Tuesday, February 3, 2015

On the Teach-In, teaching #NAWD & some history

…a revisited and only moderately updated 2011 newsletter article that, given distribution and placement, I should have blogged here in the first place. So now, thanks to #NAWD and revived Teach-In interest, I'm getting to it. Defend Public Education emerged in 2009, grew, peaked in 2011 and then seemed to fade into Occupy ~ now in eclipse as well. The teach-in / walkout connection is clearer now. 

Not all walkouts are strikes, nor are all labor related. Social injustice, not labor, is the real connection. Students are among likeliest out-walkers. Google walkout and you get more students than unions. Considering workplace inequities, labor practices are a natural target. The last major U.S. walkout was by students in Wisconsin in 2011. 

By way of the sit-in (which also connects to occupy), there's a clear walkout/teach-in connection. I'm somewhat puzzled by the paucity of meaningful online material on both but chalk it up to Eli Pariser's filter bubble. We are not encouraged to remember these connections. Somewhat more history follows below. For the complete newsletter, see the link at the bottom of the post. A more extensive collection of resource links is being bundled and will appear later -- but still in time for teaching-in later this month.

March 2011 was a month of action, in part planned by Defend Public Education and other groups as a coordinated series of actions supporting public education continuing and expanding on those of October 7, 2010 and March 4, 2010. This round, Wisconsin upped the ante. March actions, spreading into April and beyond, moved from previously planned to reactions supporting a broader cause. The massive attack on collective bargaining, public services workers, and public services was not limited to public education. Proposed legislation called for cutting public services drastically and, as part of budgetary package, dismantling or severely restricting collective bargaining.

In March we watched the actions on TV, followed it live online, web streamed and tweeted, and participated when and where possible. Protest manifested in petitions, rallies, marches, demonstrations, and teach-ins, with one California campus holding a "ramen-in."

(Update Notes)
The best covered and recorded, at least in terms of what has lasted, yields results to searches, 2011 Teach-In would have to be the April 5, 2011, National Teach-In on Debt, Austerity, Corporate Greed and What Can Be Done. Like the Defend Public Education page (which would have made a splendid model for NAWD), the event website is gone. The FB Event page infested with spam and bad links. Teach-In coverage remains on The Guardian and elsewhere as well as on a full set of YouTube videos. And now here too.

(back to the original article)
Although teach-ins are not the exclusive province of adjuncts, GTAs and other faculty, educators are naturally drawn to forms that teach. More teach-ins than usual have occurred and are being planned. They won't get the TV coverage of other, more colorful protest forms. Unless juiced 60s style, a picture with an accompanying article in the local student paper is the most any teach-in can expect. Recent teach-ins usually address budget cuts affecting higher education, faculty pay and employment, and adjunct issues. An incomplete March Teach-In list, primarily but not exclusively focused on budget cut and higher ed funding, includes: Wisconsin; Ohio; New York (New Paltz); Massachusetts (Boston); California (multiple locations); Missouri (Kansas City); and Indiana (IUPUI).

So what do we know about Teach-ins other than that their purpose is to educate students (if held during class time) or general public about issues? Who is not familiar, if only by passing reference, with the Berkeley and Michigan 60s anti-war teach-ins 60s. What are some other examples? Who puts them on? Do we put on, hold, or host a teach in? Can we throw one? Are teach-ins just for educators? Where can they be held? What other issues do they address? Where did they come from? What if my adjunct group wants to hold one to educate colleagues, students, the public about adjunct issues? How do we do it? Are there guidelines or instructions for putting on a teach-in?

Teach-ins, somewhat comparable to a general educational forum on any complicated issue, usually address and explain more about a current issue. On the surface, this sounds like a seminar session, conference panel or workshop except teach-ins are more flexible and do not necessarily restrict discussion to a set time limits (unless held as part of a class) or defined topics. The intent is to be practical, participatory, and ultimately, action oriented. Although teach-ins often include guest experts, audience participation in the form of discussion, questions, proposals, even going off topic is welcome and even hoped for. Moderators and experts are sources of information and catalysts, not the main attraction. You might even call teach-ins early instances of "student centered" classes.

Looking up "Teach ins" to refresh my memory and pinpoint their origin confirmed personal memories of their mid-60s emergence and popularity as a campus war protest form. The first major teach-in, May 1965 at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus, drew 3,500 students, began with a discussion of the Vietnam war draft, and ended with the logistics of a takeover of the University. The largest, also anti-war and in May 1965, was held at UC Berkeley on a large outdoor playing field and lasted 36 hours. From 10-30,000 people turned out, depending on who was counting - let's split the difference at 20,000. The State Department, declining an invitation to send someone, was represented on stage by an empty chair, presumably not counted. This is an interesting but potentially unnerving and a cautionary tale for any administrator asked to permit a teach-in on campus. It is also not a complete picture.

Since then, teach-ins have been held on various topics, often moving indoors and in classrooms during regularly scheduled class sessions. Too many groups to list here use teach-ins as education and organizing tools. Some are organized by the same institutions they have been used against. Teach-ins are an integral part of the Amnesty International organizers' tool-kit. Both large and small scale ones are popular with environmental educators. Supplementing community teach-ins on the environment, a 2007 webcast, "2010 Imperative: A Global Emergency Teach-in," reached a quarter million people from 47 different countries. A Jesuit group, The Ignatian Solidarity Net, has been operating an ongoing teach-in project since 1989.

Closer to home, teach-ins have been an integral part of Campus Equity Week since its inception. Indirectly, they are part of our own organizational history. On New Faculty Majority Day 2009, organized by Bob Samuels, non-tenure track University of California faculty taught classes outside, held rallies, and wore red in observance of the first-ever New Faculty Majority Day, two years ago this coming April. In support of the occasion, Steve Street started the blog that we inherited.

Locating a more complete history of the teach-in and its precise point of emergence proves yet elusive. My best guess: the teach-in was a natural evolutionary by-product and branch of the 50s sit-in adapted by students active in the Civil Rights Movement. Those roots extend deeper, sharing kinship with the imperative of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance: "occupy space" but peacefully. Thoreau, Shelley, Sophocles, and Exodus (1: 15-19) are claimed as antecedents. Emphasizing the student protest and civil disobedience heritage might not be the best way to get permission to throw one on your own campus. 

Want to host a teach-in but not sure how? You're in luck: we offer two excellent resources to help you get started:

  • The page for IUPUI's AFC Teach-in the week of March 28, multiple classroom locations, http://www.iupui.edu/~adjuncts/  [another ed note: site no longer has links to their comprehensive teach-in packet and how-to guidelines]
Teach-on: Teach-in by Vanessa Vaile, NFM Newsletter #6, Friday April 11, 2011 

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