What Do Kids Want? The Logic behind Teaching Kids to Hate Drinking and Love Playing
The Children’s Table Podcast • Season One, Episode One • 40:47
Victoria Ford Smith, Anna Mae Duane, and Kate Capshaw
Anna Mae Duane 00:03
Welcome to the Children’s Table Podcast dedicated to the idea that young people have always been participants in history, and literature and art and in politics.
Victoria Ford Smith 00:13
As three professors have spent our careers studying the history and culture of childhood, we want to share the questions we have about how adults have imagined what childhood means, and how those ideas have shaped the lives of children, for better and for worse.
Kate Capshaw 00:28
Along the way, we will share the stories of some brilliant, brave and groundbreaking young people we’ve gotten to know.
Victoria Ford Smith 00:36
I’m Victoria, I’m Anna Mae.
Kate Capshaw 00:39
I’m Kate. And let’s head to the children’s table. Today we are talking about curriculum. If you want to see what a culture hopes for, or is afraid of take a look at their lesson plans. What we decide to teach, and what we decide to avoid teaching tells us a lot about what we believe. In this episode, we’ll be thinking about curriculum. And we’d like to start with big overarching questions. And so our big questions for today focused on curricular change. Where does curricular change come from? How do schools change? How do our ideas about children and childhood impact curriculum? And when a curriculum does change, how does it reflect our shifts in perception about children and their needs, what they want what they need to learn? So these are our big questions for our discussion today. And we’re starting in the 19th century as we tend to do with Anna Mae.
Anna Mae Duane 01:41
Yes, starting with one aspect of curriculum that I think a lot of us are familiar with, either if we’re remembering our own school days, or if we are the parents of children who are attending schools, or if you are a child listening to us, and is attending school right now. And it’s the aspect of teaching children not to do something, to not want what they might otherwise want to do, which is to train their behavior in ways that adults feel would be acceptable or desirable. We think about curriculum as the knowledge that gets conveyed. But it’s also about withholding knowledge or teaching children not to want to know certain things.
And I wanted to start with one example in curricular development, that was really all about convincing kids not to do something, not to want what they might otherwise want when they grew up, and that would be a stiff drink, right? That was there was a large, decades long movement dedicated to teaching children exactly to avoid wanting such a thing. The women’s Christian Temperance union was this organization or is one of the major organizations dedicated to get alcohol outlawed in the United States, which of course, they eventually do with the ratification of the 18th. amendment in 1917.
But these women had been playing this long game to get to 1917. They had been working on this for literally decades. temperance, which is the argument that alcohol should be outlawed, and it is inherently evil, had been a key part of the American political landscape throughout the 19th century, easily from 1830 onward. By the 1870s and 1880s, the women’s Christian Temperance Union knew they were fighting an uphill battle, so they realized they needed to invest in the future. They needed to recruit children. They turned to the schools and created a curriculum determined to change kids into lifelong teetotallers.
The woman behind this, she was really quite a force of nature was Mary Hanchett Hunt. And she was determined to get this curriculum adopted in schools across the country. And remember, this is a time in which women did not yet get the vote; temperance passes before suffrage passes in the United States, so we can think about why that might be. Even though she couldn’t vote, she and other members–largely women–worked with politicians to get laws on the books requiring temperance curriculum to be included in schools. By 1892, all but 10 states had adopted such laws. There were textbooks teaching children to avoid alcohol; there were lesson plans. There was everything you could imagine. And it was called the scientific temperance instruction curriculum. It is completely not a scientific curriculum.
