Saturday, December 7, 2019

Ted Gold's Summer 1968 `Education and Teaching' Paper Revisited

1967-68 Columbia SDS Vice-Chair Ted Gold
In late April 1968, anti-racist and anti-war students of Barnard College and Columbia University non-violently occupied Hamilton Hall, Low Library, Avery Hall, Fayerweather Hall and Mathematics Hall on the Upper West Side campus of Columbia University for nearly a week, in support of six demands.

Yet instead of peacefully agreeing to implement the demands of the over 700 students participating in this late April 1968 non-violent campus protest, the politically "liberal' Columbia University administration requested that the then-politically "liberal" mayor of New York City, John Lindsay, order his New York City Police Department [NYPD] to invade Columbia's campus; and to remove and arrest on "criminal trespassing" charges all the protesting anti-racist and anti-war Barnard and Columbia students who refused to end their non-violent occupation of Columbia's campus buildings.

As a result, in the early morning hours of April 30, 1968 around 1,000 helmeted NYPD cops invaded Columbia's Upper West Side campus and brutalized many Columbia or Barnard students of all political persuasions, clubbed some Columbia faculty members and arrested over 700 anti-racist and anti-war Barnard and Columbia students. And then, after the Columbia-Barnard chapter of Students for a Democratic Society [SDS] initiated a second non-violent student occupation of Hamilton Hall, to demand that 1967-68 Columbia SDS Vice-Chair Ted Gold and five other anti-racist and anti-war Columbia students not be suspended, the politically "liberal" Columbia University administration again requested that NYPD cops come onto its Upper West Side campus, in the early morning of May 22, 1968.

And, not surprisingly, for a second time many Columbia or Barnard students of all political persuasions were either brutalized or arrested when the NYPD cops again invaded Columbia's campus.

Following his suspension by the Columbia administration in late May 1968, however, 1967-68 Columbia SDS Vice-Chair Ted Gold wrote a position paper in the Summer of 1968, titled "The Columbia Liberation School Class on Public Education and Teaching," which contained the following text:

"The largest class at the Columbia Liberation School this summer has been the Public Education and Teaching course. The class has been meeting for about 10 weeks. At the beginning we knew next to nothing about teacher organizing; now perhaps we know a little. Despite the admittedly low level of development of our strategic insights and ideas, which only reflects the fact that the radical teachers movement is still feeling its birth pangs, it might be useful to briefly go over the major points we have developed in the course.

"One thing we have to remember, however, is that at this time practically anything we say is likely to be quite abstract, because we don't even know yet what a radical teacher is. We don't know what the best demands in a radical educational struggle will be. Teachers who consider themselves radical cannot confine themselves to supporting the demands and struggles that already exist. We must become part of the process of initiating the struggles and formulating the demands that will define our Movement, a Movement that only barely exists at this time.

"The Liberation School class has explored three major areas related to teacher organizing. First we went into the role of the teacher in the classroom. We reached a general consensus that it is extremely inadequate and superficial to confine ourselves to criticisms of the content of the curriculum--the factual material that is and is not taught--in the New York City public schools. The feeling among most of the class was that though it is very important that (for example) lies about American history are being taught--and that in most schools Black history is not being taught at all--what is much more important is the teachers' role, the teachers' stance in the classroom.

"The teacher functions as an authority figure, a dispenser and enforcer of rules to be followed for their own sake, a symbol of society's oppressive relation to the individual. If instead of saying `The United States is the land of freedom and opportunity' the teacher were to say `The United States is conducting a war of annihilation against the Vietnamese and maintains its own Blacks as colonial subjects,' it would make little difference if the atmosphere in the classroom remained the same. That atmosphere is defined by the stifling of creativity, by the teacher as master and the students as subjects, with the master dispensing truth to the subjects and exercising total control over the subjects, right down to the carrying out of their life functions (`May I take the pass?').

"In that atmosphere, it doesn't make a tremendous difference whether the truth the teacher shoves down the kids' throats is in fact true or not; in either case, the kids will (and do) react by keeping it outside themselves, becoming `discipline problems,' not wanting to listen because listening in such a situation becomes the antithesis of learning.

"The Liberation School class concluded that the content of education must be changed, but more importantly, the classroom must be turned into a place where the teachers and students, together as human beings, explore their interests, develop their potential, and initiate the process of learning. Once again, the abstract quality of this conclusion is not evidence that it is incorrect, but that it must be given more concrete form by the experience of all of us.

"Secondly, the Liberation School class went into the nature of education in America. One of the members gave a presentation on the class nature of education. The tracking system was seen as the tactic used by the Board of Education to earmark, from the beginning of their schooling, some students for college and well-paying jobs, others for jobs providing enough to live on, and still others for menial labor or unemployment. An important point in the discussion of the tracking system and the class nature of education was that the reason a large number of people have menial or no work is not that they have poor educations, but the reason they are given poor educations is that the society doesn't have `good' (well-paying, anyway) jobs to give them. With an economy that requires 4 percent unemployed and a much large number in seasonal and menial labor, it would be extremely disadvantageous for smooth-running oppression for these people to be trained to do more.

"Another important point relating to the nature of education in America that came out in the Liberation School class was that the `good' jobs are good only in the sense that they are well-paying. They are often as meaningless and alienating as lower-status employment, and the education received by individuals filling these jobs was seen by the class to be not education at all, but training. One difference between whites and Blacks in this society is not that whites are educated and Blacks are not, but that most whites receive training for some `respectable' station in life, and most Blacks and Puerto Ricans do not. Programs such as Head Start, Upward Bound, MES, Demonstration Districts, etc. were seen as efforts to buy off the revolt growing within Black and Puerto Rican communities against the education their children are (not) receiving.

"Thirdly, the class got into the question of teachers as a constituency, what issues they can be organized around, and how they can be united with the community struggles (and student struggles) already going on. The problem of overcoming the fragmentation between teachers and community was seen as crucial, because the tactic of dividing one oppressed group from another is the surest weapon for preventing either group from attacking their real enemy, their common enemy.

"The class felt, in the process of trying to build a united Movement in the public schools, it was extremely important not to put teachers in an auxiliary role vis a vis the community, a role that many of us played in SNCC, CORE, etc., before the Student Movement took on a life of its own.

"Teachers must be shown that they have common interests with the students and community, that what seems to be conflicting interests are not, but they must be organized around their own interests as well. For example, it is important to show teachers why community control will help the community achieve better education, but we will not be successful in winning teachers over to our side unless we show them how the struggle for community control will help make their jobs more human, how it will help them become better teachers, in short, how it is in their interest as well.

"That is where the Liberation School class is at now. We are trying to develop organizational forms that will help bring teachers and community together politically, and that will specifically help teachers to a better job in the classroom. Most of the ideas just described are hardly original, and many were held by some members of the class before it began. These ideas and others have been explored at the Liberation School class in some greater depth than it's been possible to go into here. But the important thing is that in getting together regularly we've become part of a process not only of discussing ideas, but of forming a collective of teachers who will be part of the struggle too for change in the public schools and society."  (this article was initially posted on the Upper West Side Patch website)