sábado, 2 de abril de 2011

A letter to the North American teachers. From a Latin American Mother.

As a mother and as a teacher interested in improving individual’s critical consciousness as a key element for social change, I acknowledge the importance of social studies in particular history for this role. Concerned with the poor level of public education both here in the US and in Brasil I position myself to speak up whenever necessary to promote reflections and consequently behavioral and systemic changes in formal education.

History is more important than second language and science and is as important as math and it is one of the most challenging contents to teach. It is challenging because requires commitment and a lot of reading. It requires good instructors with leadership power to inspire individuals. Although history is a critical content for social change it is considered one of the least important disciplines in the education system and consequently by most students and adults.

What does history mean? How historic facts in a certain geographic area are connected with the historic facts of another place in the world? How do we construct historic facts in a way that helps our students to understand that historic facts do not happen isolated or as linear happenings?

In fact, the history of the US is much broader than the contents considered by the US national dept. of education. I say this because the US history is intrinsically connected to the history of many other countries around the world. It is connected to the history of my country, and as a Brazilian I know that very well.

In Latin America, the US history has significantly affected and changed our own history. The politics of “The New Deal era” and the “Americas for the Americans” ideal left profound marks in the Americas’ political and social relations. These marks are as visible and harmful today as they were when they started; although visibility is related to education. We only see and understand what we are educated to see.

It is difficult for me to not compare the two educational systems based on my cultural background and as a mother and educator. When I was at the 8th grade I was studying “Brazilian History” integrated with other countries’ history that directly influenced ours, including the US as a great part, of the contents.

Unfortunately, teaching history is a very difficult endeavor and in the Brazilian educational system we also get many limited points-of-view including the excessive focus on the Eurocentric perspective.

Fortunately, I had one great history teacher and some great geography teachers who helped me to understand that the world is connected and that there is no such thing as one country’s history, as if it stood up alone as a unique island in the globe. I understood that our actions are connected and affecting one another every day in our lives and this helped me to respect other peoples’ culture.

The way history is usually taught in America tends to follow a curricula that is limited and distorted and a successful teaching relies on the initiatives of committed teaches who care and understand the importance of the content. For me one good example that I for the first time recognize as serious matter is the work from the historian scientist, Howard Zinn. I was privileged to know his work through my daughter whose social science teacher lent her the documentary, The people speak. I cried from the beginning to the end, because there, history was presented honestly and in a sensible way. I could identify the prime matters that history is made of: the documentation of cruelty, political power and interests, and finally the people’s struggles for improving human condition in society.

Zinn’s works focus on individuals who made a difference to fight for democracy and showed that the people’s history is the most important matter because it is empowering and alive. He demonstrated with the help of artists and the use of historic testimonials from common people that even if historic facts may promote contradictory feelings of shame, sadness and indignation, it should also inspire. Therefore historic knowledge is the people’s empowerment and should encourage people to promote changes.

We all have a responsibility with the quality of public education against the commoditization of knowledge. Public schools are in a profound crisis and we need to change it by supporting it, by asking for improvement.

Unfortunately, in Brasil I have to keep my daughter in a private school if I her to have a chance to reach college. Because the examinations are so difficult that ends up privileging those who afforded previous private schools. Even if the Brazilian government is promoting changes to improve accessibility in higher education by low income students, the number of individuals who get there in Brasil is extremely small compared to the US.

I always follow my daughter to check if she is studying, learning and meeting the school requirements. While in Brasil, she was followed and pushed by the school and I observed that her study habits were frequent. Here, I found an unexpected loose system where the students who are more interested will take more advantage of education while those who are satisfied with the looser rhythm will learn less. My hardship to convince my daughter on the importance of knowledge and education has grown and as mother I feel that I am working almost alone on this task.

My daughter would not feel the pressure and the reason to learn if it wasn’t for my constant supervision. I decided that she will come back to Brasil to start high school in a better level and finally understand that she will have to fight if she wants a free decent education. I want a better education for my daughter and for the new generations. That is why I speak about these issues when I see them repeating in the educational system here in the US or in Brasil.

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