They taught things like– this is just a few of the gems that were passed down to students for decades: The majority of beer drinkers die of heart failure. Alcohol will burn the skin off your throat, one drop of the smallest drink of alcohol prevents your blood from absorbing oxygen. So one sip of wine, forget it, especially if you drink hard spirits, right? Vodka, bourbon, something like that. You become psychotic, and your face and hands will turn a mottled color, which is, you know, especially in the 19th century, there’s a lot of anxiety about color in general. But there’s this idea that it will literally change your color, but in this case, from arguably white to blue. Another thing that will happen, according to this curriculum, is alcohol causes the heart to beat too fast. And this sets you on a vicious cycle. So my heart is beating too fast, because I’ve had some wine. And somehow, I can’t stop drinking, now I have to keep pounding drinks, according to this model, or my heart will stop. So you have once you start drinking, you’re you know, that was a tenet of sort of underlying a lot of these lessons is that one drop, and you were a goner. So once you take one glass of wine, or one sip of vodka, and you’re on this road to hell, right, you’re now . . your heart is addicted to alcohol. And if you try to become sober, you will probably die anyway. So just avoid at all costs. Another gem: alcohol turns the blood to water. And one of my favorite examples is that they would have in class demonstrations against scientific demonstrations that someone would bring in a calf’s brain,
Kate Capshaw 06:31
As you do, you bring one to school.
Victoria Ford Smith 06:32
School supply list: one calf’s brain. (laughter)
Anna Mae Duane 06:37
I know in the teachers bag, and you would drop it into grain alcohol. And of course, it would look gross, it would bubble it would decay. I’m actually kind of Tempted to Try this because I don’t know what happened, you could potentially
Victoria Ford Smith 06:52
Do that on our Twitter feed: just a live footage of a calf’s brain in alcohol
Kate Capshaw 06:59
Or not, it’s fine. (laughter)
Anna Mae Duane 07:03
See if it converts anyone to the ways of temperance? They will also do it sometimes with an egg. Which you know, to me just evokes that: “this is your brain on drugs” so clearly, right? But this idea of, you know, you have all these visual elements and these horror stories and invariably would turn to a life of crime. there was all this material just designed to really terrify children. And you know, one thing I was thinking about is what it must have been like for kids to go home, and like watch their father or mother drink a glass of wine when they’ve been told all day in school that that’s it. They’re now on, you know, they’re on a road to a quick death and criminal behavior and a number of horrors.
Kate Capshaw 07:48
I wonder how many families were temperance families, and it just wasn’t done. And so you know, they’re hearing it in school, and then it wasn’t happening at home.
Anna Mae Duane 07:56
Kate Capshaw 07:57
But also, I wonder how it might have been inflicted on immigrant communities in times of anxiety about immigration? Yeah, I don’t, I don’t know anything about that Anna Mae, so . . .
Anna Mae Duane 08:09
I mean, I think it was a little of both. Generally 19th century reform movements are aimed at lower income communities, and immigrant communities. So I’m sure there were temperance families. But I’m sure that there were children in these classrooms, again, like it was taught in 40 states. I mean, you know, there was a large contingent that were teetotallers. But you often had people in the same family that didn’t agree. So one of the things that happened, eventually, maybe because kids were so terrified by these lessons, and a vision of boiling calf brains, a committee of 50 it was called, and it was comprised of scholars and scientists, who sort of got together and analyzed these teachings who sat down and said, okay, it’s called the scientific temperance curriculum. How scientific is it?
And guess what? They determined that was not scientific at all, was just not true. It was largely debunked. There was debates in newspapers about this. But there are accounts of this curriculum being taught up until 1950. And arguably, beyond, I didn’t have to look very long online to find a lesson taught–I believe it was in Georgia — in 1952 — that would not have been out of place in a 19th century classroom: that you’re taught these are things that you know, one drop and you’re a goner.
Kate Capshaw 09:32
Yeah, it’s frightening to me right now. Laughter
Anna Mae Duane 09:38
It is making me want to drink!
Kate Capshaw 09:39
I’m a goner. So the big question that we opened with, of course, was thinking through how curriculum reflects the cultural imagination around childhood. And so it seems that what you’re suggesting is that this culture is really interested in instilling terror in children or making children afraid of their own desires afraid of afraid of themselves, right? And they can’t really trust themselves around certain elements like I’m thinking of . . . I’m thinking I won’t say of course, but I’m thinking about, you know, abstinence programs where it’s like all or nothing, you know, as in the horror movies where if you’re a teenager and have sex, you’re dead. And so the abstinence programs are very similar to that kind of ethos too right?
