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Philosophical Meanderings

The garbage we sell kids

La Chureca boy by eren | thisvintagechica

La Chureca boy by eren | thisvintagechica

Although each of our civics classes is at a different place, each one engaged in some pretty compelling discussion this week. A few classes tackled excerpts from this video and wound up discussing separation of powers, property rights, rule of law, and zoning. In a fit of righteousness, we wound up co-writing this statement:

I should be able to follow the laws I like, but everybody else should follow all the laws that keep them from getting even with me.

In a subsequent bout of reflection, we recanted a bit and said things like

That’s totally ludicrous. It’s like saying, “I just killed that bird that belonged to you, but you can’t kill my bird.” That’s like the punch buggy game with no give-backs.


It’s not fair. It’s basically like bullying. It’s taking away what someone has, and that’s not right.

In another class, a student and I spent some time considering poverty. First we looked at this picture. Then we looked at the pictures here and talked about what we see in movies, what we see in the world, and when and why the two are different.

Those pictures reminded me of others I’d seen and launched me into a round of inquiry that wound up here.

Here are our state standards for civics. Here is our state curriculum framework. And, finally, here are our released testing items from the state.

Looking at these resources, I experience some dissatisfaction. Without them, I’m not sure I would have framed class to hold the discussions we had. I’m not sure I should be framing things at all. Is this the job? Does this job need school? What does the job ask us to do next? What do poverty and global community ask of us? How do those imperatives relate to and/or compete with one another?

Your thoughts?

About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


11 thoughts on “The garbage we sell kids

  1. You and I have a very similar approach to social studies. Cool to see a classroom story in action.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | September 2, 2011, 1:26 pm
    • Thanks, John – lots of re-unlearning going on in my mind this year as I begin working with mostly new students. I had looped with our first class for three years, so I feel like I’m fighting against my old, traditionalist habits all over again, which is at once exhilarating and exhausting. Onward!

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | September 2, 2011, 4:03 pm
  2. Whew!

    You express something of the quandry identified in an article I came across.* I suspect you would have respected, if not supported, my refusal take the final written History exam when I was a high school junior (I passed the course because I had actively participated in discussions and the teacher was aware I ‘knew’ the material). The curriculum, standards and test items you linked to are but a gloss on the filth that lurks beneath — excepting for nationalistic fervor stirred up by fear, perhaps U.S. citizens would investigate why a) money seems to run government; b) politicians seem to lie; c) laws that supposedly protect them turn out to be their worst nightmare.

    You should be happy that your students became engaged — the school I attended as a youth had few who would have look beyond the voice of ‘authority’.

    Today, if were I directed to take the test you referenced, I would again have to refuse to accede to foolishness…

    *Camicia, S. (2009). Identifying soft democratic education: Uncovering the range of civic and cultural choices in instructional materials. Social Studies, 100(3), 136-142.

    Posted by Brent Snavely | September 2, 2011, 1:53 pm
    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Brent!

      I experience a lot of conflict over the tests and how necessary they are to the accreditation of small schools like ours in Virginia. I try to do more right in teaching and learning each year while I work and write – and while I watch and hope the tests become something other than what they are. I am heartened by local efforts to move towards performance assessments, but I know that our division can’t accredit us on its own, and I do want to work in a public school like ours.

      This year I hope we’ll find a nuanced, socially just understanding of rule of law and the laws we let rule us.

      I applaud your bravery in facing the tests – and I love that article’s title.

      What are some civics issues and projects you’d like to see more schools – especially middle schools – tackle?

      Best regards,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | September 2, 2011, 4:09 pm
      • Given that the middle school years match the time at which youths’ brains seem to “take off” in a “new” direction, almost any issue that interests them could be woven into a discussion on “civics” issues despite, and even perhaps because, the mandated curriculum is so flat and uninspiring. Taking CE.2a of the Civics and Economics framework and the “Essential Knowledge”, here are a few ideas:

        Delve into what ‘consent’ they, individually knowingly and voluntarily give to being ‘governed’. Discuss the “social contract” theory in the context of students’ individual lives, particularly as to whether they have knowingly consented to their being induced to “consent” to be governed.

