Thursday, September 11, 2008


We’ve talked a lot at my school about how we’d like to do more interdisciplinary teaching. How that helps make everything more meaningful, relevant and engaging for our students, and is more likely to result in deep learning that lasts beyond the end-of-unit test. But we’ve also talked about the obstacles, which include our schedule, our various curricula, and the fact that many of the interdisciplinary topics that most lend themselves to this approach can be controversial topics.

This series of posts has been an attempt to draw in the reader – whether that reader is an educator, other interested adult, or a student at my school – to think about just one topic that lends itself to this approach. I’m not a history or a language arts teacher, so I’m sure these posts could’ve been written much better, with more appropriate quotes or alternative sources or more meaningful connections. But that’s sort of the point. If a former math teacher can put something together that at least made you read this far, imagine what some teachers with some knowledge and talent could do.

Have you read Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother yet? You should. (Cory’s day job is contributing to this little blog.) Buy it. Or download it for free. Then get it on your district’s approved literature list, and add it to your unit where you teach 1984 and/or Fahrenheit 451 and/or whatever else you teach in that unit. Have your students also read this. And this. And this. And a bunch of other things I don’t have time to link to at the moment.

Team-teach this in Social Studies and Language Arts - figure out a way to do it. Have students read folks who support and disapprove of current policy (learn more). Have them research both Presidential candidates’ positions (or, if it’s after the election, have them research the winner’s position). Have them find other writers/reporters/bloggers/candidates that have something to say about this. Have them look into the technology of it all. Have them learn about propaganda and persuasion, politics and history, reading and writing, critical thinking and technology. Have them learn enough to take an informed position, then make them argue the other side. Then challenge them to get involved, to try to influence policy. Have them share their knowledge and efforts with others. Have them participate.

Then do it all again with another topic. Immigration. Stem-cell research. Global climate change. Poverty. Real issues that are meaningful, complicated and messy and don't have easy, pre-determined "right answers." Problems that our students actually care about trying to solve and that we actually hope someone will solve. You’re only limited by your imagination.

Nothing less than the future of our democracy depends on a well-informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizenry. Too melodramatic? Perhaps, but I don't care - deal with it. I have an eight-year old daughter and this is what I want for her from her teachers. What do you want for your kid?

Links/sources for quotes in previous posts:

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Benjamin Franklin

Fahrenheit 451
Bruce Schneier

Little Brother
United States Constitution
The Federalist Papers #84
United States Declaration of Independence

Little Brother
The Federalist Papers #51
United States Constitution, Bill of Rights

Little Brother eBook Introduction
Preserving Life and Liberty (a Department of Justice website)
Daniel Solove (summarizing - and then refuting - the “Nothing to Hide” argument)
ACLU Watch List Counter


  1. At our school, while the students are studying evolution and genetics in Biology, they are reading "Inherit the Wind" in their Lit classes (about the Scopes Trial). We don't do it, but it would be a great time for the math classes to study probability.

    We then have a forum where we bring in speakers to debate evolution vs. intelligent design.

  2. You certainly got me reading. Ironically, though, as is a characteristic of propaganda, there was no opportunity to engage in discussion (which I found frustrating and somewhat counterintuitive).

  3. @jackie - we've touched on doing the same thing. Last year one class that read Inherit the Wind invited two biology teachers to come in and talk about evolution and creationism/intelligent design. I'd like to take it further like you have and include math and social studies teachers and also bring in outside speakers.

  4. @Lary - I turned off comments temporarily for several reasons.

    First, I was chaperoning 41 third graders on a camping trip on Monday and Tuesday so wasn't around to ride herd on what could've potentially been rancorous comments (given the subject matter).

    Second, I didn't want people commenting and possibly "spoiling it" by pointing out where the quotes were coming from for folks that didn't recognize where the quotes were coming from (particulary any students reading it - I wanted them to puzzle over it).

    Third, by turning off comments I felt like it would help build the anticipation for what was coming (kind of experimenting with the "format" if you will of using mystery on a blog to create engagement).

    Finally, I was hoping that if this did generate debate it could then be focused in the comments of this post, as oppposed to spread out over 8 posts (although I did turn comments back on on all the posts).

    So, don't know if it worked, but I thought it was worth trying.

  5. I was certainly engaged by the mystery of it all, along with the interesting coincidence that you were not in your office the last few days. The inability to comment certainly helped fuel that. (I would have spoiled the quotes, too.) You are a natural at web intrigue, Mr Fisch. I hope you will try it again some time.

    I have read Little Brother, and I passionately second your recommendation. It is an obvious literary counterpart to 1984, but it's only made more poignant by its immediacy and uncanny reflection of reality.

    If it isn't on our district's approved list, I would certainly participate in an effort to get it on.

  6. I feel the same, I agree with your findings a good way to grow is to participate and do not stay out of politics but rather is saying the truth.
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