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While liberals  argue that schools ought to be places that provide a value-

neutral space  for  young people,  conservatives have, correctly I believe,

recognized that schools are places that transmit a powerful agenda of  values



The Moral & Spiritual Miseducation of America's Youth

By Grace Lee Boggs


A reader recently sent me an article with this title by Svi Shapiro who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I reprint it (slightly edited for length) in the hope that it will generate widespread discussion and struggle.

“A colleague of mine,” Shapiro writes, “often asked his students two questions. What do you consider some of the most serious issues facing human beings today? To what extent are students in schools being prepared to address such concerns?

“Typical answers to the first question included violence, the materialistic culture,  inequitable distribution  of wealth and opportunity,  sense of powerlessness among ordinary people, emphasis on celebrity, fame and exploitation of sexuality in  every part of our society, and the environmental  crisis.

“The second question brought  the collective acknowledgement that schools offer little to prepare young  people to make the critical decisions that face us  all in this century.

“While liberals  argue that schools ought to be places that provide a value-neutral space for  young people,  conservatives have, correctly I believe, recognized that schools are places that transmit a powerful agenda of  values. These views remain deeply imprinted in our identities long after we have forgotten how to solve quadratic equations, the words of a poem or the dates of a battle.

“What schools relentlessly teach is a belief in the  importance of personal success,  individual  achievement, the competitive race for recognition,  the inequitable distribution of human worth, the  belief that only things that ‘can be counted count’  and that education’s true importance is as a vehicle  to sort and select winners and losers.

“What schools do is compare and search for winners and losers. Education becomes more rote and  increasingly shallow. What matters is the well-rehearsed performance on the test, not about the curiosity awakened or the joy of discovery released.  A shallow and instrumental conformism is substituted for a willingness to think imaginatively and
to question  boldly and critically.

“The real crisis of education is the withering of our children’s souls inside our  classrooms. Put aside the divisive banner of religion for a moment. It is surely a spiritual  crisis when education offers young people little that might direct them towards a meaningful or  purposeful life. Schools increasingly fail to contribute to a moral vision of a worthwhile existence beyond grubbing for better grades and playing the grade-point average game. It’s not surprising that cheating and cutting corners are so pervasive among our most ‘successful’ students as they learn to work the system to their best advantage.

“ Do we need an alternative moral and spiritual vision  for the way we educate our young?  The prophetic impulse that is found in our great religious teachings might be a  good place to start. We need human beings who  learn to see all human beings as made in the image of the divine; human worth is intrinsic to us and not  something that depends
on our success in the marketplace or in  how much we can impress others.

“An authentic existence is found in our service to others and in the improvement of our world, not in consumerism and materialism. A full human life means both agency and responsibility— the capacity to think about and question needless suffering, indignity and injustice, and the commitment to make changes where needed.  And beyond the debates on evolution and intelligent design we surely can agree that Creation—the earth  and life in all its forms—is a source of awe and  wonder. In acquiring this reverence for creation we ensure the next generation’s concern with a planet  that can sustain and nourish the extraordinary chain of existence.

“Our challenge is to ask ourselves what kind of vision we want schools to offer our  children. Of course in our culturally divided society this no easy task.  Yet in spite of all our  apprehensions and suspicions there is one thing that  stands out; we as a society are
increasingly aware of the shallowness and shabbiness of our dominant  culture. There is growing alarm at the degrading and callous egotism that shapes our kids world and  whether we call it spirituality, religion, morality or  wisdom—there is increasing recognition that our children need and deserve an education that  awakens them to a life of greater purpose and  meaning than the one schools currently offer.”

Source: Michigan Citizen, June 18-24, 2006

posted 16 June 2006

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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