        Delve into what limits there are to U.S. government powers today especially when it seems a perpetual “state of fear” looms overhead and personal desires for safety are close to the surface of consciousness. Delve into the extent to which they have any control over the governors, and why the “right to petition” government for redress of grievances may only be a “feel good” process that results in no change.

        Dredge up “The Republic”* and discuss tyranny, oligarchy, democracy and the republican form of government. Perhaps one might compare and contrast the Weimar Republic and the socioeconomic, political and cultural circumstances of that republic and the republican form of government in the U.S.A. An even more radical discussion of Plato’s work would involve consideration as to whether it was a satiric presentation of the Athenian elites, particularly by way of referencing the “Noble Lie”.

        Discuss “The Rule of Law” in various ways, including notions of both equity and of “legal rights”. Perhaps one might point out that the bulk of “laws” in the U.S.A. pertain to the control of property, and that the full power of “Government”, including application of physical violence, stands behind the laws to assure property rights are enforced.

        Hit the issue of class,** and the effects of class on both the will to govern and the willingness to be governed. Does money matter? Does “appearance” matter? Does verbal ability and the use of language matter?

        Use the “Declaration of Independence” as an instructive device, and suggest inquiry be made as to why the circumstances underling the 26 grievances lodged against King George III by 59 staid and true gentlemen were, within about ten years after conclusion of the Revolutionary War, almost entirely re-enlivened, this time by the signatories of the Declaration and their progeny.

        Use the U.S. Constitution to discuss “who” was deemed a citizen along with the reasons why there was a “three fifths compromise”. On the Constitution’s heels would be The Naturalization Act of 1790, a law pertaining to “citizenship” and rights/responsibilities associated with it (others much along the same lines were later enacted).

        I could add more, but I have been long-winded enough.

        By the way, the pictures you provided reminded me of my life as a missionary’s kid living in Jos, Nigeria, West Africa between ages 9-14. Local residents used the tin cans we threw out as cooking utensils, measuring devices and cups… We had a pet dog we fed guinea corn mush – a number of hungry children watched with dismay… We had a ‘houseboy’ (adult, married, 3 children)…

        I questioned my parents then and was given pap… I find the entire situation quite unacceptable today, but then I am not entirely “mainstream”, being one of two “save the children” projects my adoptive parents took on…


        ** ;

        Posted by Brent Snavely | September 3, 2011, 10:47 am
        • Brent, thanks for such generous care in sharing your suggestions!

          I think due consideration of consent of the governed – and how well schools match up against that and the preamble to the Constitution – will be next on our plate.

          With gratitude,

          Posted by Chad Sansing | September 7, 2011, 9:07 am
  3. Teaching for State Standards OR Teaching For Dealing with & Contributing to LIFE After School?

    Chad, your observation that, “Without them (standards, curriculum etc.), I’m not sure I would have framed class to hold the discussions we had. I’m not sure I should be framing things at all”, illustrates your very real frustration AND your willingness to change the system …From Within, at least thus far in your career-life journey. This is HUGE and not to be taken lightly.

    My brief response to this part of your observation is that YOU probably would have “framed” whatever needed framing to fully engage your students so they could emotionally wrap their imagination and problem-solving talents around your objective to GET THEM REAL WITH CRITICAL THINKING. All students possess these sparks of imagination and problem-solving… as you well know. They just need to be ignited by great teachers like yourself:)

    You then ask, “Is this the job? Does this job need school? What does the job ask us to do next? What do poverty and global community ask of us? How do those imperatives relate to and/or compete with one another?”

    My brief response to these great questions is simple. Yes, Yes, Whatever YOU believe is necessary to teach effectively, To become Involved and contribute, and, In ALL ways.

    A longer response…

    Is this the job?

    Yes it IS the job. Unless we agree that it’s critical to teach youth to become aware of their special talents and interests (I would go even further, their special callings), and to also be aware of the problems we ALL face (locally and globally), so they can discover how each of them has an opportunity to contribute back to the whole (of which they are each a significant part- a lesson in itself), then there IS NO need for teachers, education, or even worrying about tomorrow. People will just live for the day, and the future will infold without human participation. Boring and dismal at the very best, even tragic to consider for a moment.

    Does this job need school?

