Coca Cola and my classroom...

Happy snow day to all and to all a good night!

Here in not-so-sunny Kansas City, we are getting ready to experience a few days without much movement. It has been snowing for around 5 hours and is supposed to snow for another 16 hours according to the Weather Channel forecast. My wife and I have walked around the neighborhood to pick up a cup of coffee, buy a new shovel to replace the one that broke yesterday when we were trying to get the ice off the driveway before the snow hit, and shoveled the driveway once over. There's already another inch on the driveway! C'mon snow gods!

What is the best part about this particular snow day, you ask? Getting to watch an unhealthy number of Super Bowl commercials on Youtube, of course! There were several very good commercials, though nothing like "The Force" by Volkswagen commercial from a few years back. Nonetheless, some very good commercials. There was one particular commercial from Coca Cola that has received the national spotlight for both positive and negative reasons. My history class is getting ready to start a unit on nationalism, which is extreme pride for one's own country. We'll be talking about the reaction to this video in the coming weeks. You can watch it below:


First, the not so pretty. The reaction to this video from some was nationalism in its most pure form. #ispeakamerican has become a hashtag that is used by literate people - that's scary. 

To all my friends from other countries, please don't hate me and my country. I understand that is difficult at times...

I know that there are individuals in every country that are bigots. I teach a lot of students who have been victims racism by the age of 15. I tell them over and over that learning about others is what makes history so beautiful! Many of them, scarred by an incident of racism from an other don't believe me. We are all others to someone, somewhere in the world. If everyone treated the other a bit better, we might just live in a better place. So we talk about bigots and bigotry and how to try to either ignore them or defeat the idea when it's encountered. So that random person in America that tweeted above is one thing. But then we have this...

Todd Starnes has a show on a national "news" channel. He has some responsibility here for creating a better world. Go online yourself and search for the commercial and you will find all kinds of vile things all over the internet. There is space for legitimate disagreement and debate over the issues that are at the core of all of this nastiness and I think that it is OK to demand that a national news channel contributor should help push forward that legitimate dialogue rather than feed the masses. 

Lest before we fall into a pit of despair, close the curtains and eat ice cream until Spring, it's important to remember that a great many people in our country and around the world thought that the commercial was brilliant. I personally think that it's a beautiful reflection of the diversity that exists in America. The message that is taken by using the song, "America the Beautiful" is one of peace, acceptance and love. The song begins in English, but moves onto several other languages without ever changing from the familiarity of the melody. We see many different walks of life,  including a woman in a headscarf who is presumably Muslim and two men getting all touchy-feely with each other. I loved it all. In fact, it's not the first Coca Cola commercial that has dipped into the pool of awesomeness. Check this one out from a few years back:



On this particular snow day, I wonder what my role as a teacher is in this debate.* There are three big-picture goals that I have for my students that really don't have much to do with my curriculum. If I am a successful teacher, then I will use my curriculum to help my kids achieve these goals. In 20 years, most of my students will have forgotten the role that the Tennis Court Oath had in pushing the French Revolution forward, but they may just remember these goals and help create a better world to live in.

*If we can still call it a "debate". It feels more like a shouting match at this point. 

Goal 1: Develop intrinsic motivation
This goal is why I love projects and why I want to find more ways to use projects in my class. Tomorrow's post is about a project my kids are doing right now on the French Revolution. Projects give students the freedom to explore a particular aspect of a topic that they find to be interesting or that has gotten under their skin. We studied the writing of Mary Wollstonecraft this unit and talked about how she used mild insult to motivate other women at the time to throw off the traditional role of women in the house and demand more equal rights. Motivation at its very best comes from within. If I can develop that motivation within a student and see that motivation translate outside of my class, then that student has found success.

Goal 2: Develop trust in the belief that if you work hard, good things will happen
This part is vital in motivation theory. This goal is not just about the traditional way that we think about working hard, but also about critically thinking. Students have lightbulb moments at different times in the year and they are sparked by different events. Whatever the spark and whatever the moment, I have to do my best to have developed a class environment where that moment can linger and develop into more lasting motivation. Students have to see that when they actually think - like truly, deeply think - that they will be able to unlock something within themselves that they may not have known existed before. I try to ask deep, probing questions on all of my tests and I sneak them into assignments and short answer prompts often so that whenever a student has their lightbulb moment, they have a venue waiting for them to tell me about it.

Goal 3: Learn to appreciate the other
We all have roots. I love to explore my roots through culture, food, dance, music and many other venues. I love to give students opportunities to explore their own roots as well. Some of the most beautiful conversations that I have occur when a student lingers after the others have left and tells me a story about where they have come from and what they have experienced. As you can imagine, there have been many stories of pain and suffering. Yet there have also been many stories of beauty and love - of a student who is finally starting to find themselves. We adults forget the feelings of middle school and high school. We forget that problems that seem so trivial to us today felt like the sky falling apart above us when we were at that age.

Learning about the other helps develop empathy in our hearts and in our minds. Whatever my experiences, I am reminded nearly every day that they are both unique and universal all at once. At one point in my life, I was embarrassed by the fact that I was a member of a traditional Greek dance troupe. I am now proud to show pictures of myself in my "Greek man-skirt" - it's called a foustanella, by the way! I am saddened by the vile reaction to the Coca Cola commercial while at the same time strengthened by the great things that occur every day at my school between members of different races and ethnicities. The other cultures that I see every day and study in my class show that we are all the same at our deepest roots. I love the moment when I show a mosque or a Muslim person on my board for the first time and hear a comment about "that terrorist" because that comment is where learning about the other begins. It is messy, difficult, frustrating - and the most important lesson I can teach all year long.

We are not born to hate. We learn to hate. But we can learn to love just as we can learn to hate. So here's to love for all, no matter your color, language, sexuality, wealth or any other means by which we are too often separated.


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