I was raised as a historian. My dad, an engineer, quizzed me on history trivia on long car-rides. We’d watch history documentaries for fun. Museums were as awe-inspiring as amusement parks. We were, are, complete and total nerds. History was his hobby, but the object of his fascination became the framework of my world view. Naturally, when the time came, I choose to major in history.
To me, the study of history places historians at a point of tension. So much changes, and yet there are patterns that are continuous, persistent. There are some many diverse periods, cultures and events to consider, yet, under certain conditions, there are universalities that cannot be ignored. How a historian can understand any given event lies in reconciling these points of tension. How one interprets past events informs one’s interpretation of ongoing events, and one’s reaction to it. How societies teach history has the capacity to shape how a society chooses to create new histories.
With this in mind, I decided that I would like to become a teacher in the middle of my first-year of college. My decision, in particular, was shaped by one of my favorite narratives, that education promises to be one of the most democratizing forces in an individual’s life. This is a favored but often complicated narrative. A lot of factors have to come together in order for that promise to be realized. For many, that never happens. One of the most important factors is often the teacher that is placed before them. In addition to presenting narratives, teachers often (though not always) have the power to control the treatment of students, classroom culture, and the expectations that they place upon students. As a history teacher, even after my students forget my impassioned lecture on the amazing work of Ella Baker, or my fun activity that delved into the complexities of the thirty years war, they will probably remember how I treated them, the analytical skills that I helped them to cultivate, and the level of work that I expected of them. Such treatment has the capacity to shape worldviews, and alter trajectories. To do so well, without causing harm, is often more difficult than one might think. In an interview, Larry Cuban said that “teaching phonics is a lot like rocket science.” Though I will not be teaching phonics, I will be engaging in a complex practice that requires great skill, in addition to knowledge and enthusiasm, in order to do so well. By the beginning of my sophomore year, with the desire to begin cultivating the knowledge and skill required of my future endeavors, I began seeking out more information about schools and teaching practices. One night, this aim led me to a documentary showing of “The Lottery,” which looks at the lottery selection process for a good charter school in New York City. The documentary attempts to make people more aware of the fact that not every student has the opportunity to attend a school that has the capacity to promote success for all of its students, regardless of what background they come from.
Then I accidentally became an activist. The organization that presented the documentary had a general body meeting the next week and I was hooked. This organization gave me the opportunity to learn more policy, share my personal experience and then apply both in ways that could potentially impact the shaping of education policy. Half a year later, I am on leadership team for my university’s chapter. Within this organization I am developing the leadership, political efficacy, and skills that I will need not only to better understand the education system, but also to shape it. But before I go about changing things, I want to understand them. Before I act, I want to understand the context, complexities and tensions innate in policy.
Which is how I ended up here, writing this post. As I move forward with this course and this blog, I hope to grow as a historian, teacher and activist, and it is with these three aspects of my identity in mind that I will approach all things.