Beliefs that hold us

Written by teachers Joan Flora and Pattie Sloan

Here’s a cautionary tale from Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today’s Lesson, by Connie Moss and Susan Brookhart:

There are probably many ways to catch a monkey in the wild. One of the most effective is insidious in its simplicity:

The hunter gets a coconut and bores a small, cone-shaped hole in the shell, just large enough to allow a monkey to squeeze its paw inside. The hunter drains the coconut, ties it down, puts a piece of orange inside, and waits. Any monkey that comes by will smell the orange, put its paw inside the coconut to grab the juicy treat, and become trapped in the process. Capturing the monkey doesn’t depend on the hunter’s prowess, agility, or skill. Rather, it depends on the monkey’s tenacious hold on the orange, a stubborn grip that renders it blind to a simple, lifesaving option: opening its paw.

Make no mistake: the hunter doesn’t trap the monkey. The monkey’s abiding tendency to stick firmly to its decision, ignore evidence to the contrary, and never question its actions is the trap that holds it captive. (p. 7)

We’re hard-pressed to find an educator who doesn’t passionately believe that our shared work is to help students understand the big issues outside our classrooms.  Yeah, teachers!

That’s why we were taken aback by the relaxed attitudes our colleagues have about Dennis Rodman, a self-proclaimed good-will ambassador for Kim Jong-Un, endorsing the despotic leader of one of the most repressive countries in the world, North Korea.

“Rodman’s an idiot.  No one takes him seriously,” our colleagues tell us.

Or

“He’s a marketing genius.  Talking about him gets him what he craves.”

Wait a minute.  We’re teachers, right?  Can our students afford our passive stance?

We loved Stephen Colbert’s satire of Kim Jong-Un:  North Korea’s Armistice Breach

We liked Conan O’Brien’s one-liners, too:  Dennis Rodman Claims and  You’re Not Crazy

We understand the power of laughter, but we believe—deeply believe–that teachers have a bigger responsibility to students.  We believe laughter, mixed with education, courage and action makes informed global citizens.

Students can maneuver around entertainment into reality, but they need strong teachers.  They can handle—with your help—this essay from The Week: “Inside North Korea’s Gulag.”

Heck, read the whole book: Escape from Camp 14.  Discover the country where Rodman hopes to take a (gulp) basketball team.  Know that North Korea is a country where the camps are a way of life to many, where starvation is rampant and life is meaningless.  Who would win that tip-off?

Read: No Place to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.  Discover what people who have escaped from North Korea have to say about life there.  Demick features this satellite view of North Korea at night and reports the stories behind the darkness:

North Korea compared to South Korea at night.
North Korea compared to South Korea at night.

After sponsoring LINK (Liberty in North Korea) at our local high school, students discovered, not only the repressiveness of the regime, but the crimes North Korean officials are committing against their population to ensure a life of luxury for themselves.  And Rodman likes it there?  Really?

We won’t argue about Rodman’s intelligence or motives, but he is a product of our public school system.  He attended junior college and college in Oklahoma.  So who forgot to help make him a compassionate global citizen? Who forgot to tell him about the harsh dictators of North Korea?  Who forgot to tell him about gulags?  Who forgot to teach him about humanity?

If Rodman is an idiot, he’s a dangerous idiot currently with 179.5k Twitter followers, 1,876 tweets, and 217,252 “likes” on one of his four Facebook pages.  Sadly, he’s not the first celebrity to stubbornly hold onto a belief that endangered human rights and lives (see Jane Fonda, Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson, and Coco Channel).

As teachers, our challenge is clear:  We are the adults who have chosen a career where we strive everyday to make our charges better human beings.  We cannot afford to remain silent while the Dennis Rodmans of the world misrepresent the truth.

But what can we do about something this big, aside from ignoring it?  We start small, like pairing literature with non-fiction to help educate our students.  Here’s our detour from our required curriculum for 1-2 class sessions:

Essential QuestionIs it easier to be emotional about injustices from the past than it is to stand up to current injustices?  Read Lies My Teacher Told Me for help in exploring this question.  Hint, it has a lot to do with textbooks and how textbooks are packaged for profit.  Cha-ching!

Or:  Do we not talk about North Korea in school and allow Dennis Rodman to educate our children on the virtues of Kim Jong-Un?

Or:  If we know better, why don’t we do better?  (Ouch, right?)

Chose one of the following (or use a text that you think pairs well with this issue):

Pair with one of the following:

  •  “Inside North Korea’s Gulag.”
  • Chapter One from Escape From Camp 14
  • Chapter One from No Place to Envy (Ch. 1-2 from this book pairs well with Romeo and Juliet)

Worried about CCSS and that this move detours too much?  Consider making this into a mini-performance task that mirrors CCSS and Smarter Balanced assessments.  Click “Fast Car” Mini-Performance Task.  You’ll be hitting 4-5 standards and designing an assessment with Depth of Knowledge of 3 (that’s great, btw).

If your students ask about what they can do with their new knowledge (and we hope they do), then consider:

As teachers we can’t allow our beliefs to hold and trap us.  We must invite the jugular question of “Why do we believe what we strongly believe?” everyday.  Honest answers to that question articulate and blaze trails for our actions.

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