Victoria Ford Smith 10:26
Also, often using props like the calf brain . . . I mean, we’re joking about the calf brain and the egg and like, you compare that to the brain on drugs campaign, but even abstinence movements right often and I’ve heard of curriculum where you’re used-up chewing gum, if you’ve had sex, right?
Anna Mae Duane 10:43
Victoria Ford Smith 10:43
there is something about like, desires and food happening. I don’t know. It’s strange. The, yeah, the metaphors that they use.
Anna Mae Duane 10:52
Yeah. And I mean, with drugs, right? There was always this argument that one, you know, once you took one whiff of pot, right, again, it was a gateway drug that there’s no in between there’s no moderation possible.
Kate Capshaw 11:06
I remember being in Catholic school. And there were, a nun sent up two glasses of milk.
Victoria Ford Smith 11:12
It is already bad. (laughter)
Kate Capshaw 11:15
And the one glass of milk. (I’m having a flashback. Laughter). Was the person who hasn’t sinned, and then the other glass of milk, she just dropped Hershey syrup into it. And it was an all or nothing, right? You’re either holy or you’re damned.
Victoria Ford Smith 11:32
Well, a delicious chocolate milk is so much better and or
Anna Mae Duane 11:37
Delicious. Yes, yes!
Kate Capshaw 11:40
But this “all or nothing” thing is really very disturbing.
Victoria Ford Smith 11:43
Well, and it also speaks to what we think about children too, right? Like the idea.
Anna Mae Duane 11:47
Victoria Ford Smith 11:47
It seems to be connected to the idea that we think children can’t control themselves like that, that it is all or nothing, because kids don’t understand moderation, right? I’m thinking about those YouTube videos of the marshmallow experiment with kids where they can’t handle not eating the marshmallow, while an adult leaves the room that we constantly have to police children’s desires and consumption.
Kate Capshaw 12:11
Anna Mae Duane 12:12
Right that it’s dangerous. And even the marshmallow experiments, you know, that’s been so heavily critiqued, because it depends on whether the children tend to trust adults, how many marshmallows they’ve had in their life, you know, there’s so many other factors that surround this one choice this child makes. Of course, we put all this meaning on.
But I mean, I think this may be a particularly American fetish. You know, just there’s so much about purity. I mean, a drop of chocolate milk, what’s his amazing chocolate syrup and making chocolate milk and, you know, the liquor changing your color? I mean, I think it ties into all sorts of other anxieties, right, that we need these very clean lines between sinners and non-sinners drinkers and nondrinkers that we want to teach children not to question. Right? Don’t go over the line. Don’t take one step, right?
Kate Capshaw 13:08
That seems to be very American in its approach.
Victoria Ford Smith 13:11
Yeah, I was actually thinking like, I don’t know much. And by saying, I don’t know much, I don’t really know anything about alcohol culture in 19th century England and children. But I know that George Cruickshank, who is really famous for illustrating Charles Dickens, wrote bowdlerized versions of fairy tales that took all the alcohol out of them and made them temperance tales. And so for example, like there was no alcohol at the wedding feast, right, Cinderella and the prince or whatever. And Charles Dickens wrote a very angry essay called “Frauds on the Fairies” about how you’re injecting this discourse of temperance into children’s culture. And so they’re at least with some resistance to that idea that this isn’t something we need to trouble them about. I’m not sure how widespread that feeling was. But Charles Dickens would not have dropped a calf brain in to grain alcohol, I think.
Kate Capshaw 14:00
Yeah, I think I need to learn more about the British approach to be honest, more in line with with life without remembering this William Hogarth image of Beer street and Gin lane. Do Are you guys familiar with that?
Anna Mae Duane 14:13
Yeah, so beer street is healthy gin lane is completely depraved. But it’s just interesting that then it’s not, you know,
Victoria Ford Smith 14:21
My college experience upholds that reading a beer street and gin lane. Yeah.
