Way back last century, a number of my students would wryly laugh and tell me that I ruined TV and the movies for them.
They still watched but also they saw a lot more than before they took our classes. In addition to instructing on the normal subject matter, I would stress seeing not just what was shown, but also questioning what was not shown, why and how. Previously they had never peeped that what they were staring at assumed they were ordinary, even often presupposing that they were idiots or morons, when actually they had been under-educated and/or mis-educated.
Some of our students went to one of the best high schools in New Orleans, others of them went to what was often considered the bottom of the barrel. We taught “A” levels in the afternoon post lunch time after a stint at the alleged “C” and “D” level students in the morning. The students had real differences in their education as a result of their sociological backgrounds but they all came from Big Easy (i.e. New Orleans) and sometimes also lived in the same neighborhoods. We at Students at the Center (SAC) even had students who transferred from a lesser ranked school to the better ranked school. Same students, different institutions.
Pupils learned that the real difference between them was not who they were or just the schools they attended, the real difference was in how they had been instructed. Once we lovingly ripped away the standard indoctrinations and introduced them to education for liberation, to Pablo Freire and a Russian named Vygotsky, to Amicar Cabral and Howard Zinn, but most of all to valuing their own lives, their own experiences growing up, assessing both the positives and negatives of how and where they were reared, as well as who whey were. Well, as the old folks so often said, once you see the light you will never be satisfied fumbling around in the dark.
The way we as SAC taught immediately made clear that this was a truly different pedagogy. We sat in a circle. Everyone took turns talking–yes, both teachers and students. No one was allowed to be silent or just spew rote responses, nor to have one or two voices dominating the conversations/lessons. Each person was challenged to be truthful and revelatory regardless of their academic rankings.
Like Bob Marley sang: if you are strong, help the weak. In this way we improved together, socially secure in the knowledge that in one area or another, we all need a helping hand. In this way, in later years, former students found themselves making accomplishments they had previously thought was beyond their own abilities.
Sure, in the beginning it was uncomfortable. Feelings of shame and inadequacy had to be confronted and overcome. One student said to me “how do you know I’m not lying, just making stuff up”? My response was simple. “I don’t, but if you keep talking we all will. We value everyone’s voice. Which is why we don’t allow you to just dummy down and say nothing or simply spout platitudes”–what’s a platitude?
Don’t tell me what you assume I want to hear or what you can get away with in other classes. Don’t simply regurgitate what a teacher said. We need to hear about who you are, your particular experiences. We care about you too much to allow you to lie or skate. This is the only class where you can earn an “A” just for telling the truth about who you are.
According to the school system, SAC classes were “advanced placement” and creative writing. In each class session, we generally had two teachers, SAC founding instructor Jim Randels and myself. We knew the whole school couldn’t afford to operate how SAC did, but we also knew that one little hummingbird could flap its wings and generate the force of a hurricane if the conditions were right. The SAC goal was to create life changing conditions and self-conscious experiences for our students through reading, writing and sharing.
That’s the background that enabled me to appreciate conversations I might have otherwise overlooked. So, on August 20, 2021 when I saw a sit-down session between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, two leading basketball players, who were briefly on the same team together, I was surprised by the serious level of candor exhibited by the former friends and subsequent adversaries.
Green was a hothead but also a defensive wizard. Durant was a seven-foot, offensive force of nature sometimes called the “Slim Reaper”. While both being Golden State Warriors, they had a publically televised confrontation. Durant eventually left and joined another team. A lot of blame was heaped on Green. But then they became teammates on the Olympic squad, won goal medals together, and even sat down for a tete-a-tete that went far further than the usual sports chatter.
It is not everyday that one can see two sports legends amicably discussing both their agreements and disagreements. Check it out.