    Yes, it’s what, how, and why, our society has created this “still imperfect avenue” for discovering human potential, nourishing it with the special cultivation that teachers/educators are called to do with their sacred profession of imparting knowledge (hopefully through a collaborative and relevant engagement that fosters self-efficacy beliefs and offers direction), knowledge that will grow over time with experience, into wisdom that is needed to deal with the realities and challenges we all face. Maybe a better process, avenue, “school” will be created in the future, but for now, given the realities that many societies have chosen to”educate” their youth in schools, we can still use “school” (the concept, the structure, buildings, system that takes in millions globally on a daily basis) AND focus on BEST practices that work.

    What does the job ask us to do next?

    Whatever YOU believe is necessary to teach effectively. YOU (teachers) know what is needed to effectively get the job done. YOU are in the classroom and know what’s needed to facilitate your work and how to collaborate with colleagues to help them improve their teaching. Do this with vigor. This requires open and transparent dialogue among all stakeholders, especially leaders/policy makers who deal with funding concerns and important educational issues. You will always know the leaders/policy makers who are authentic and student/teacher oriented. If principals/school boards/policy makers, are in the way, remove them. They have no business using their positions for career laddering based on egos and desire for power and large salaries. There’s too much at stake. We all know the obstructionists by their actions, not their words.

    What do poverty and global community ask of us?

    To become Involved, contribute, and make a difference. I spoke to this earlier. Each of us has a responsibility to honor our sameness and celebrate our diversity. Using an increased awareness of local/national/global concerns, students can better appreciate the “oneness” of sameness/diversity and discover creative ways to make a difference using their special talents and interests. What motivates most youth to fully engage, even be addicted, with FaceBook, Twitter, etc., are the same dynamics that teachers can unleash — Wanting to matter and count. People who BELIEVE they matter and count will make a difference.

    How do those imperatives relate to and/or compete with one another?

    They relate in ALL ways and compete as well. They relate because everything always affects everything else with ripple effects. Poverty in Somalia does affect us, directly or indirectly, even if we are not aware of it. A hurricane hitting the east coast does affect us all, directly or indirectly. The boy who recently successfully put the puck in the three inch “net”, told the truth, and did not win the $50K, does affect us.

    They compete is all ways. They compete because of budget constraints and unclear values among stakeholders, including educators and parents. Should we just focus on STEM careers and do away with the arts? Should we be teaching youth how to successfully pass tests to get into four-year colleges and then be successful in life, or teach them the realities of life so they prepared for LIFE after school? Should we be teaching youth how to learn skills that will get them whatever the labor market projects to be the “new hot jobs” regardless of their interests, putting earning money above doing work that makes them feel they matter and count? Security above authenticity? Can and should we do both?

    They compete because most people believe, once things/concepts fit into a perceived finite space or are the “accepted tradition”, they resist and often reject change. Water in a full cup prevents other water from being poured into it without out spilling some over the side (but what if you designed your cup with a little hole in the bottom that diverted the water to a second place that needed water?)

    An idea/tradition/process that fills a mind will often cause that mind to resist and reject a new paradigm. Most people (especially parents and society/media/pop culture) believe that teachers need to teach information and measure that with a test that clearly demonstrates a level of knowledge that then translates into a grade and eventually results in acceptance to a four-year college, and a degree that will result in a well paying job, a new car, and a nice home:)

    Chad, keep up your amazing teaching about “garbage”, your passion for the learning process, and your strong and sustaining belief in your students, each of whom is the future of us all. EdC #schools2life

    Posted by Edward Colozzi (@EdwardColozzi) | September 2, 2011, 7:21 pm
    • What a tremendous and heartening response – thank you, Edward, for your thorough, thoughtful thinking here, as well as for your support.

      I share your alarm about what will happen when there is no “worrying about tomorrow.” I don’t know that there has been a time in the history of public schools in the United States when we educated for a long view of humanity and its needs and dignity. How to help young students interweave such a long and creatively speculative narrative with the present of their lives – which matters so much – should be an aim of what we do. Our broken politics are not helping here. How do we deal honestly with that? With the reality that there may now be better examples of citizens’ sacrifice and democracy in other countries than there are in the United States? Or with the reality that there are plenty of stories of our own sacrifice and democracy we routinely bury, ignore, or put aside in schools in favor of curriculum that takes years to update via political committees? Who is touching current events like Mexico right now ? We’ve begun looking at the principles in the preamble to the Constitution this week in some classes; how do schools ensure a more perfect union while ignoring what’s happening inside and at the border of others?

