Japan indicated its willingness to surrender.”

Japan had been indicating its “willingness to surrender” for some time before the bombs were dropped. The Japanese finally acceded to allied surrender terms because the Soviets had invaded Manchuria the day before.

Every top American military leader was revolted by Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. They couldn’t see its military necessity. It is incomprehensible that the today’s Army feels compelled to contradict its greatest leaders who understood the role of the military in relation to its political superiors. Commander of the U.S. Army Strategic Air Force, General Carl Spaatz understood the separation.He said,”The dropping of the atomic bomb was done by a military man under military orders. We’re supposed to carry out orders and not question them. “That was purely a political decision. [It] wasn’t a military decision..”

Top Naval officers joined in the chorus. Admiral William D. Leahy, the President’s Chief of Staff said, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.”

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet echoed the sentiments of his colleagues, “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace… The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.”

“Truman appointed a committee to evaluate using the atomic bomb. The committee examined many options, including a demonstration in Tokyo Bay, but Los Alamos was uncertain the device would detonate. Rather than lose a valuable war asset, and to emphasize its destructive power, the committee recommended dropping the atomic bomb on a city.”

Secretary of State James Byrnes, Truman’s personal representative on the Interim Committee, was the most influential member of the committee and steered policy in the direction of using the new weapon without warning on a Japanese city. It was Byrnes who saw the bomb as a promising way to keep the Soviets in line in the post-war era.

Impressionable high school juniors are on the receiving end of this despicable propaganda. It is astonishing how easily the Army’s authors dismiss a quarter-million lives.

The discussion of the decision to drop the bomb in the JROTC text ends with the following:

“When thinking of ethical decisions that affected U.S. and world history, try to imagine how history would have been changed if the Atomic bomb had not been dropped on Japan during World War II. Would the war have continued much longer? Would the U.S. have been attacked again by the Japanese, as they had been at Pearl Harbor the year before? Because the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan on August 8th, do you think that thousands of Soviet and U.S. soldiers would have lost their lives?”

Based on the information contained in the JROTC text, it is “clear” to American high school students that the war would have dragged on indefinitely if we hadn’t dropped the bomb. We had to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki to keep the Japanese from attacking America as they did in 1944, and we had to do this to save American and Soviet lives!

JROTC lessons are developed and taught by Senior Army Instructors (SAIs) and Assistant Instructors (IAs). Although SAI’s have college degrees, they are typically not state-certified teachers. AIs must be retired from the Army and may be hired with a high school diploma provided they earn an associate’s degree within five years. AIs are the only unsupervised non-professionals allowed to instruct students in classrooms in most states across the country.

Public school officials rarely exercise control over the curricular content of the JROTC program or the professional qualifications of its instructors. It’s time they did.

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Pat Elder is the Director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy,  an organization that works to prohibit the automatic release of student information to military recruiting services gathered through the administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) in high schools across the country.

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With Pfc. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden in the news this week, have you thought about if and how you will teach about these individuals and other whistleblowers in your classroom this school year?

Here are some ideas to get you started.  Offer your own suggestions/resources in the comments.

Use this powerful portrait of Pfc. Manning by Robert Shetterly at Americans Who Tell The Truth.

“If you had free reign over classified networks and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain — what would you do? God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth. Because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

ManningAWTT

And from our Zinn Education Project, check out lessons for teaching about whistleblowers based on the history of the Vietnam war and the Pentagon Papers case.

“This 100-page teaching guide . . . for middle school, high school, and college classrooms, enhances student understanding of the issues raised in the award winning film, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. . .

“Through the story of Daniel Ellsberg, students can explore the type of information revealed by whistleblowers, the risks and motivations of whistleblowers, and the tactics used to silence whistleblowers. . .

“Not only does The Most Dangerous Man in America Teaching Guide offer a “people’s history” approach to learning about whistleblowing and the U.S. war in Vietnam, it also engages students in thinking deeply about their own responsibility as truth-tellers and peacemakers.”

EllsbergGuide

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by Bill Bigelow

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Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, one of the country’s most widely read history books, died on January 27, 2010. Shortly after, then-Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels got on his computer and fired off an email to the state’s top education officials: “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away.”

But Gov. Daniels, now president of Purdue University, was not content merely to celebrate Howard Zinn’s passing. He demanded that Zinn’s work be hunted down in Indiana schools and suppressed: “The obits and commentaries mentioned his book ‘A People’s History of the United States’ is the ‘textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.’ It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”

We know about Gov. Daniels’ email tantrum thanks to the Associated Press, which obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Scott Jenkins, Daniels’ education advisor, wrote back quickly to tell the governor that A People’s History of the United States was used in a class for prospective teachers on social movements at Indiana University.

Daniels fired back: “This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state. No student will be better taught because someone sat through this session. Which board has jurisdiction over what counts and what doesn’t?”

After more back and forth, Daniels approved a statewide “cleanup” of what earns credit for professional development: “Go for it. Disqualify propaganda and highlight (if there is any) the more useful offerings.”

cartoon_danielaacademicfreedomDaniels recently defended his attack on Zinn’s work, telling the Associated Press, “We must not falsely teach American history in our schools.” In a letter posted on his Purdue University webpage, Daniels claimed that, “the question I asked on one day in 2010 had nothing to do with higher education at all.” Daniels should go back and read his own emails.

There are so many disturbing aspects to this story, it’s hard to know where to begin.

The first, of course, is Daniels’ gleeful, mean-spirited reporting of Zinn’s death. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Howard Zinn’s career knows that his great passions were racial equality and peace. Finding cause for joy in the death of someone whose life was animated by confidence in people’s fundamental decency is shameful.

As someone who spent almost 30 years as a high school history teacher, I’m amused by the impoverished pedagogical vision embedded in Daniels’ emails and subsequent defense. Daniels wants Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States banned from the curriculum, so that the book is not “force-fed” to students. Governor Daniels evidently assumes that the only way one can teach history is to cram it down students’ throats. To see some alternative ways to engage students, Daniels might have a look at our lessons at the Zinn Education Project, which use Zinn’s People’s History of the United States in role plays, in critical reading activities, to generate imaginative writing, and to search for the “silences” in students’ own textbooks.

Take for example the last textbook I was assigned as a teacher at a public high school in Portland, Oregon, American Odyssey, published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill. In the book’s one thousand pages, it includes exactly two paragraphs on the U.S. war with Mexico—the war that led to Mexico “ceding,” in the polite language of school curricula, about half its country to the United States.  American Odyssey does not quote a single Mexican, a single soldier, a single abolitionist, a single opponent of the war. Well, in fact, the textbook doesn’t quote anyone. As one of my students pointed out when we read the book’s dull passages in class, “It doesn’t even view it as a war. It’s a situation.”

Read the rest of Indiana’s Anti-Howard Zinn Witch Hunt at our Zinn Education Project.

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Many of you are familiar with the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

storycorps_animationseriesWe’re pleased to announce that this April, Diversity Month, the Zinn Education Project has collaborated with StoryCorps to share resources on the Anglicizing of names.

Featured resources are “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story,” a community building lesson by Rethinking Schools editor Linda Christensen on the personal and cultural significance of naming, and an animation by StoryCorps called Facundo the Great.

You can also find a list of books and resources for the classroom on the politics and practices of naming for grades K-12 at the Zinn Education Project website.

In the animation of his Storycorps interview, Ramón “Chunky” Sanchez recounts how names at his elementary school in Southern California were Anglicized. It’s a funny yet poignant resource that can be used at different grade levels. In “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story,” Linda Christensen shares a classroom-tested teaching strategy to elicit student stories about the importance of naming.

Excerpt from “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story”

tosaythename_rwru‘To say the name is to begin the story,’ according to the Swampy Cree Indians. In my English courses we begin our ‘story’ together by saying our names—and by telling the history of how we came to have them. Because the first day of class lays a foundation for the nine months to follow, I want our year to begin with respect for the diverse cultural heritages and people represented not only at Jefferson High School, but in the world.

“We also speak—using student knowledge as well as mine—of how historically some groups of people were denied their names. Many people from Eastern Europe had their names shortened at Ellis Island because their names were too long and too difficult for officials to pronounce. When Africans were stolen from their homeland, their names and their history were stripped as well.”

Download PDF to read more.

“To Say the Name” is one of more than a dozen lessons and articles in our book, Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word.

Facundo the Great

Facundo the Great is an animation that accompanies a story told by Ramón “Chunky” Sanchez about the painful history of school authorities Anglicizing students’ names—in the process, stripping children of their family history and identity. With a humorous twist, Sanchez recounts how the administration calls an emergency meeting to discuss how to abbreviate the name of a new student, Facundo. If Ramón becomes Ray, what happens to Facundo?

Let us know if you use the animation and lesson in your classroom.

You can also listen to Stories of Teaching People’s History from the Zinn Education Project 2011 collaboration with StoryCorps’ National Teachers Initiative.

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