Book: Black Ants & Buddhists: Thinking Critically & Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades"
Cowhey spent several years integrating social justice, activism, community participation and critical thinking into her classes in order to nurture "more informed, articulate, active and participatory citizens who know the power of their own voices." A conversation about stepping on ants - or not - leads to an exploration of different orld religions and a philosophical debate about compassion and kindness. Students frequently meet with community leaders (like the mayor) and help enact change in their school and community. They register voters, feed the homeless, quote Gandhi and debate whether or not Columbus should have ever set foot in the "new world." Of course, they also fight over play equipment and spill their juice, but they're just six or seven, after all.
In a world where "What can I do?" I'm only one person." is a common lament spouting from the mouths of adults, Cowhey has demonstrated in her book strategies and stories for empowering and inspiring young learners.
IDEAS FOR USING THIS BOOK:
Cowhey provides suggestions and resources for exploring a variety of social jusrtice issues with youjng children. Topics include:
Culture & Diversity
Families & Community
Dealing with personal & global tragedy
Note: If you search for Cowhey's book in Google Book Search you will be able to view large sections of text from the book, so you can get a sense of how useful it will be for you.
read "An interview with Mary Cowhey by EdNews.org"
"Just The facts, Ma'am"
article from October 10, 2007 Institute for Humane Education's weblog
The other day a parent came up to me at the Reference desk at the public library where I occasionally work and asked me where she could find an older history history textbook that had "just the facts" and not and of this asking students about their feelings about what happened in history, or that politically correct stuff that her daughter's school textbook has. While I tried to determine more specifically what her needs were (like a good librarian does), I also mentioned that, while dates and locations and names are often factual, all of history is in some way biased, as it is seen and written about through the lenses of different people with different values and perspectives. She agreed, but still insisted on a history book with "just the facts."
Monday was Columbus Day, and this year, as in generations before, elementary schools all across the United States taight another group of children the FACT that, "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean bklue" and discovered America, etc. It is a fact that Columbus sailed to North America in 1492 and enconted native peoples [the Arawaks] , butthere's a whole lot that seems to get left out about what happened after that. Like mass murder and the transatlantic slave trade.
These two events led me to thinking about three things as a humane educator. First, it's ever-more urgent that we provide people with a more complete picture of issues to help them make the most humane choices possible. More people are starting to mark Columbus Day as "Indigenous People's Day" or as "Genocide Day," to acknowledge the slavery and genocide of Native people that occurred after Chris set foot on the "new world." How many children would still want to celebrate the "discovery of America" ifthey were more informed?
Second, for thise things that ARE facts, we need to be sure to know the facts and to getbthem right. I've lost count of the number of times in my earlier years that, when talking with someone bout the "evils" of something or other, when the person started to ask in-depth questions, I realized I didn't know as much about the issue as I thought. It was enoigh for me to to learn the basics about an issue the connection between chocolat and slavery, the cruelty of factory farming, the enormous impact of consumer behavior to inspire me to change my habits. I didn't need to know the "gory details." Some people do, so it's important that we know them and know them well. It's also essential that the facts we share are accurate. Stretch the truth, mislead or misremember even just a little and our credibility evaporates forever.
It's also important to get clear on what's indeed a fact and what's a belief or perspective. As activist Laura Moretti said, "That's the nice thing about beliefs. Just because you've put your faith in them doesn't make them true." The things that happen to factory farmed animals are facts; the amount of pollution that's released into our air and water and food and earth is a factual amount (whatever amount that is); that children, men and women are being forced into slavery all over the world is a fact. That all these things are wrong is a belief. [morality and ethics are our personal code of behavior, of honor, based on what we believe]
As gut-wrenchingly difficult as it can be, it's important that we know our facts, get them right, share our own beliefs and not try to tell people how they must live. We can inform and empower people so that they can make choices that are best for their lives...though it may not always be the choice we wish they would make. (just ask any parent of teenagers!)
Marsha, web content & community mnager, Institute for Humane Education
P.S. It wasn't until I was a student with the Institute for Humane Education that I really learned details about the different "versions" of history. If you're interested in exploring more for your own education, or want to pursue sharng with students about different ersoectuves in history, you might find these resources helpful:
RETHINKING COLUMBUS - Rethinking Schools' boom for educators offers "resources for teaching about the impact of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas" and includes ideas for kindergarten through college.
LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME: EVERYTHING YOUR AMEWRICAN HISTORY TEXTBOOK GOT WRONG by James W. Loewen
A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES: From 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn (2006 edition)
THE CULTURE OF MAKE BELIEVE by Derrick Jensen (2004) - examines many of the atrocities that have made up our culture, using several historical events as a springboard.