Anna Mae Duane 14:26
Nice when you’re in trouble. I mean, in 19th century American culture, temperance and being anti-slavery, were just . . . if you did one, you were part of the other community. You were both temperance and anti-slavery. But there was some fallout because German immigrants who were largely anti-slavery and were you know felt quite passionate about it, often were sort of excluded from American anti-slavery circles because they drink beer. So right they there was no wiggle room, you you’re getting your all your nothing. So I mean, we kind of laugh about how silly these lessons are, you know, and we wonder if kids rolled their eyes at them, you know, either they were terrified, or maybe the way kids kind of roll their eyes. Maybe it’s some abstinence films, how I mean, I think it’s a mix of both. But I mean, this curriculum went in the 1870s and 1880s 1890s.
And the 18th amendment is passed by this generation and their kids. So we can’t write it off. Right. I think what gets taught in schools do shape sort of the paths children take and sort of the shape of the culture. So these women, they played the long game, and at least in their terms, it paid off for them. Now, I think we’re going to take a break. And then when we return, we’re going to transition to a arguably kinder and more kid friendly version of how kids learn or what they want to learn. (Music break)
Victoria Ford Smith 15:58
So I want to talk about kindergarten, actually, where there typically is not a lot of booze, although, I don’t know, there could be,
Kate Capshaw 16:08
There could be.
Victoria Ford Smith 16:09
So really kindergarten, which is a movement that’s largely credited to a German educator named Friedrich Froebel. So you probably have heard Froebel or Froebelian as an adjective. And it sort of inverts the idea of curriculum that Anna Mae was just describing, as important to temperance education. So the philosophy of kindergarten, in some ways thinks about kids, as teachers, kids telling adults what to do. So adults should attend to what kids want and should observe children and follow their natural ways. And only by treating kids that way, will they be really susceptible to learning. And so this really gained speed in the 19th century.
And it sounds really, it is really great. I’m not a kindergarten hater. But it also is really informed by adult ideas of childhood. So I’ll get to that get to that too. But I wanted to actually start with Charles Dickens, who I promise, I’m not obsessed with Charles Dickens. But he’s returning again as he, as he does. He wrote a cover story for his newspaper Household Words on July 22 1855. And it was titled “Infant Gardens.” And this was at a moment when kindergartens were quite new. And so not everyone would automatically know this educational model. And he argues that Friedrich Froebel had a childhood that led to this particular approach as an educational innovator. So this is Charlie’s words. He wrote that “the unsatisfied cravings of Friedrich’s childhood had borne fruit within him. He remembered the quick feelings and perceptions, the incessant nimbleness of mind proper to his first years, and how he had been hemmed in and cramped, for want of right encouragement and sympathy. There would be fewer sullen, quarrelsome, dull-witted men or women, if there were fewer children starved, or fed improperly in heart, and brain.” Right? So there’s this big idea that like, if you’re not allowed to be a kid, as a kid, then you’ll be a bad adult.
Anna Mae Duane 18:21
Right? And I just I’m so struck with that, quote, as it’s so inverse to what we were just describing, right? That it’s the child’s desire, that’s important to cultivate, right? That, that shutting down children’s desire is what makes them miserable people. We’ve just spent fifteen minutes thinking about how for decades, that was the main thrust of an entire national curriculum: to shut down children’s desires, or their future desires.
Right. And it’s very much about, it’s interesting to read some of Froebel’s, writings and people who are writing about Froebel, who are students of him. It’s a lot about like watching children, and observing them and seeing what they’re naturally drawn to. I mean, right now, it sounds creepy, but it’s also sort of aligning with the beginning of educational psychology and fields like that. So this idea that we can observe kids and learn what they want and give what they want to them. So you’re right. It’s very, it’s very kind of different from what we were first talking about.
Kate Capshaw 19:22
Yeah. And that quote, I think, at the end of it, it talks about sort of feeding the child’s heart and brain and things like that. So a child needs to be supported in being a child by given things that are childish, or something. . ..
