Chris Voisard - Applied Creativity
Long after he was dead, Christopher Columbus went from hero to exploiter. When reality is this plastic, says Chris Voisard, the truth comes in many pieces.
I gave my sixth graders this history lesson recently: "When I was a kid in school, Christopher Columbus was a hero. He was all about discovering America and sailing the Ocean Blue in 1492. Now he's looked at as a guy who abused and exploited the Native Americans. So he kind of went from being one of our early protagonists, to a bad guy in our country's history." One quiet boy looked thoughtful and raised his hand. "How did he do that after he was dead?" Good question. Before I could answer he asked, "Which one's the truth?"
When I saw Oliver Stone's movie "W", I had my own "which one's the truth" moment, where people morph not so much in reality, but in other's perceptions. The movie evoked compassion, which was sorely missing in my dismissive summarization of George W. Yes, I still think he's an arrogant warmonger, that his diction should have disqualified him from being the president of the most influential country in the world, but now I have almost a soft spot for the man. Maybe the movie suggests that his swagger is only covering up vulnerability and insecurity born of trying to please his Daddy that favored his brother. When our president was shown on the toilet while asking advice of his wife, Laura, I was reminded that he is, as Tammy Wynette so famously stated, after all just a man.
During the middle ages, history simply meant story, and stories change over time, only now they're changing in Real Time. Fox and MSNBC gave wildly differing accounts of the same incident during the presidential campaign, along with precise film editing and carefully selected sound bites. Ronald Regan remembered history that had taken place only in a movie. The media doesn't just reflect reality; they shape it. And my student's question, "Which one's the truth?" is actually quite profound.
Perhaps there is no truth, no actual reality, only the conglomerate of perceptions that each of us argue vehemently as the truth, put together like the eye of a fly. No one point of view is completely right or wrong, but a necessary part of the whole that is too large for any of us to see clearly
It's goodbye public school, hello private school for teacher Chris Voisard.
I quit my government job the other day, and breaking up is hard to do. I quit in spite of the fact that close to 10 percent of people in our country are unemployed, and in spite of the fact that the masses are begging our government to create jobs. My job paid a fair wage, had security, a health care plan and even one of those government pensions certain politicians believe are excessive. But I was no longer proud of my job. I don't often quote Nixon, but this was going to be one public school teacher they wouldn't be able to kick around anymore.
I never thought it would come to this, I really didn't. Sitting in my college classes 20 years ago at UC Santa Cruz, I was infused with hope and idealism. We were taught we could change society for the better, from the inside out. I still remember what one of my instructors in the credentialing program said to us eager, budding teachers: "It's not your job to worry about The Test. Your job is to teach to the best of your ability."
But if you're a language arts teacher in the current climate of Bush's No Child Left Behind doctrine, The Test is all you worry about. My job description changed from facilitating literature circles and creative writing, to analyzing data generated by endless benchmark testing, and having the students memorize the state standards they still ostensibly "needed." Memorize, not learn. I was given a script to read and the children chanted the words back in unison. We teachers unfortunately don't have a Hippocratic oath, but if we did, I was sure this would be breaking it.
As I voiced these curriculum concerns, and the possibility of getting another assignment to the assistant superintendent he broke in with, "Oh, are you one of those creative types?" his voice dripping with disdain. "Good thing I wasn't your principal, because you and I would not have gotten along."
That's when I made up my mind. I feel a little like a soldier in the trenches abandoning the battle, but I am headed for a private school with small class sizes, clean rooms, less pay, but where creativity and critical thinking are still valued.
Since educational trends historically have been cyclical, I still hang on to the hope that things will change, if not for me, for my daughter who enters the credentialing program at San Francisco State this month in spite of my warnings. One child born to carry on, to carry on.
With a perspective this is Chris Voisard.