If you don’t know me, I am a teacher. I have taught for 28 years, and all of those years have been with Idaho Falls School District 91. I love my job as an English teacher not only because I am in love with literature and big ideas but because I love sharing that love. Aside from standardized test results and the required curriculum, my goal at the end of each year is to have instilled a small spark of interest in books, poetry, people but most of all, ideas into my students. That interest might be the very thing that motivates my students to then go on to participate fully in our community — to be good citizens. Isn’t that what we all really want? Thomas Jefferson believed that through education and enlightenment of new ideas, tyranny and oppressions would vanish. TJ, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
John Steinbeck wrote a great book titled “The Pearl.” At one point in the book, the main character, Kino, a native Mexican, expressed his desires for his son. He hoped that his son will learn to read so that he will know what is written in the books and what things were not. Kino was tired of being told what was and what wasn’t. He was uneducated, and the ruling class would tell him what was and wasn’t. I want my students to know what is in the world. I want them to know what is and what isn’t so they don’t need to be told. So, I make sure to discuss the tough issues. We discuss why Huckleberry Finn was distressed about breaking the law in order to save Jim, a slave. Breaking the law would mean he would go to hell, a great concern. The irony is that saving the slave is saving a life, but it takes a lengthy amount of Mark Twain’s book to illustrate that coming-of-age story for Huck, oddly parallel to America as a whole.
We discuss why it was so easy for Abigail Warren to blame Tituba for the goings-on in the woods in the play “The Crucible” and why Tituba, the slave from Barbados, had no ability to defend herself, as she was simply chattel, so she had to allow the lies.
In the spring, my students read their favorite book, “Of Mice and Men” by Steinbeck. This book illustrates clearly the lack of power that marginalized people experienced during the Great Depression. An old disabled man feels useless and yearns to live out his last years doing for himself rather than for others. A woman simply called “Curley’s wife” uses her gender and her voice to gain power over others. A Black man yearns for community and friends but is only allowed a bed in the barn. Steinbeck asks the reader to explore the reasons these Americans felt displaced in the very country in which they claim citizenship. This book speaks to the students in such a powerful way because they see the characters in their own neighborhoods.
The keyword I am trying to share is “discuss,” not indoctrinate. I can’t imagine any citizen arguing over a discussion in the classroom about the shame of slavery and the centuries that our country has taken to attempt to right the wrongs. I can’t imagine a parent not wanting their children to know the indecency of the Japanese internment camps that our government created during World War II. Our country has done some wrong, like all countries. We the people have done wrong things, like all human beings. We need to acknowledge our past in order to make sure the future doesn’t include our failures.
Thomas Jefferson had another great idea, “A nation, as a society, forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.” We are all responsible.
Does this mean we need to carry a load of shame on our backs for what our forefathers (one being Thomas Jefferson) practiced? No. Does it mean we should acknowledge that our systems are in need of a reset and that all of us have biases? Perhaps. To be honest, a simple acknowledgment seems to be a great place to start.
Critical race theory is not being taught in Idaho classrooms but critical thinking is. We need more critical thinkers in our community. We need young people that will search for the truth. We need to teach our children how to have respectful, difficult and courageous conversations because the adults of this country have truly failed our children in this current climate of political pull.
I am a teacher in your community. I stand for enlightenment and education in the hopes that the oppressed will find their voice and change the future.
Abraham Lincoln, you know, the president that ended the Civil War? The president that emancipated the slaves — that guy. He once said, “Nations do not die from invasion, they die from internal rottenness.”
Through education, I hope our country will not die of rot.