Revolution #175, September 6, 2009

"Teaching" the Special Youth Issue of Revolution Newspaper

Ideas for Spreading the Special Youth Issue Among High School and Middle School Students

Some of us got together to brainstorm and plan for the high school/ middle school issue of Revolution that will publish on Monday 9/7. There were several young and a couple older teachers; and some revolutionary communists. Everyone has seen the Revolution DVD or sections of it or read Bob Avakian's memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist

We began by listening to the 20-minute audio recording of the short version of the Message and Call from the RCP, "The Revolution We Need... and The Leadership We Have." People also looked through #170, the special issue that published the full Message and Call with the incredible pictures. I gave a basic picture of what the party is aiming to accomplish over the next several months with this Message and Call as the focus and pivot.

A middle school teacher gave a sense that even among this young age group there are kids who have aspirations for something different, but what they conceive of as possible is very limited and constrained. One teacher described an 11-year old girl who was always arguing against the wars, for the environment, for people to protest -- she was passionate and dynamic -- and then after the election of Obama it was almost like her personality changed. The teachers said their students in the last several years were all very anti-Bush, very upset about the wars in particular, and then when Obama won, it was like the lights went out and the kids overall cannot conceive that there are still things to be concerned about.

It was difficult for these teachers to imagine the effect of and potential for a revolutionary current to take hold and set different terms among the youth and in society overall. One of them said young people have no idea what a system is and it will take more work to explain this in a basic and simple way. She talked about how she had learned how a small minority owns everything, employs millions of people and takes what they work to produce and pays them just enough to survive. She contrasted this with the taken-for-granted idea that the way things are is because of human nature. She said it doesn't occur to most young people to even think about why things are the way they are.

One of the teachers felt that the paragraphs in the Message and Call about the youth are very, very powerful but would be difficult for the youth themselves to understand. She thought that for this to connect, there need to be forms for middle school kids to discuss it and keep coming back to discuss it some more, including with each other. The teachers said it will be hard for the young kids to do things like come to meetings but that they live on-line and that's where this will need to go on. All their kids are on face-book but even face-book now is becoming "old school" and twitter is more the thing. And they suggested finding the ways for kids to blog about this.

When we talked changing the atmosphere and breaking the bounds of what the youth are allowed to think and dream about, one of the teachers imagined things like kids starting to  protest homework and protesting teachers as the absolute authority. But how game-changing could it be for a section of young people to take up the challenge to get out of what they are into and into the revolutionary movement and into the science involved in understanding what is real and true, which is not what schools are for. One teacher recalled a deep discussion her students fell into one day about racism, with the white kids being challenged, and the kids really listening to each other, about their ignorance and preconceptions. She threw out her lesson plan and closed the classroom door. She expressed a deep desire for the youth to have the "space" to talk about basic reality that isn't supposed to be talked about -- racism, oppression of women.

The situation of young girls came up again and again through the whole evening. The teachers are extremely concerned about the destructive effects on their girl students of both traditional morality and also the other side of this, the oppressive over-sexualization.  They said that oppression of women and girls is not even conceived of, young girls and young women think there are just men who treat you badly and men who don't treat you badly. One of the teachers was shocked by an old interview she saw recently of John Lennon talking about "the woman question" -- she had never heard anyone but revolutionary communists use that terminology. She was amazed to hear Lennon describe how his thinking changed because Yoko fought with him to get conscious around the oppression of women. It brought more alive what it was like for "the woman question" to be an essential part of challenging and taking on all oppression in society.

We also kicked around the "Twilight" phenomenon more informally. These teachers said many middle school teachers and all the middle school girls they know have read these books including them. These books have now surpassed the Harry Potter series in popularity. I asked whether the teachers read them because the kids read them -- and that's part of it -- but there is an attraction. Both women middle-school teachers in this discussion were really into the Twilight books before they learned about the fundamentalist (Mormon) orientation of the author. They didn't recognize this from the content of the books -- until the fourth book, which was extremely disturbing. In this book the main character gets pregnant and the baby is a vampire and eats her body and is killing her from the inside, but she refuses to abort because she loves her baby so much. This promotes a horrifying morality that women are worth nothing except as breeders. One person asked if they didn't see an infusion of patriarchal traditional values from the beginning, in the centrality of "romance" and finding/deciding on the right male partner as giving meaning to the life of the main young woman character. But they didn't see this -- they thought the main character was appealing because she didn't fit in, she dressed differently and was an outsider in other ways. The fundamentalist orientation and motivation of the author didn't stand out to them until the main character has this horrifying pregnancy.

There were a lot of ideas for spreading both the RCP's "Message and Call" and the special youth issue of Revolution newspaper. Some of the most important were:

--The teachers want to write a letter to other teachers that discusses why share this special youth issue of Revolution with your students and will contain their suggestion for a basic "user guide" for teachers. They will spread this on-line on teachers lists and union lists they are on. One teacher said that a big thing to tap into is broad concern among teachers about the more and more narrow media that students are getting exposed to, that they are only hearing the "official" stories. 

--They are going to spread the notice about the on-line launch of the film, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, on these lists. They were excited about it: "This is huge!"

--They suggested that a hard-copy mailing of the special youth issue of Revolution to social studies teachers / departments would get a reading and probably generate subscriptions. One social studies teacher said that they often get -- and open -- mail addressed to "Social Studies Teacher @ xxx school."

-- Two of the teachers will plan a fundraising gathering for the special youth issue, probably a couple weeks after school has started. We thought one of the young revolutionaries who has contributed to the special youth issue, and maybe other youth, would go talk about the special issue.

Other ideas and suggestions, some of which came from them and others were developed by the group:

-- Revolution Books could have two "teacher appreciation" days -- one before school starts, on a weekday, and a back to school evening or weekend open house. All the Staples and Barnes & Nobles etc. do this -- they offer discounts and "goodie packets" and tons of teachers go. This would involve some kind of promotion/coupon for teachers on that day, a special display for the teachers of materials that should be classroom resources, and someone there all day who can meet and greet and talk with them. There should be a special promotion to teachers who bring or send their whole classes to Revolution Books. They want to publicize this kind of promotion on the teachers lists and are very confident that teachers will be interested in Revolution Books and will come.

-- The newspaper should promote a classroom subscription price (teacher subscriptions and/or discount for subscriptions for a whole class).

--Take the special youth issue to rec centers in the projects after school -- this is where lots of kids go and there are organized programs with progressive and concerned youth workers.

--Make efforts to get the special youth issue posted on librarian lists. Librarians want kids to get exposed to lots of ideas, and local libraries are packed with kids every day after school.

--Go to the smaller magnet/alternative high schools. There is more room for the teachers to use material of their own choosing.

--Go to key schools on teacher prep days to talk with teachers about spreading and using the special issue among their students.

--They suggested some kind of debate or exchange about Twilight at Revolution Books.

This was exhilarating and we are all looking forward to the challenges of connecting this special youth issue of Revolution newspaper with teachers and students.

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From Ike to Mao and Beyond