Victoria Ford Smith 19:35
Yeah, this is kind of what I was thinking about in terms of its paying attention to children and giving them power, but also really informed by ideas of childhood because what children’s hearts and brains need isn’t always super explicit. And a lot of these it’s considered like obviously, children naturally need some things or naturally asked for them. So some of the things that children naturally need: movement in play. Froebel was really into the idea of play.
I’m going to read a quote from Froebel, who has very complicated sentences, kind of like Henry James in writing might be his translator. But he says “we shall no longer repressed their energies, tie up their body, shut their mouths and declare that they worry us by the incessant putting of the questions, which the father of us has placed in their mouth.” So he wanted both mental and physical freedom. And then Dickens comments, “as a child grows the most unaccustomed positions into which it can be safely twisted, are those from which oversee the greatest pleasure.”
So I get this idea of like child pretzels, like, just bend them around. (laughter) Charles Dickens was weird, but just the idea that, you know, they should be allowed to move about, they should be allowed to play, you know, have freedom in their bodies was really, really important.
Kate Capshaw 20:52
And it’s hard for us in the 21st century to think about how kind of radical that was the concept of embracing the child’s physicality. And, you know, in part because of all the kind of Puritan underpinnings of the culture, but yeah, I mean, I’m just really struck by the, by the way, that it what you’re offering focuses on the pleasure in the child’s body and sort of mutability of a child’s body too.
Victoria Ford Smith 21:17
Yeah, it to me, it’s like the opposite of swaddling, right, I think about swaddling as a practice of really binding baby’s bodies for safety, and they thought it was healthy to keep children still in here. They’re saying no, no, let them be bent into unaccustomed poses. (laughter) So movement and play. Another thing that was really central to the kindergarten movement was the idea of toys as educational tools. So Froebel had what was called a series of gifts that children receive at different parts of their education. And they included things like filled balls of bright colors, wooden blocks that were chopped up into different fractions of themselves. He was really into pea work, like p e a work, you soften peas, and then put sticks into them like erector sets.
Anna Mae Duane 22:05
Kate Capshaw 22:06
Victoria Ford Smith 22:06
Yeah, they’re cool. Like, it’s very like, to me, the toys that he recommends, reminds me the toys that like, parents give other parents with baby showers with beautiful wooden toys. And then, you know, the kid wants the plastic doll instead. But these very kind of simple tactile toys are part of kindergarten too. The third point, again, it’s just, I’m repeating myself at this point, but just really taking cues from the child, so paying attention to children. He says we should study childish play and act upon its hints and that schools should do justice and honor to the nature of the child. So this is kind of at the center of the kindergarten movement. So I wanted to ask you, Kate and Anna Mae, like this idea of the “nature of the child” is the phrase that I find kind of complicated and weird. I don’t know what your responses are to that.
Kate Capshaw 22:56
Well, it feels very romantic with a capital R, right? Sort of early 19th century idea that children are trailing clouds of glory, and we just sort of need to step back and let them be their spectacular holy selves. Which is . . . I’m not so sure about that. (laughter)In
Anna Mae Duane 23:14
And in some ways, it’s as othering as the Puritanical Christian Temperance Union approach to it, right? The child is just radically different from adults. And we either shut them down or let them blossom like flowers that we take notes on. But there’s this wall between us and them. But what I really like about the kindergarten movement, is there is this sense that a child does actually have input, but I wonder how that played out in practice, right? Is it that you watched and you took notes and you decided what the nature of a child requires? Or did people. .. I don’t imagine that people go around asking kindergarteners? What do you want to do today? Right, right. That’s not that’s not what happens. It’s very structured. And I’m sure they study how children respond to it, but children are not running the curriculum in the kindergarten classroom.
