(I’m close to giving up on Substack. I don’t have enough time for the close editing I can do on a blog; I also don’t want to be one more person adding to people’s inboxes.).
We continued to drive towards our first assignment, something I’ve become clearer and clearer about what I want to see. I want them to create a cool graphic, an illustration, a road map, a set of paths towards finding the historical truth. I want the illustration to demonstrate their thinking on this and the ways in which they’ve internalized the various questions we’ve been churning on. An idea I had was that we’d share them with the ninth or tenth grade classes and have them comment on how useful the drawings are.
But we began with the most evil of evil things teachers can do — a reading quiz on the article they read. Not that evil — the article was short enough — and my questions general enough that everyone who spent any time with the article should have had an opportunity to do well.
This is also a Zoom school, and I needed to send the message that this is serious, that you can’t be watching reality TV while you’re in class. I’m not usually a quiz guy but I do like to do it occasionally to communicate that sometimes you have to listen, do the work, and click submit when the teacher asks you to.
Some great thoughts emerged during our discussion of the article:
One student, who I need to write this in her college recommendation letter, did it again, nailing the key line from the article:
“Uncovering the truth means hearing the words of people who aren’t you.”
B. Reminded us that research provides deep rabbit holes.
C. Pointed out that you have to remain aware of the sources of your own opinions.
K. And P. Noted that you have to have sufficient evidence to back up your claims.
P. Used the term “reliability” which I thought was awesome.
In the second stream, A noted that “truth won’t be the first thing”, which is an excellent ways of saying it. If they take nothing else from these conversations other than it’s work to get to the truth, I’ll be happy. Indeed, A. (different A) pointed out that without knowing the sources, you don’t really know the context of the person’s argument, and underscored (again) that it’s a long process. The second stream, led by D. and L. had a lot to say about the nature of sources in the age of the internet, i.e., the sorting mechanism you employ will shape the nature of your work.
In small groups, the kids read Jeanne Theoharris’s piece from Sunday’s paper. I wanted them to focus on how a moment of time can be understood and how the moment of time where we stand shapes how we view the past. The easy one, given this article, is to think about how this moment, this BLM moment, shapes our understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.
Our conversations had some great points:
L. Pointed out that we always have to “re-evaluate what we know about history; it may be wrong.”
R. Noted that we need to look at the truth, to constantly search to “expand our knowledge of it” and to make sure we’re thinking about what “didn’t get shown.”
A. Brought a painting metaphor into the conversation; do we stand an inch a way or do we stand eight feet away? How did the painter get to this idea? What are the “many things that led to his moment”?
M. Pointed out the role that myths play and how stories we’ve always been told can appear unshakeable or as the unvarnished truth.
B: How are individuals “known for something”? What defines an event?
L:: What is the collective truth? In other words, what do we accept as the truth about America or history? How does that truth “shelter us”?
M: Remember that “these narratives might not be true.”
All in all, a good conversation and good work thinking about the process of getting to the truth. You could probably accuse me of being overly reliant on the New York Times, just as you could probably accuse me of being too much of a Jill Lepore fan. But life on Zoom limits things.
Mann, Mary. “Opinion | To Learn the Truth, Read My Wikipedia Entry on Sichuan Peppers.” The New York Times, October 23, 2020, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/23/opinion/sunday/wikipedia-sichuan-pepper-misinformation.html.
Theoharis, Jeanne. “Opinion | The Real Rosa Parks Story Is Better Than the Fairy Tale.” The New York Times, February 1, 2021, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/01/opinion/rosa-parks.html.