A quick introduction before I dive into my first post here. I’m Sean, a 21 year old perpetual student of the universe. Jabiz was kind enough to give me the chance to write here at Intrepid Classroom and I’m very excited. I plan on learning a lot from all of you and I hope to give something back as well. If you want to get in touch, e-mail me at [email protected] Now, let’s get down to it.
I want to start up a dialogue with people involved in education, both teachers and students about a possible project that I think would be complimentary to the Generation We program Jabiz has been talking about so well.
The Generation We declaration and book (read it, it’s free to download!) have some excellent points. The platform it outlines is worth striving for: accessible health care, the protection and rehabilitation of our environment, an end to war, and a better, fairer educational system. The problem is that Gen-We puts an awful lot of importance on indirect action, voting with our wallets for “green” companies and voting with ballots for more progressive politicians. Important stuff, to be sure, but I’m not content with that, and I don’t think that real change is likely to come about if that is all we do. What we need is to start small, grow locally, and show the old guard what can be done, instead of turning to them for the answers.
While reading Generation We I kept coming back to an idea that has shaped a lot of my thoughts on progressive causes. It comes from the final line of the Industrial Workers of the World’s constitutional preamble. They are words that have stuck with me since I first read them early on in high school. “We are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.” A “new society” because the current one is unsatisfactory, unfair, and dehumanizing, and because we can do better. “The shell of the old” because the world as it stands is a hollow one that has been carved out in an attempt to satisfy the insatiable greed of those who control it. From “within” because the best way to prepare to inherent the earth is to be a part of it. What better group to live by this than the students who will be handed, as Eric Greenberg says, “an unfair and unsustainable state of affairs.”
So, here are some ideas that I think will get us moving forward towards bringing about the kind of world that Gen-We.org points out is needed. Because underneath the flashy rhetoric and the misguided trust in the same systems that got use where we are today, Eric Greenberg is calling us to act and in order to act effectively, we need to organize. I would like to start a discussion about what students within the education system can do to start effecting real change.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the National Honor Society, which aims to “create enthusiasm for scholarship, to stimulate a desire to render service, to promote leadership, and to develop character in the students of secondary schools.” My younger brother participates in a local chapter of the NHS and I’ve got to say that I’m disappointed in how the organization has failed to lived up to their stated purpose. The enthusiasm for scholarship has been replaced by a pat on the back and a better resumé for college applications. Rather than promote leadership, the shepherds of the NHS seem more intent on handing the students busy work so that they don’t stray too far out of line. Character? My brother’s chapter meet once a month for less than half an hour after school, where they make idle small talk. As for fostering a desire to render service, well, my brother’s project this term, the one community service assignment that the NHS advisor gave them, was to light a Christmas tree downtown. That’s hardly meaningful, important work. The National Honor Society will soon turn 90. I think it’s about time we got rid of it and built something better in its place. So what I’m proposing is both a rejection of the Ivy League chasing mindset that the NHS has embraced, and at the same time a reaffirmation and reinterpretation of the best things it originally hoped to achieve. Rather than focus on just high schools, I would like to see it available to college students as well. Instead of being managed by a cadre of principals in a National Council, I think it ought to encourage democratic decision making by all students involved. Here’s a update of the four major goals that I think would better enable progressive action and true education:
1. To nurture enthusiasm for learning. Learning is simultaneously living in the moment and for the future. It does not begin at kindergarten and it does not end after university. It does not take lunch breaks or summer vacations. We acknowledge that there is a fire inside everyone and even after years of systematic stamping out by the status quo, an ember still smolders away, ready to burst forth and burn, burn, burn if given the fuel it needs to grow and the air it has to breath. We intend to feed that flame by pushing for students’ rights to pursue dangerous ideas and decide for themselves what they want to learn, as well as by helping teachers understand that knowing the right questions to ask is often more important than knowing the right way to answer.
2. To develop our passions into talents, in order to improve and enrich the material and intellectual lives of people everywhere. This can mean organizing a local Food Not Bombs chapter, starting a community garden, performing street art, writing letters to the local press or the Wall Street Journal, spending time with the elderly at nursing homes, protesting outside a city council meeting or a party’s national convention, or raising money for a children’s hospital. We recognize that we all owe something back to the world that begat us. Do what moves you, but do it in a way that matters.
3. To build our communities both locally and globally. We know that the people who can best decide what they want for their communities are the community members themselves. We are all members of many social circles: our families, our friends, our schools, our towns and cities, our states and provinces, our countries,and our world. By sharing alternatives to the current models that dominate society and working hard to implement sustainable, egalitarian options and opening a dialogue with the community at large we will build camaraderie. We are international and hope to integrate, beyond all borders, in secondary schools and colleges the world over. We start by allowing each individual cell to decide upon the best actions to bring about the four goals. Decisions will be made democratically, with each member receiving one vote. Groups may choose to elect temporary spokespeople when needed for press interactions, or possible larger conferences. We’re all in this together. Let’s act like it.
4. To demand that those who have been granted power, be it by circumstance or public vote, be it in the form of economic or political clout, behave with character. As it stands, power is not distributed to all people fairly. While working towards a new and empowering future, we also acknowledge that we must not neglect the present. By opening an honest dialogue with community leaders we can work with those most capable of effecting change in the short term.
So, what do you think? How would you envision student organizations that help promote and develop Generation We’s ideas?