Tuesday, May 17, 2022

This Is Not A Bomb Track

When I first started teaching, the Global History Regents would test students about Japan's economy.

But then Japan lost a whole decade of economic progress --and they stopped testing students about it. 

Shortly thereafter, they started testing students about Aung San Suu Kyi; the politician-turned-activist-turned-politician from Myanmar who stood up to the military dictatorship there and bravely negotiated a democratic government with them.

But then Aung San Suu Kyi supported the military as they committed genocide against the Rohingya minority (one which included 43,000 deaths and at at least 700,000 displaced persons) --and they stopped testing students about her. 

The Global History Regents has been testing students about Globalization for some time now. Globalization is obvious to you and I. It produces the products we buy. It provides the services we use. It keeps prices cheap and it allows up to go on relatively inexpensive vacations. 

Like many things, Globalization follows its ebbs and flows. We go through long periods of history where the world becomes more economically interdependent. Right now, we are going through a period where that dependency has shrunk, at least a bit. The many pauses in manufacturing in China (here) and the the international container ship backup (here) as well as the war in Ukraine (here) and the ongoing effects of COVID (this is but one example) have revealed, for corporations, a major weakness of interdependence during these new times: You just can't make a profit if you have nothing to sell because it's stuck on a boat. You can't get rich if the factories in China aren't open. And you can't make shareholders happy in the middle of a wide-spread international wheat shortage (which has the potential to effect many countries (many of which produce our 'stuff'!)). The data in the chart, showing that Globalization is in a bit of a 'retreat' only validates what makes perfect sense to everyone who pays attention; we are too interconnected given the present challenges we face. It only makes sense that the corporations and governments untwine, a bit, and become less interdependent; at least a little. 

And that sense is backed up by some blaring evidence. The signs that we are becoming less interdependent are everywhere. Wolfspeed, a semi-conductor producer, recently announced a new manufacturing plant to be opened here in New York (here). Intel is opening a manufacturing facility back here in the US as well (here).  These decisions are not confined to just one industry. Ford has announced it is moving some of its car production back the US from Mexico. Tesla is actually hiring at the factory that produces Model Y cars in Texas (here). We are beginning a transition. Some work is coming home. 

Will they stop testing students on the basics of Globalization, now that the fundamental structures of it are changing? 

All of the above information about the Ford and Tesla and Intel and Wolfspeed is knowledge that, if taught, might lead an inquisitive student to go look the possibility of getting hired. If the Global Regents were to test it, administrators all across the city would freak out and teachers in every classroom from Red Hook to Arthur Avenue and in between would teach it. But, like testing students on Aung San Suu Kyi or on Japan's economy, I expect the Global history regents to eventually just stop testing students about Globalization altogether. That's what they tend to do when the topics become a little too sticky. Besides, teaching any information that could lead to a job opportunity isn't exactly what the Global History people in NYS do. It's outside of their professional scope and, therefore, outside of my professional scope. 


One time, the Global History Regents asked students to consider the impacts of the road upon which Globalization travels; free trade. Specifically, they tested students on the point of view of one group that has been affected by Globalization; women union activists from a manufacturing plant in northern Mexico.

Chew on this doenut for a second, okay? Fifteen year old students in New York had to read a part of a speech to determine what topic a woman union activist from another country was talking about when she gave as speech about how terrible working conditions were (she was talking about workers rights and health in northern Mexico under NAFTA). In order to, someday, graduate high school, my students first had to answer this question. They have not been asked to understand their perspective in their world of the greater NYC Metropolitan area.  

The standards (upon which all of my curriculum is built) do not require me to teach my fifteen year old students how Globalization may have affected them in a negative way. I am not required to teach them that the once easy-to-get factory jobs in New York (and around the US) went away a long time ago and that they have to engage in even more job training after they graduate (either in college or a career training program) if they don't want to live a life of first-world poverty. Exactly no one is required to teach them that, here in the US,  there really was a time when a seventeen year old could land one of those jobs and have enough money to pay the rent and enjoy their youth without living in their parents' house.  I don't think I am suppose to tell them that it is technically easier for a poor high school student in China to break into the middle class than it is for a poor high school student in the US to break into the middle class, either. 

That's a very narrow statement, of course. My students have tons more opportunities in front of them, if they are able to make it in our first-world success game. But, in order to consider 17 year olds' perspective,  I think it is a statement that's worth making. (It's true, by the way. China produces more cars than our entire nation consumes and almost all of them are small, EVs intended to be purchased with a factory level wage. The most popular is around $8,000 USD. This is because tons more people can afford them because they are now in the middle class. But that's just an aside).  

And, as I reflect, it occurs to me that I was never required to teach them the protests against Globalization in Seattle in the 1990s (here) and I was never tasked to attend a PD to understand exactly why blue-collar, non highly-educated service workers over in the UK were furious that Globalization wasn't working for them and absolutely wanted out of the EU just as soon as possible.  (Heck, I'm not even sure if I should be teaching them Brexit. Should I be teaching Brexit?). 

I want to be teaching my students how to open a bank account or do their taxes. But the law does not permit a legitimate fifteen year old high school student, who is engaged in legitimate study, to have a bank account. And the law does not require them, even in nominal form, to pay any taxes. They would like to know how to write a check. I would like to teach them that no one writes checks anymore but here's how to use debit card or bank card in an great way to pay your bills. I used to (decades ago) teach them how to do stay within a household budget. But then they all stopped moving out, because the last of the jobs that had been there had finally gone. I'd like to teach them how to invest now (while they are still young and have time to grow a real portfolio); but they are not allowed. 

And I am not allowed, either. Before my students can do any of these things, they first must demonstrate to the world that they can be an educated citizen or resident by working and being over eighteen. They are told that, in order to have a job, they would be better off with a high school diploma. And, in order to obtain that, they must pass this test. (That's where I come in. I spend a whole year of their life teaching them about Japan's miraculous economy, about Aung San Suu Kyi, ('just incase she pops up on a regents again')  and about how Globalization is visible in NAFTA and the EU and the WTO and IMF and World Bank. I am required to teach them about NAFTA and the World Bank and about Aung San Suu Kyi, but I can't teach them how to open up a bank account or how to find a job at Tesla. I do this for salary, you see (for a good salary, by the way). So I do it.  And, if they pass this test, then they can do those and other things which we have not at all trained them for either. 

And I'm not sure how many of them will ever work with NAFTA or the World Bank or will ever become an international activist who will allow their military to crack down on a Muslim minority by killing 43,000 and displacing 700,000. I am not sure how many will open up a business or ever visit Japan. I suspect less than 1% will follow a career path that requires them to engage in these topics. And they won't be prepared to pay rent on a store front or open an Amazon FBA account, or how to apply for a business loan or to go to have a general understanding of the amazing background of the peoples who are living right there in their neighborhood or on their block. I'm on a train that, somewhere along the line, went right off the rails. But, dammit, those kids are going to learn about Aung and Japan and NAFTA and the EU and the WTO and IMF and the World Bank. 

This, of course, isn't new. 1992 was thirty years ago. And that's when Rage dropped these lyrics; 'The teacher stands in front of the class, But the lesson plan he can't recall, The student's eyes don't perceive the lies, Bouncing off every fucking wall, His composure is well kept, I guess he fears playing the fool, The complacent students sit and listen to some of that, [Bull__] that he learned in school, What about that, the system?'  

I love that group, by the way! I came into teaching to rage against the same machine! I think the Global History Regents people did, too although I cannot often tell. But we do now all just shut up, pay our mortgages and buy nice things with the salaries we earn and then go home. 

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