Teaching Freedom Is As Complicated As Freedom Itself

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By: Ali Kaufman, Founder & CEO at Space of Mind Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

July is my favorite month. It’s when we celebrate freedom, usually with a vacation. As an educator in our tumultuous political climate, I am really looking forward to my time off this month, as I really just need a vacation from teaching freedom. These past two academic years have exhausted me.

During the 2015-16 academic year at Space of Mind, a modern schoolhouse offering a project-based learning platform, we themed our Humanities curriculum around American History and Literature and planned a year-long and schoolhouse-wide celebration of democracy that De Tocqueville would have crashed. Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s miraculous Hamilton: An American Musical, we had the ultimate textbook – and soundtrack. The election run-up year culminated in a “Magical History Tour” on an 8-day bus ride through America’s most historical cities from St. Augustine to Washington, DC and back. We celebrated America’s political and cultural prowess through museums, parks, historic districts and, of course, incredible soul food. Along the way and throughout the year, we debated the diversities and iniquities within our history and even our own school family. It was an epic year of learning through uniquely American experiences.

For 2016-17, as our country’s political structure transferred administrations, we expanded our perspectives on ourselves through the lens of World History. As the election and results crafted a new narrative in real-time, we studied the political systems designed by the Greeks and Romans. We read and discussed the Shakespearean perspectives on current hot-button themes like love and hate, revenge, corruption, free will, fate and transformation. We traveled to New York City and visited the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum to honor our country’s immigrant grit. We wept at the 9/11 Museum at Ground Zero for the humanity lost that fateful day. We saw Hamilton and Come From Away, two prolific musicals that weave our country’s triumphs and heartbreaks into inspiring, life-changing and storied productions. We visited the United Nations and reconfirmed our support to achieve the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Of course, we ate incredible ethnic food from the many world cultures we studied throughout the year.

These two years were not easy. As we survived the election and its aftermath, there were incidents where frustration and fears came out as fighting words. Students brought hate into the building, had shorter tempers and much less tolerance of differing opinions. So we taught poetry, created art and practiced communicating clearly, respectfully and factually to one another through interactive assignments and activities. Some students found their voices and rose up to state and stand proudly behind their beliefs. Others learned to control their voices while trying to be heard and confirmed. Our weekly current events activity was sometimes a political firestorm with students sometimes feeling on or under attack, and so we set new boundaries when discussing politics and governance. As an educational program certified to be a “No Place for Hate” program participant each year, we reached out to the Anti-Defamation League for some new skills and tools to help calm the communications between scared, angry and confused students. As curriculum writers, we made adjustments as needed to ensure we were supporting our students’ developing social and emotional concerns, as well as their academic and creative needs to contextualize the daily news. Together with parents, educators, students and community members, we reinforced our schoolhouse building to be a safe space to ask questions, express opinions and even change your mind.

Next year’s curriculum theme is “The Emerging World.” We will continue to imagine a world without hate, injustice, poverty, disease and dwindling resources. Our students will create their own economy, design a sustainable community, study cultural and personal resilience and practice accountability within their own schoolhouse society through their math, literature, social studies, science and elective courses. Additionally, they will develop life skills by working to rebuild and renew our ever-changing world through leadership, creativity and connectivity.

As my team and I take the summer to rest, rejuvenate and create next year’s curriculum, we know two things to be true: Education is dependent upon inspiration. So is democracy.