Cliches survive because they are usually authentic. For example, in the current case of the New Trier HS student seminar day, two cliches rush to this mind: “He who fights the future has a dangerous enemy” and “The more things change the more they are the same.”
Exactly 50 years ago, the same public furor played out at New Trier. Parents troubled by new ideas in their children’s’ social studies curriculum raised public doubts about “what you are doing to our children!” In 1967-8 their white upper-middle class world was being shaken by street violence and assassinations. Our curriculum committee’s proposals ran smack dab into the bloody middle of their concern.
We were proposing social studies emerge from the dusty traditions of names-dates-stats, and become relevant with the changing times. The operative word then was as it is today: Change. Parents who have legitimately earned a place of comfort in their community and for their children, sure as hell aren’t the first in line to ask for changes. To them the Status Quo becomes enshrined as Stability… Stability becomes what must be defended….Change in such a fine stable world must be seen as indoctrination.
In the summers of 1967-68 our curriculum committee was applauded by some, but decried by others. Not simply as ill-conceived, but as “part of the rabble protesting out in the streets of Chicago.” In lieu of a student seminar day, we offered the classrooms something very new back then ~ a $50,000 grant from the USOE to bring videocassettes and players into the social studies classroom where we could bring-the-changing-world-to-the-students who were not yet cognitively in that world.
We videotaped encounters with the likes of Mike Royko, Irv Kupcinet, Gene Siskel, Margaret Mead, Charles Silberman, Bob Newhart, Reverend Andrew Greeley, Gene McCarthy, Bruno Bettleheim, Bob Dylan, and many others. It was our way of capturing the dynamics of change in the world of the 1960s, and allowing New Trier students to meet it right in their own classrooms.
The result…? Well, they didn’t call it “indoctrination” back then, but many did call it “intellectually dangerous.” Turns out their kids survived our efforts. Just like they will now. Confronting a changing world is not un-American; it is in fact the very definition of America
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