      I like that my students connected property rights and rule of law – to the punch buggy game and bullying. Given the chance, they can make sense of the world.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | September 3, 2011, 7:04 am
  4. Oh wow Chad this is awesome. As usual I got lost in your links, needed to tweet them out, needed to share them with 7 or 8 people, then the comments have me captivated. So I’m behind…

    Anyway, I think your main point is the incredible dissonance between the VA frameworks and state standards, and the visceral, complex and compelling nature of the source material you offer here–“garbage” cities and the people who live among and from garbage all over the world. (Hey, speaking of garbage, no link to the Republican debate last night?)

    How are you negotiating this, really?

    And the other question, really, is are adults “required” in the act of learning for students? Brent and Edward have strong responses to this. Sugata Mitra says no. (Mostly.)

    When you are teaching, constructing a learning environment, do you think you are “necessary” or an impediment? And when?



    Posted by Kirsten | September 8, 2011, 3:05 pm
    • Learning occurs when interests are discovered and freely expressed

      The amazing work of Sugata (thanks Kristen for the wonderful link) demonstrates this. If there are no teachers available, many youth can still use their innate abilities and curiosity, especially with peers, to LEARN, assuming SOME catalyst/intervention is available, which is probably necessary for most learning to occur.

      The TED video clearly demonstrates that SOME intervention was made by Sugata in India when he imbedded his computer into the wall of a building so passing youth could access it, based on their curiosity. Without doing that, the youth would have merely passed by the building. When he asked the teachers in Italy to leave the classroom, he was still there as an intervention along with the catalysts he used (his word prompts/problems) with the students and again, their use of other catalysts/interventions (Internet/Google, etc.), that did facilitate the learning they readily accomplished.

      Teachers can and should be facilitators of the “discovering and expression” of students’ interests. This engages students and once engaged, their physiological states change, self-efficacy increases, and learning occurs.

      Ideally, this seems a simple enough proposition; but apparently not given the need for educational reform. We do have many teachers who love their work and want to be effective. Some may need assistance, and some may need another line of work. But most are teachers because they have been called to this special vocation and probably know how best to do their job, or at least collaborate with other teachers to learn more effective ways.

      Ideally, effective education offers some combination of successfully engaging students, using their interests as springboards to various topics/subject areas, while also providing sufficient peer interaction so collaborative energy can further ignite creativity and innovation.

      What’s Missing?
      So what is missing in many school environments that hinders learning?

      Let’s see, here are a few ideas to ask about your local school. Does your school have…
      * Opportunities for all students to discover and express their interests AND work in groups with peers?
      * Teachers who make learning relevant, challenging, engaging, successful; who have a grounded understanding about how students learn, think, believe and feel, and how to raise their efficacy beliefs and motivate students to be their best potential in the classroom and beyond?
      * Effective, assertive, courageous administrators who are committed to student learning/success, doing WHATEVER it takes to facilitate student learning?
      * Parent participation and dialogue with teachers, counselors, and principals, even school boards and legislators, to share their individual and collective voices about BETTER preparing the youth of today for the LIFE they will all enter after school?
      * Accurate assessment of the value of teachers by all stakeholders, and a willingnes­s to make education a local and national priority, so all educators are paid to do the EDUCATION JOB that needs to be done, to produce a citizenry that accomplishes the REST of what needs to be done?

      Thanks Kristen for your excellent comments and wonderful link:) EdC #schools2life

      Posted by Edward Colozzi (@EdwardColozzi) | September 8, 2011, 5:43 pm
    • Kirsten, I just erased my comment by mistake. Here’s the abbreviated version:

      I am trying out ideas from current events and students whenever I feel bold enough to do so; I am balancing out my non-brave times with some more traditional work, the 9/11 sixth grade collaborative, and self-directed learning stations.

      In a learner-driven space, mentors would be needed by particular students at particular times. In a public school, a teacher who creates a learner-driven space is an absolute necessity in contrast to tradition. What do you think?


      Posted by Chad Sansing | September 8, 2011, 7:22 pm

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