Alexander the “Who?”

By: Maria Wahlstrom (Instructional Coordinator)

So far, students have studied history, culture, current issues, and perspectives from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Now they are starting to analyze European history, perspectives, cultures, and various current events within. Our Europe Unit started with studying government structures during the time of the Etruscans and Ancient Greece. This should be interesting….I thought to myself. I wonder what our kids will think?

But I didn’t have to wonder for long. Some kids were definitely not shy to voice their thoughts, and they certainly were fearless to question anything they heard. They had their own mind and voice, and they were well aware of it. While students engaged in discussions about Greek democracy, one 7 year old kid raised her hand to respond: “Yeah, it’s kinda true that d..d..de..democracy is probably better than having only one ruler make a decision, but it still isn’t fair!” Mr Macias looked at the little girl sitting criss cross apple sauce on the bright blue carpet and asked, “Hm, Why not?” She sat up, and did not hesitate to continue. “Well…because the story you just read to us said that rich men voted in Greece. So women, poor men, and kids don’t vote, and I don’t think that’s really fair!” “So it was kind of a democracy, rather than completely real?” Mr Macias replied. “Yeah. I guess.” “So what would you have done differently if you were a ruler in Greece to make it more fair?” “I think I would make sure that everyone could make decisions together cuz’ everyone has something to say.” She was thinking.

Later that week, students learned about the expansions of  Greece and Rome, and it was clear that most students, school-wide, were not too fond of “conquering.” We started with Alexander the Great: Who was he? What did he do? Why do most traditional history books talk a lot about him? After discussing his “achievements” and means of achievements, a student responded with an immediate hand raise, suggesting interjection. “I don’t think I’m gonna call him ‘Alexander the Great,’ I gonna call him ‘Alexander the RUDE!'” (age 5). Not only was this little girl analyzing historical stories, but she was now analyzing wording.

The implications behind these examples became more clear to me: our kids were really thinking and feeling comfortable in speaking up. Whether an event happened thousands of years ago or happens today, our students have shown their critiques towards anything that counters ideas of true equality.  I believe critical thinking precedes advocating for a better world, and educators play a part in  encouraging students to explore their thoughts and questions in relation to what they learn. We (as educators) can increase the possibility for change by allowing critical thinking and questioning to take a seat with our students on the carpet and calling on both of them to speak up.

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One thought on “Alexander the “Who?”

  1. Wonderful post, Maria. It’s good to see critical questioning taking place in the classroom. I realize that the class you recount was on Greece and Rome, but it also seems appropriate, based on the level of student questioning, to juxtapose unethical behavior in the current governing and economical system of the United States, a country that is rapidly moving toward a Caucasian minority yet mounting structural changes to ensure that a majority of color will not have proportional political and economic representation. Many of the current educational reform agendas aid and abet these undemocratic structural changes, structural changes that directly affect all students from lower socio-economic levels of society.

    I applaud schools and educators that have social justice as their goal, but I usually find that they rarely ask the really dangerous probing questions that must be asked for real social justice to take place. Any society that wants to maintain its hegemonic order (which is always the main goal of any establishment class) will deliberately impede its poorest members from asking the dangerous questions.

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