Occupy the Curriculum

by Bill Bigelow

The other day on the Zinn Education Project’s Facebook page, we asked “What period in history—or theme in history—are you teaching this month?

NJTAG teach-in
New Jersey Teacher Activist Group stages Teach-In at Occupy Wall Street last month.

The responses were fascinating.

Chris Conkling is teaching about “Forced removal of Native Americans/Andrew Jackson.”

Ariela Rothstein is teaching about the “Haitian revolution and the effects of colonialism on the Caribbean.”

Samantha Manchac is teaching about “the early women’s movement” from Chapter 6, “The Intimately Oppressed,” in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Melanie Lichtenstein is teaching about Afghanistan, before and after 2001.

Mustafa Miroku Nemeth is using the film The Corporation to teach about the development of corporate “personhood” with the manifold consequences we see today.

Ian Martin is teaching about industrialization and imperialism and how they are inseparable.

Ruth Razo is teaching about the U.S. war with Mexico and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

I found people’s responses enormously encouraging. In this age of standardized, scripted curriculum and corporate-produced textbooks, it looks like not everyone is following the script. Teachers are “teaching outside the textbook,” in the slogan of the Zinn Education Project.

This kind of defiant We’ll decide what our students need to learn, not some distant corporation” needs to happen in schools across the country. We don’t need to take tents and sleeping bags to our town squares to participate in the Occupy Movement—although it would be great if more of us did. We can also “occupy” our classrooms, “occupy” the curriculum. At this time of mass revulsion at how our country—our world—has been bought and bullied by the one percent, let’s join this gathering movement to demand a curriculum that serves humanity and nature, not the rich.