Victoria Ford Smith 24:06
Yeah, I mean, I think I first started looking at Froebel and kindergartens, when I was researching adult child collaboration, because some of the some of the ways that Froebel describes education, I’m like, oh, wow, this is like adults working in partnership with kids like this is make decisions together. But then when I actually, like the abstract philosophizing around kindergarten suggests that, but then the actual like you said, the actual practice of kindergarten doesn’t do that. It’s still quite structured. It is like adults need to pay attention to children’s natures, but then the adult is the ultimate interpreter of the child of their bodies and of their words and their needs. And so it didn’t really quite go as radically far as I thought it would.
Kate Capshaw 24:49
Yeah, that’s interesting. I’m also concerned about the toys and how gender might play into the toys too. I don’t I don’t know about the toys particularly but they idea of toys scripting, kind of gendered behavior, other kinds of behavior, like, who gets to play with the balls and, and who doesn’t, you know, and who gets to do the erector set with the peas. And I remember one of my children was taught in kindergarten how to pour water into glasses. And I’m like, that’s really interesting that my daughter is being asked to learn how to serve. But anyway, but yeah, I mean, toys are not without ideological weight, right?
Victoria Ford Smith 25:28
Yeah. Well, I don’t know too much about the gendering of the toys. One thing it did you really clearly was gender who is able to interpret children? Like, I think that, you know, up until this point, I may be making a big generalization, but a lot of writing about education and childhood favored male perspectives. And Froebel actually said, you know, the teachers in the kindergarten in this infant garden should be women, and they should be a particular type of woman. They should be young women who are not yet married, who don’t have children of their own yet. There was and there was this kind of sort of trusting women as mothers and teachers and nurturers to interpret children. But then of course, there’s also this apparatus of like men writing about it. And so it really showed this contested gendered idea of, of who was in the school, too.
I was also thinking a little bit about like, why did kindergarten catch on at this moment in the 19th century? Because Dickens was essentially writing his article to convince people in England like we should have more kindergartens, here. kindergartens are so great. Part of it is a shift from the way they were thinking about children moving a little bit away from in certain communities, children as economic value to children as emotional value, right? This is a really simplified narrative. But no, now we’re valuing children as individuals and as parts of our families. It’s also was kind of influenced by romanticism and the idea, you can even hear it in the title, like kindergarten, meaning infant garden. And we’re starting to thinking about kids as plants that need to be nurtured, put in the correct soil and trained to grow. But also, like I said, this is the beginning of child psychology and child study, as it was called in the late 19th century. So lots of interest in observing children and charting how they grow in the stages they grow through, which, you know, has all kinds of weird gendered and raced and classed implications too.
But thinking about who is the universal child? And what does that child look like as they grow? That’s happening too it at the same time. But I guess, looking forward, I think we were hinting at this before, like a lot of the stuff that seems natural about kindergarten, I think is still kind of under question today about like, how should kindergartens work? Like, how structured should they be? Have we kind of reached, you know, Froebel’s reimagining of children’s bodies and minds? I don’t know.
Anna Mae Duane 27:58
I mean, as a childhood studies scholar, as we all are, I’m very excited about the idea of children being in power and children shaping the curriculum, but then as an adult who has been around kindergarteners, that idea also terrifies me. Like, what would happen if we really, you know, let children do what they write wanted all the time, right. And so I do think there is always this this line that education is always. . . Kindergarten is about shaping and controlling children, but hopefully, without crushing them, right? Without crushing the delicate sprouts that are coming up from the soil. Whereas again, like our first set of curriculum was about absolutely pruning those plants to be one stalk that you dictate.
Kate Capshaw 28:51
A very pure white flower (laughter)
Anna Mae Duane 28:54
A white flower that does not drink.
