15 August 2011

Writing the Riots with Your Students... The London Riots Part Two

How do we deal with this in school?

After all, the riots in the UK this August are all about education and citizenship, learning networks and communities, technologies and responsibilities. These are things we deal with in our schools, right?

So can we deal with these riots? How do we bring them into our classrooms in ways which move our students forward?

I'll start with an immediate split, those whose students have been impacted, and those whose students have not. And in the "not" range, there is a vast gap. There will be a difference between those in West London, those in Wales, and those in North America, some of whom will not have any idea of what "England" or "the UK," or "London" means.

Yet the split is not as large as it might appear. The questions posed by these riots and the responses to these riots are global questions these days, touching on all that our students' lives will consist of.

Here are a couple of "pause, think, write" exercises for your students. You might consider creating groups writing within one big Google Doc so students can watch the thoughts of others. You should also absolutely write on these issues yourself, allowing your students to see you involved in the process. And don't forget, "writing" means many things. Allow students to dictate via Microsoft Speech Recognition or Dragon Dictate. Allow them to record themselves with Audacity, or video themselves. Allow them to interview others.

We can learn together when we write together.

One: Thinking about society, thinking about moral equivalency...

Societies are usually based in the idea that the basic rules and responsibilities apply to all. Everybody is supposed to - outside of certain kinds of emergencies - stop for red lights. Nobody - again, with a few exceptions - is supposed to kill another person.

Students everywhere might compare British Prime Minister David Cameron's Thursday speech, "In too many cases, the parents of these children – if they are still around – don’t care where their children are or who they are with, let alone what they are doing,” he said. "The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without enough action being taken.” 

with one of his critics columns from two days earlier... "
"Dear Mr & Mrs Cameron,
"Why did you never take the time to teach your child basic morality?
    "As a young man, he was in a gang that regularly smashed up private property. We know that you were absent parents who left your child to be brought up by a school rather than taking responsibility for his behaviour yourselves. Even worse, your neglect led him to fall in with a bad crowd. He became best friends with a young man who set fire to buildings for fun. And others:
    "There’s Michael Gove, whose wet-lipped rage was palpable on Newsnight last night. This is the Michael Gove who confused one of his houses with another of his houses in order to avail himself of £7,000 of the taxpayers’ money to which he was not entitled (or £13,000, depending on which house you think was which).

  "Or Hazel Blears, who was interviewed in full bristling peahen mode for almost all of last night. She once forgot which house she lived in, and benefited to the tune of £18,000. At the time she said it would take her reputation years to recover. Unfortunately not."

Might they then compare this prison sentence, with this one?

Here is a comment on the previous post about the riots in the UK:
"As someone who lives in Liverpool, It is interesting to see a view from afar. Today Mr. Cameron will outline his plans to sort out society, and deal with the absent fathers who he sees as being a reason behind the broken society. I heard two comments at the week-end that had more relevance than any of the rhetoric spouted by so called experts. Firstly "if politicians can 'give back' the expenses that they fraudulently obtained without punishment - would looters be let off if they gave back the trainers they took?" Secondly, "Cameron falsely claimed a grand in expenses - that's like two flatscreen TVs..."

"Both these comments were from teenagers who are from the sort of background extolled by Cameron and other politicians; they have good parents who have instilled morals, discipline and a work ethic. Those very morals that Cameron, Gove, the Press etc. are demanding, are distinctly lacking in those who lead society, and unfortunately our children can see all too clearly see this."
Your students need to be able to express themselves on these issues in ways their community will hear. And they need to extend the questions down into their own world. Might they find differential justice in their schools? In their communities? Do they believe that rights and responsibilities are given and shared equally?

What might they make of this story and video? The tale of the difference between the school Michigan's Governor sends his daughter to, and the schools he provides for the rest of Michigan's students.

Have any students gotten away with this line? I only did the illegal stuff within the law?

Students may want to write about this, or they might want to take their mobiles and do video interviews with their schoolmates.

Two: Going along...

When would you tell your friends to "stop"? When might you try to tell a crowd to "stop"?

