Jon's Weekly Update 1-15-17

posted Jan 15, 2016, 9:54 AM by Cynthia Friedman

IMPORTANT DATES:

Mon, Jan 18:                           NO SCHOOL: Martin Lunter King, Jr. Day

Mon, Jan 18, 9am-12pm:       Martin Luther King Jr. Day March, Autzen Stadium

Tues, Jan 19, 3:15-4:15:         TRUE Rehearsal

Thurs, Jan 21, 3:15-4:15:       TRUE Rehearsal

Tues, Jan 26, 3:15-4:15:         TRUE Rehearsal

Thurs, Jan 28, 3:15-4:15:       TRUE Rehearsal

Wed., Feb 24, 2:30pm-4pm    TRUE PERFORMANCE: Junction City Assisted Living

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Dear Middle School Family,

It's been a Heavy week in Humanities.  Here and now, in our real lives today, we are at an important point in US History.  Our economic state in the United States, the divide between the wealthy elite who own everything (2% of the population) and the rest of us who borrow against our future earnings, closely mirrors the economic disparity in England in the 16th Century (5% of the population literally owned all of the land in England).  

Unfortunately for the peasants in England, credit cards and mortgages didn't exist at the time.  The only future they had to offer was, literally, their lives in servitude.  The only benefit they could hope to gain was the promise of land in the New World, once their promised time of service was up.  If they lived through it.  During this time of Indentured Labor in the New World, only 20-25% of the hopefuls survived.  Talk about a gamble!

While our lives are much more comfortable, on the whole, than the impoverished 95% in England, the institution of racism that was manufactured in the 16th Century in the land that would become the United States is very much alive today.  The impoverished, brutally labored "whites" that came over as indentured servants or slaves were shortly, if only slightly, elevated from their circumstances, lest they join the African slaves in rebellion against the Elite minority.  They would get nowhere near closing the economic gap between themselves and the Elite, but the small, Perceived step up from oppression made them the most powerful of Oppressors.  

And so the story unfolds.

This week, we started the story of the US Slavery Industry in 1765, with the painful first episode of the TV version of Alex Haley's "Roots."  We spent much of the first Trimester working to understand where land-based, tribal cultures come from, how they evolve and work with their environment.  

I know it's just a movie, and "Roots" can't possibly convey, in the first 43 minutes, the complexity of the Mandinka people in Gambia in 1750.  Just as the next 50 minutes can only hint at the months of unspeakable misery the slaves endured on the voyage from Africa to North America.  I also understand that students' play at creating a tribal culture in 2 short months can't compare to thousands of years of the evolution and development of tribal civilizations.

The marriage of the two, however, can help create a powerful, if imaginative, bridge of empathy.  And it did.  The students well understood the indignity of being taken captive.  They were mortified and shocked by the attitudes of the Slavers towards their African prisoners.

The students were not prepared for the horrific conditions of the slave ship.  Many had envisioned a really long plane ride, in handcuffs, but with meals and bathrooms.  

I reminded them that this was just one ship, one of far too many.  This wasn't a one-off thing.  This wasn't a test run.  By 1765, the International Slave Trade was in full swing.  According to the first US Census in 1790, there were 697,681 slaves in the United States.  No official data was collected before this time, and with taxes attached to ownership, this number is likely inaccurate.  Historians agree that the number of African slaves brought to the continent before abolition in 1807 was closer to 9-12 million!

We're going to follow Kunta Kinte's journey into his life of slavery in Episode 2, because it's important that we understand where this terrible story is headed.  Then we're going to go back to the beginning, shortly after Columbus, to follow the story of how slavery became a "necessity," how it became an institution, and how Racism was manufactured to serve the Elite.  We're going to learn how Slavery built this country.

This is an important story, one that defines "Race Relations" in our country to this day.  It's also a difficult story for many of us to integrate into our world view.  Please check in with your student about what we're learning.  This isn't worksheets and right answers.  This a rich, authentic opportunity to develop our skills in critical thinking, empathy, and discussion.

Growth.  Change for the better.

We're in this together.

Sincerely,

Jon

 

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