Victoria Ford Smith 28:56
I was trying to remember my own kindergarten experiences, which like I have a terrible memory. So I and I’m like, I don’t remember, you know, being completely let loose in the classroom or anything. A classroom is a place where you sit on your carpet square and where you listen to stories. And yes, the one free moment from kindergarten I remember we were on a field trip to a farm. We were let roam for a while, but I was upset because the farmer’s dog stole my hot dog. And so that’s my sharpest memory from kindergarten. (laughter)
Anna Mae Duane 29:28
Kate Capshaw 29:29
That’s a whole other subject we should dig into is the ubiquity of farms and early how we imagine the nature of children. I had very little desire as a child and be involved in the farm apparently, I need to know about the cows and . yeah
Anna Mae Duane 29:46
Yeah, right. Yeah. And there’s, I mean, we’ve touched on this and other episodes, how important we think it is the children you know, they connect with animals, how many animals are in children’s literature, the way children are like animals and pets and kids and all that sort of . . .that conversation and what that tells us about what we think children are and need. But that’s for another podcast, we are going to take a break. And when we return, we’re gonna move into the 21st century and think about how if it all we’ve enacted Froebel’s vision of allowing young people the power to actually create their curriculum and what they learn.
Children’s Table Podcast 30:25
Anna Mae Duane 30:30
So Kate, in our own moments, do you think that we have manifested Froebel’s vision of allowing young people to shape what they learn and how they learn?
Kate Capshaw 30:43
Well, I guess it’s complicated. I don’t think we have entirely, of course,
Anna Mae Duane 30:49
It’s a trick question!
Kate Capshaw 30:51
Yeah. But I think we are in this moment of intense involvement in curricular change, which is really exciting. So as we all know, school curriculum at present is designed and implemented by adult-run boards of education, and these boards of education and also state, you know, expectations for curriculum govern what happens in classrooms across the country. I mean, what a student learns, can vary kind of dramatically from state to state. And in response to local decisions, or statewide decisions, young people, I think, really, across the 20th century have been involved in demanding curricular change in thinking through the lessons that are offered to them to so there have been, you know, walkouts, and boycotts and sit-ins, and we can talk about those in future podcasts. Because I think they’re really important that, you know, they respond to what’s taught and what’s not present on the curriculum as well.
I’d like to just think about what’s happening in the current moment, and the three of us are in Connecticut, and here in Connecticut, we have the distinction of being the first state to require our public high schools to offer at least one course in Black and Latino Studies. So that’s really pretty, pretty amazing and terrific. So go Connecticut! Put that out there. I wish it was a requirement rather than an elective. It’s a it’s an elective, but you know, to step Yeah, I guess it’s the first step. So So this shift really has come about through a collaborative effort, parents, young people, really thinking through what’s offered to them, and how the story of our national history is told in schools and what gets excluded. So there’s a particular parent advocate, who’s also a leader. I believe she’s an attorney, Rashanda McCollum who talks about an example that really prompted her to get involved more deeply, where she, she has a daughter, and the daughter was asked to write about an important historical figure. And that’s pretty classic kind of exercise in elementary school. And the teacher gives the students a list of 30 people pick one of these persons. 29 of these people were white men. So that yeah, that says a lot about what we think, you know, history, how I guess white curriculum has constructed history, who makes history, who’s important, who children should look up to how they should spend their time and, and research and offer more and more accolades to the same folks over and over again. So it’s very disturbing. And she, McCollum, got involved as a result of that, in part, and there’s they’re a fantastic grassroots collective kind of groups, like Students for Educational Justice here in Connecticut.
And I think we can also see this, this change happening in Connecticut, around Asian and Asian American experience. I’m not sure if you guys are familiar with this, but there’s one group that I think is really wonderful, it’s called Make Us Visible. And it’s responding to their elision, right, that complete silence and aeration around Asian and Asian American experience in the curriculum. And so they’re supporting along with a bunch of other groups, a bill that’s going through the Connecticut legislature to require curriculum that represents the experiences and histories of Asian American and Pacific Islander peoples. And the three of us work at the University of Connecticut and one of our colleagues, Professor Jason Chang, who is also the head of our Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, and also a Board of Ed member in one of our local towns, which is great and also a parent, he has been working really with great determination towards this curricular intervention, especially because . . . we’re recording during the pandemic, and there’s just been an explosion of anti Asian violence as a result. Um, so it’s an intervention that that is urgent and ethical, but also really predicated on this particular moment. So I wanted to just sort of bring those two elements to the surface. I think they’re really important to change the way that history in particular gets taught in our schools.