 How would you react if you were here?
We all get carried away sometimes, and big groups doing things together often do things, good and bad, which "we" would never do on our own. Groups can be more heroic, more inventive, more accepting, but they can also be more destructive, more careless, meaner, and angrier than individuals often get.

Let's look at this story...
The Guardian LiveBlog 12.50pm: A mother of two has been jailed for five months for accepting a pair of shorts looted during the disorder in Manchester.
Ursula Nevin, who slept through the riots, took the shorts from a £629 haul of clothing and accessories stolen from the Vans store in the city centre by her housemate Gemma Corbett. Nevin picked out the shorts from the goods, which Corbett had brought back to their flat, the morning after and decided to keep them.
Nevin was arrested for handling stolen goods after police raided the flat in Stretford.
She was jailed for five months after pleading guilty at Manchester magistrates' court.
The court heard how Corbett, a call centre worker, had gone into the city centre after watching the riots unfold on TV. She then helped herself to stock from the ransacked Vans shop in the Northern Quarter. Corbett, 24, who admitted theft was remanded in custody and will be sentenced at Manchester Crown Court.
The judge told Nevin, also 24, that she was supposed to be a role model to her children, aged one and five. Khalid Qureshi, sentencing, said: "The first reaction you would expect some to have is 'get that stuff out of my house, I have two children that I'm responsible for'. You would expect decent people to speak up and say 'no, this is wrong, get that out of my house.' You are a role model to your sons, yet you decided to have a look at the goods and keep some for yourself."
The judge said, "You would expect decent people to speak up and say 'no, this is wrong.'" Is the judge right? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that what a friend or friends, or even a family member, was doing something wrong? What did you do?

Might it be scary, or even dangerous to oppose a crowd, even if you were sure that what they were doing was wrong? What strategies might you use?

This isn't just something which happens to kids, or poor people. Why didn't anyone who worked for NewsCorp (which owns Fox, FoxNews, the Times of London, the Sun, the New York Post) say "no" when they were repeatedly getting their stories from "hacked" voice mail and email accounts? Why didn't anyone at the US energy firm Enron say "no" when they were lying about the company's finances?

Enron. No one at this giant corporation seemed to be willing to say "no" to theft and fraud.

The Ox Bow Incident (1943), even the good guys let innocent people get hanged

You might create an online conversation about this in TodaysMeet, and then let your students use that to build their own writings on the subject.

Three: Frustration, and what to do about it

If society is inherently unfair and unequal, if your chances in life have more to do with who your parents are than who you are, what can you do?

Do you accept your position in society? Do you try to create change? Do you do it alone? Do you organize as a group? Do you fight? What kind of fighting is OK?

For all time philosophers, politicians, religious leaders have wondered how to struggle against injustice. Those arguing for change are often labelled as dangerous. Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Menachem Begin of Israel, and Michael Collins of Ireland have all been labelled as "terrorists" by the governments of the United States and United Kingdom, though the first two would later be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and Collins is now considered one of the great national heroes of the 20th Century. Martin Luther King, Jr. was constantly watched by the American FBI because he was considered a "threat." All of these people spent parts of their lives in jail for their activities. Emma Goldman was permanently thrown out of the United States simply for speaking and writing.

Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian writer of the 15th and 16th Centuries, said, "...in the actions of all men...when there is no impartial arbiter, one must consider the final result." This has often been simplified into, "the ends justify the means," or, in other words, what you need to accomplish is more important than the rules you will break accomplishing that. That belief is controversial, and it has allowed people and nations to justify their actions, from stealing food when you are hungry to dropping nuclear weapons on cities.

Your students might gather in groups and write out a debate on this issue. Not the simple two-sided question as often debated, but what ends justify what means? Allow the conversations to extend from global (Hiroshima, the murder of Czar Nicholas, Afghanistan) to the local and personal (fighting in school, refusing to do homework, taking something you need but cannot afford).

Now, get writing - Ira Socol

1 comment:

Tomaz Lasic said...

What ends justify what means?

Slippery, eternally important and non-Googlable questions you can equally ask a five year old kid and a president.

To re-fashion Margaret Mead's quote:
"Never doubt that answers to that question (what ends justify what means?) can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Great post Ira (this and the first one on riots), thanks.