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Voices of the People January 4, 2009

Filed under: Education,Things to remember — Ms.M @ 6:34 pm

“Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels,” said Dr. Samuel Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our time, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment in the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities as shoes, clothing, and houses”

–Emma Goldman

I got a gift several years ago from a friend; it was a book called Voices of a People’s History of The United States. I don’t know why in particular she had decided on this book, but there it has stayed in my eclectic collection. I can’t say that I’ve ever read it front to back, and for quite awhile it remained barely opened, but from time to time as I’ve perused my bookcases, I’ve spotted it and flipped through it, and read a few of the speeches. It always catches me off-guard, the relevance of so many of these historical words. I think in this election year, we’ve remembered the power of words, and the eloquence of a well written and movingly spoken speech. It seemed an art that was all but fading. I’m grateful for its return.

The reason I bring up this book has to do with two things in particular. One, I’ve found it to be particularly moving to myself, and find it to be a very relevant resource. There has always been, and though I wish otherwise, there may always be, voices that go unheard and unwritten in the collective narrative. I think the history of public education is unfortunately tied to this censorship, this denial, this “there’s only so much we can cover” glossing over of who we are and where we’ve been. I think that if we want education to be truly democratic, to embody what democracy only hopes to stand for, than students should know that these “alternative” narratives exist. Then they can say with certainty what they agree or disagree with, what they stand or do not stand for or against. Only then.

Two, that was a long intro to my recent find; a video reading of many of the book’s speeches. Here’s a speech on patriotism by Emma Goldman (Sandra Oh reading Emma Goldman). Agree or disagree, it is a powerful speech with powerful ideas. It is a relevant topic given what seems a never-ending war; It is a perspective on patriotism that has been all but lacking, and would still be quickly challenged even today, here in the U.S. I can’t imagine a classroom anywhere in which a topic such as patriotism would be called into question…but if there were, this is one of the many voices I would incorporate into the mix.


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