Victoria Ford Smith 35:07
I love the way that those examples recognize both the ways that kids and parents are working within the systems that mandate curriculum. So school boards and the schools themselves and educational systems. And also, you know, there are sometimes moments where kids themselves, kind of try to subvert those systems or challenged them or you know, not come to school, or you have to sit-in, right, these kind of more informal activism that I think is so important to kid’s culture right now. So I love those examples for that for that reason.
Kate Capshaw 35:39
Yeah, it’s really exciting when you can work at the local level and actually see changes happening that then catch on and become a kind of statewide movement, I think it’s really quite gratifying.
Anna Mae Duane 35:52
And I also love . .here we have students advocating for what they want to learn, and that that in both of the examples you gave us, Kate, it’s about what isn’t being taught, like what’s being withheld from students who want to learn about diversity, want to learn about all the contributors to American history, and by omitting that it’s lesson in itself, and that’s that students are demanding broader curriculum to learn more, right, which again, goes against, you know, perhaps a stereotype we have that students are apathetic or they don’t want access to more knowledge, right? They want to keep things easy. And there’s . . . no we need to complicate these lessons, we need to it’s a complicated country. And if we want to envision the country we want to live in, and again, they, unlike the adults, we’ve been talking about, for the past two acts, right? They are envisioning a future that they want to live in. And it’s one in which they see themselves represented. And they see a complex version of both our pasts and arguably our future, I think, you know, even though of course, there’s a long way to go, it seemed it’s a really heartening set of examples.
Kate Capshaw 37:04
Yeah. And you use the word representation, I think that’s absolutely key that, you know, when when a person of color especially looks at a curriculum that is completely exclusionary. . You want to you want to see yourself in the story of America and story of Connecticut in these instances. Yeah, it’s really, really vital. And then another urgent kind of transformation that’s happening at present has to do with anti racism in terms of teaching practice. And this is also something that I know there are equity groups happening in high schools, especially sometimes involving parents, sometimes involving school boards and community members. But across the country, I think we’re really seeing school’s reckoning with a history of white supremacy built into the curriculum, and really thinking through ways to be more proactively inclusive in their teaching practice, both in the content and in how they engage with student populations as well. So it is really an exciting time, a hopeful time, in some ways.
Anna Mae Duane 38:02
Yeah, no, I know, that’s been part of the conversation around the change in the Connecticut curriculum is that it’s great to offer these classes, but offering two more classes isn’t going to get us where we need to go. We need to reimagine every subject.
Kate Capshaw 38:17
Yeah, that’s, that’s exactly right. Right. I mean, the elective is a wonderful thing on Black and Latinx history. That’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s an elective. So, you know, I think larger kinds of transformations are really being urged at this point. So yeah, fingers crossed for good change in the future. But, you know, it is kind of a nice way to think about these, these three moments side by side that we have, you know, that the first with Anna mae talking about. It was very repressive, dictatorial kind of perspective. And then the the idea of kindergarten being a kind of response to recognition of the value of children. And that sort of extends into this moment too. I mean, I think contemporary curriculum needs to be revised because we respect children, and young people, their investments, and also and I believe this wholeheartedly, that children want to know the truth. They don’t want to be lied to, and telling the truth about America’s complicated history, its accomplishments and its limitations is something that young people are really starving for right now.
Anna Mae Duane 38:34
Yeah. And, and working to get. fantastic.
Victoria Ford Smith 39:30
Yeah I feel like it’s the kids playing the long game instead of the you’re trying to teach us sort of the you know, how, how are curriculum needs to change for the kids that come after them
Kate Capshaw 39:41
That’s true. Go kids.
Victoria Ford Smith 39:43
Go kids. All right. So we would like to hear from you. What lessons have you found perplexing or disturbing or empowering at school? You can email us at the Children’s Table Podcast at gmail. Tweet us at Children’s Table Podcast or visit our Instagram at the Children’s Table Podcast. Until next time thanks for stopping by the children’s table.