Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Writers Guild Office Boy 1970 (iv)

The second evening ed course I took at Lehman College in the Fall of 1970, on methods of teaching social studies in secondary schools, was taught by a white guy in his early or late 30s who was then the head of the Social Studies Department at Jamaica High School in Queens. The ten other students in this class all seemed to be teachers in their late 20s or early 30s who were just taking the course in order to receive permanent licenses; and who all seemed to be culturally straight, non-intellectual and conventionally middle-class in their aspirations.

In contrast to the students in his evening secondary educational teaching methods class, the Jamaica High School social studies department head was intellectual, somewhat hip culturally and seemed to identify with the New Left Movement of the late 1960s, despite being in his 30s in 1970. You got the impression that when he was in college during the late 1950s, he had been some kind of a bohemian rebel.

I don’t recall much of what was discussed in this course, other than that the instructor and I usually expressed similar views on both what needed to be changed in the way social studies was taught in high school and what methods worked best in teaching social studies; while the conventional teachers who were in the class either just sat there without participating much in the classroom discussion or expressed more concern about how to motivate their students than on how to change the way social studies was taught and what was taught in social studies, so that high schools became agents for creating a more democratic society, instead of institutions that were run in authoritarian ways.

To pass the course, each student in the class was required to show the methods he or she would use to teach a social studies lesson in one of our evening class’s sessions. I can’t recall now at all what methods others used when they gave their demonstration lessons in the evening ed class. But I do remember that for my demonstration lesson I got the instructor to arrange to have a projector in the room for the evening class, so that I could screen a Newsreel film on the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention antiwar street protests for the class, as a prelude to a post-screening discussion.

Compared to the demonstration lessons the others in the evening class had done, my demonstration lesson seemed much more interesting to the instructor and to most of the conventional teachers who were taking this course--mainly because in 1970 the footage of the 1968 Vietnam antiwar protests that were included in Newsreel’s films had not yet been aired on the U.S. television screens. And the Newsreel film created the impression that more young people in their early 20s were really ready to make a Revolution in the 1970s than the U.S. mainstream television news programs seemed to have indicated to the older students in this evening class and to the older class instructor.

Not surprisingly, because I had been the student in his evening class who had stimulated him intellectually most during the semester, the Jamaica High School social studies department head not only gave me an “A” for his course on teaching methods. He also invited me to contact him at Jamaica High School once I got my teachers license and wanted to start teaching social studies in a New York City public high school.

But although I also aced the other ed evening course I took in the fall of 1970, by the time it came to register for the Spring Semester, I once again realized that being a high school teacher in the public schools while the Viet Nam War was still raging was, given my revolutionary anti-imperialist politics, not what I felt morally comfortable doing in the early 1970s, especially while other anti-imperialist activists from the 1960s had been forced to live underground lives as a result of the COINTELPRO repression.

Another reason I lost interest in continuing on the middle-class high school teacher preparation career track by 1971 was that when I visited the Newsreel office on 28th Street and Seventh Avenue again, to pick up the films I screened in my Lehman College evening ed course, it reminded me why I had previously rejected the teaching career option in favor of the Movement writer-activist-musician lifestyle choice.