There have been enough requests for the Revolution! curriculum I am creating with my high school English class that I decided to post a working document about what we’ve done and where we’re heading. Feedback and suggestions are welcome, as I’m creating this curriculum as I go and by no means think that it is finished.
Feel free to share the curriculum, but please do so by sharing this blogpost so that edits and changes can be made with version control.
As a qualifying statement, I feel the need to say that when I teach I make editing decisions with the textual material based on the intellectual ability of the class. I find that learning happens best when students are challenged at the appropriate level, which is contingent upon many factors. I want my students to enjoy learning. To be excited.
Learning objective: to explore ideas, especially ideas students disagree with, in order to learn to think and to appreciate the best arguments on the other side of an issue.
Units of Study
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
Introduce the theme of the tension between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity, which will resurface in just about every conversation to follow
Animal Farm by George Orwell
A dramatic of Adam Smith explaining Capitalism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KWUdliOGuc
Jonathan Haidt: Three Stories About Capitalism (2014 WORLD.MINDS) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOu_8yoqZoQ
Introduce the concept of free speech
All Minus One: John Stuart Mill's Ideas on Free Speech Illustrated https://indd.adobe.com/view/c9d4e11b-6e6b-4551-bf67-4c13f05a6ed0
Study the US welfare system
There are many online materials from various political perspectives that analyze the effects of government welfare programs
Create research teams to explore poverty and programs to aid poor people in contemporary communist nations as well as socialist nations
Explore the questions:
What type of society do we prefer: socialism, capitalism or something else?
How do we best create a society where there is no poverty, hunger, etc.?
Is it possible that welfare programs can unintentionally do harm?
Read or view Thomas Sowell’s position on the last question. Sowell has a wealth of published material online, including YouTube on this matter
Read a recently published article that presents the progressive viewpoint on welfare in its best light, such as: Welfare programs shown to reduce poverty in America https://www.theguardian.com/money/us-money-blog/2014/nov/12/social-welfare-programs-food-stamps-reduce-poverty-america
Explore as many causes of income inequality the class can think of. Meanwhile, explore the tension between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity in relation to income inequality in America
Group project: design the ideal welfare system. This is a system that best balances the desire to eliminate poverty and hunger with the desire to do no harm.
Provide historical context for the first three waves of feminism by introducing students to the historical problems the following women were confronted with and the ways in which these women helped create solutions to those problems:
Rebecca Walker http://www.rebeccawalker.com/
Sex Appeal Radio Lab podcast https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/sex-appeal
On the Basis of Sex film
Study, not just watch, the Pinker/Spelke debate (video and audio are poor quality) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bTKRkmwtGY
Use James Damore’s Google memo, or a recent news event, to explore the ideas presented by Pinker and Spelke https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586/Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.pdf
Explore the tension between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity in the context of the Google memo
Explore the question (essay/discussion): how should we respond to gender disparities in America?
Assign the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This text was chosen to help provide historical context about racism and slavery in America. The text also provides a purposeful connection to Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, who, in addition to being important figures in the fight against slavery, were also important figures in the battle against sexism
Study the texts:
The Enduring Solidarity of Whiteness by Ta-Nehisi Coates https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/why-we-write/459909/
The Racism Treadmill by Coleman Hughes https://quillette.com/2018/05/14/the-racism-treadmill/
There are plenty of other texts that could be used to equal or better educational effect than these two, and the texts can be supplemented by a wealth of YouTube videos like these:
The Symbols of Systemic Racism https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_rucker_the_symbols_of_systemic_racism_and_how_to_take_away_their_power?language=en
Barriers To Black Progress: Structural, Cultural, Or Both https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzOApVTfT48
List of ethnic groups in the United States by household income https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ethnic_groups_in_the_United_States_by_household_income
Explore the question (essay/discussion): how should we respond to racial disparities in America?
The French Revolution
I used this unit as a bridge from modernism (the enlightenment, Smith, etc), to postmodernism, all the while highlighting the theme of disparity in the French Revolution. That means rather than teach a unit on the enlightenment, I worked that historical event in throughout the preceding units.
The French Revolution: Crash Course World History #29 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTTvKwCylFY
The French Revolution History Channel HD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pXxoyk5wOoXJO3Cs_YsQXrk6uIDw&q=john+stuart+mill+essay&oq=john+stuart+mill+essay&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0l8.10036.11035..11339...0.0..0.109.626.0j6......0....1..gws-wiz.......0i67.sLm7ew3YpV8
Explore the question (essay/discussion): how might the French Revolution have impacted Karl Marx and our ideas about equality today?
The purpose of this unit is to connect broad philosophical trends to contemporary politics. I’m currently in this unit now with my students and will update this document at the end of the school year
Jacques Derrida https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0tnHr2dqTs
Michel Foucault https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBJTeNTZtGU
I used YouTube because I didn’t think my high school students were at a level of sophistication with which to enjoy the authors’ essays
Review Mill’s ideas about listening to those one disagrees with
Explore the question(essay/discussion): both Mill and Derrida spoke of the importance of listening to ones enemy. Knowing that there is common ground between these modern and postmodern thinkers, explore where they might disagree?
Sub Unit: Day of Absence, 2017
Research teams: find facts about the Day of Absence controversy at The Evergreen State College
Help students navigate online information so as to understand the events from multiple, and even contradictory, points of view
Encourage students to suspend judgement about the controversy while finding facts
Have students identify their own political bias surrounding the controversy
Out of the many points of view on record, have students defend the point of view with which they most disagree
Explore the questions (essay/discussion):
How might the morality of Derrida and Foucault, including the desire to tear down corrupt or oppressive hierarchies, relate to the intent of the Day of Absence?
What lessons about Mill’s and Derrida’s ethic of listening to ideas we disagree with can we learn from the Day of Absence controversy
People at the center of this controversy, on multiple sides, experienced doxxing, received threats against their persons, and felt as if their lives were upended by the way events seemed to have spun out of control. Are such personal attacks against those we disagree with an acceptable form of political discourse?
What does this controversy have to teach us about the national conversation taking place about racism in America?
Other topics and authors I hope to cover before the end of the school year:
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy