Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rioting in Valdosta

I'm currently working at a program which is essentially a summer school for fantastically gifted kids, rising juniors and seniors. We've got about seven hundred kids split up into different majors, which range from Math to Communicative Arts (foreign languages and English fall under this umbrella) to Dance. Then they get to pick from minors, and we try to shove them towards picking minors that they are new to. For instance, our Computer Tech minor has a lot of Visual Arts kids, a lot of CommArts and Social Studies majors, and, okay, a lot of Math kids. Theatre kids are seriously encouraged to go study Physics or Agricultural Science or Education or Latin--just something that they're almost completely ignorant about. And they love it.

They're being pushed out of the box every single second that they're here. It gets crazy, too--the day before yesterday, the SocStud majors wanted to personally study riots after researching Iran, so the natural conclusion was--to start a riot and study the effects. It was awesome and, okay, a bit insane. The supposed riot was about the ID cards all the kids have to hang around their necks, and although their teachers, the director of the program, and the president of the university campus on which we're holding this summer school thing all gave the project the OK, someone forgot to tell the RAs, who freaked out and called the police.

We had to step in and tell the cops what was going on, because they were getting ready to arrest a whole lot of kids, so everything eventually calmed down. I think the official reason for the arrests would have been congregating without an approved permit--you have to have a permit if you want to riot. However, the result is that we have a bunch of kids who hear about Iran and know just how terrifying it is to be up against law enforcement. True, they weren't in danger of their lives, and this was specifically a non-violent riot, but you can't tell me that these kids will remain blasé when they read news reports about Iran.

Personally, I believe that this shock value in education is fantastic. We've deleted it from our Social Studies and History books, resulting in bland heroes like Christopher Columbus and Woodrow Wilson who are such irritatingly inhuman do-gooders that they just don't matter to kids. No one cares about perfect people who are supposed to be heroes. But if you tell someone that Christopher Columbus wrote letters to Spain promoting the advantages of the New World by advertising that young Indian girls were widely available and used as sex slaves; the ones at nine years old being most in demand, then they care. Then that's something interesting. Then--oh, boy--those kids realize that "heroes" are often revolting and that they are better than their "heroes" are. And this means that they can do better than Woodrow Wilson, who led America through World War I and was one of the worst racists of his time.


Helen Keller didn't just fade into historical dust after blurting out "wa-wa". She went to university and grew up to explore the slums, the factories, the sweatshops; she learned about Communism, and, in support of the inhumanely downtrodden poor of this country, spoke everywhere in support of a Communist America. She experienced more than anyone could possibly guess out of the deified pages of American history books.

Adolf Hitler inspired absolute devotion in Eva Braun, a lovely, peaceful German girl who refused to leave him when the Allies neared their bunker, saying that she lived only for him. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a fondness for younger women and the FBI tried to blackmail him into halting his equal rights campaign by threatening to show a sex tape of him to his wife. (He refused.) There is good reason to believe that the FBI was behind Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death. These are fascinating and riveting historical details, which are left out of mainstream education.

In camps like the one I'm working at, kids are exposed to all of this and shock values of practically every kind. They are pulled out of their comfort zones and thrown into learning. The result is that they leave this camp more grown-up, more changed, more knowledgeable, and more inspired than they have ever been in their whole lives.

Isn't the present and future of this nation's children more important than deifying historical figures who, after all, don't deserve the annihilation of the very traits that made them human?

Well, isn't it?