With the current public demonstrations, centered in NYC and, now, having spread around the country and world, the time is right to address their relevance to public education, as teachable moments and as examples of what Democracy is about. Children, from elementary school to college, learn the history of our nation and how, at it’s core, it is about the rights of citizens to determine the directions, priorities and policies of our government, as the representative of “The People”.
This seems to be exactly what the “Occupy Wall St.”/ “99%ers” are talking about. Some of the main points of these demonstrations are the gross inequities of our current political system. We have a system of government, where we, the people, elect representatives to carry out our wishes. Unfortunately, a tiny percent of the population has an inordinate amount of economic, and therefore, political power. Due to the expense of political campaigns, TV time, etc., politicians are dependent on raising outside funds for advertising. If candidates for office are dependent on outside funding, regardless of from where, this can be a prescription for bribery, corruption and, possibly, even treason!
Sidney Lens in his classic 1970 book, The Military Industrial Complex (Reference 1), cited over 200 references from the Congressional Record, NY Times and other sources. In it he documented the revolving door of politicians receiving $ from corporations; voting for breaks for those corporations; and then, when their terms of office were over, having high-paying jobs waiting for them in those corporations.
Quoting the NYC, Dept. of Education (Reference 2): “Social Studies is the integrated study of history, geography, economics, government and civics. More importantly it is the study of humanity, of people and events that individually and collectively have affected the world. A strong and effective Social Studies program helps students make sense of the world in which they live, it allows them to make connections between major ideas and their own lives, and it helps them see themselves as members of the world community. It offers students the knowledge and skills necessary to become active and informed participants on a local, national and global level.”
Continuing in the next paragraph, the “Addendum: State Mandated Instruction in Social Studies, New York State Education Law: Article 17, Section 801: The Regents shall prescribe:
1. courses of instruction in patriotism, citizenship, and human rights issues (especially the study of the inhumanity of genocide, Slavery, the Holocaust, and the Irish Famine) to be maintained and followed in all the schools of New York State. All students over age eight shall receive this instruction.
2. courses of instruction in the history, meaning, signiﬁcance and effects of the Constitution of the United States, the amendments, the Declaration of Independence, the New York State Constitution and its amendments, to be maintained and followed in all of the schools of the state. All students in eighth grade and higher shall receive this instruction.
3. a course of studies in the public schools, during a week designated by the Regents, to instill the purpose, meaning and importance of the Bill of Rights articles in the federal and state constitutions, in addition to the prescribed courses of study in the schools.”
The current demonstrations are living classrooms of our First Amendment rights of “Freedom of Speech… of the Press… and of the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (Reference 3). This is a poignant teachable moment and example for our children and for ourselves.
1. The Military Industrial Complex, by Sidney Lens, 1970 Pilgrim Press/ The National Catholic Reporter
2. New York City Dept. of Education, K-8 Social Studies Scope & Sequence
3. The United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, Amendment 1.