Transcription of the episode “Lev Moscow offers advice for secondary school teachers”

Jon M: 00:15 Hi, I’m Jon Moscow.

Amy H-L: 00:16 And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. Welcome to Ethical Schools, where we discuss strategies for creating inclusive, and equitable schools and youth programs that help students to develop both commitment and capacity to develop ethical institutions.

Jon M: 00:31 Our guest today is Lev Moscow. Lev teaches history and economics at the Beacon School, a public high school in New York City where he’s taught for 14 years. He is the host of A Correction podcast, an economics and politics focused podcast with over 6,000 listeners a month, originally designed to support high school economics teachers but now reaching a much larger audience. He Is also my son. Welcome Lev.

Lev M: 00:55 Thank you. I’m glad to be here. Happy to be here.

Amy H-L: 00:58 Lev, we want to talk to you today especially about advice that you would give new and relatively new teachers, especially in secondary schools, things they might want to be thinking about this time of year. You said that you think most schools don’t teach advisory well. What is advisory and what should a good advisory look like?

Lev M: 01:18 Yeah, you know, I’m not sure the numbers of, you know, how many schools are doing advisory. I know that advisory is a key component of most small high schools and certainly the Consortium schools in New York.

Jon M: 01:37 I’m sorry, what are the Consortium schools, Lev?

Lev M: 01:39 Yeah, so the Consortium, I think it’s about 30 high schools in the City that have the waiver from the New York State History Regents and they may have a waiver from for another Regents as well. There are a few Regents tests that Consortium schools still have to offer the kids. But basically instead of giving the kids tests, we give the kids what are called PBAs or performance-based assessments. So students have to write mostly it at Beacon. Kids are writing a substantial research paper each year and they then have to defend this paper or defend their thesis to two different adults. And it can be teachers at Beacon or they can actually be teachers from outside of Beacon or they can be members of the community. But in any case, the New York State Regents say that this is equivalent to having the kids take an exam. So at all the Consortium schools and I imagine probably hundreds of schools in New York and probably thousands of schools across the country do advisory as well.

And the idea is that students come in in ninth grade and they have a home room once or twice a week. At Beacon, it’s once a week now for an hour. And we stay with those kids for four years. And we are advisers, we are advocates, we are their teachers. So we do, we do health in advisory. It’s a place for kids to check in. But yeah, I think advisory could be, could be something really exciting when it’s done well. Most of the time, the teachers are just looking for an hour to do grading. I mean, we’re, we’re so overwhelmed that most teachers don’t, in my experience, don’t use advisory well, and the kids like it because they can hang out with their friends or catch up on homework.

But I think that that approach, you know, if, if the idea of today’s show is to talk to young teachers or new teachers, I think that approach is wrong. I think taking advisory seriously can make a huge difference in the kids’ lives. And I’ve now seen four groups of kids and I’ve gotten better at advisory each year. It reached each, each time around. And it can be, you know, we read books together, we go into the college process instead of trying to figure out, you know, how do we do a little bit of like, you know, how do you write a good college essay? But a lot of it is about talking about and reading about the point, the point of going to college, whether you need to go to a name brand school and whether you need to go to a private school and we can do college visits together. So there’s some really wonderful things you can do with the kids. And I think for my experience, the last two years, the advisory has been the best hour of the week for me and my sense is for many of the kids who are in the advisory. And a lot of that is just we’re reading, we’re reading books together and it may be the only time that teachers get a chance to do that with the kids, with their students.

Jon M: 04:44 So do you design your advisory the same way that you design a course that you sort of say, okay, this is where I want to go this semester or this year and these are the books or the kind of books I want to read or the kind of activities I want to be engaged in?

Lev M: 05:01 Yes. So a couple of years ago I found a book. I was taking over someone’s advisory and so I was, I was getting an 11th grader and this is at Beacon. This is when they start to prepare for the college process. And I read a wonderful book, I found it in a museum bookshop actually in Amsterdam, but it was, it was called The Age of Absurdity. And it was basically a philosophy book, but I’m reading in a way that I, I thought that teenagers would like. And so I took it back, to New York with me. And in the fall we started the book together. And a lot of what he’s talking about in the book is applicable to the college process. He’s an older guy, so he’s writing about career success and how even if you find career success, it’s not going to guarantee that you’ll find personal happiness and so so much of that was relevant for them. And these kids, I work at a school that’s, it’s an elite public school, whatever that means. But I mean it’s hard to get in, and so these kids kind of have experienced that where they worked very, very hard for the first eight years of their academic lives. And then they get into this school and it’s kinda like, you know, it’s like the name of that Strokes album in which is like “This is it.” And they expect something great to happen and they find that sort of life continues more or less the same. And that can be disappointing for kids. But once they get into a prestigious high school, now, you know, the next thing is to get into a prestigious college and giving them a well paying job. And so the book was, was great because he, he talks about sort of how to find real source of happiness, but he uses philosophy, both Eastern and Western philosophy to get at this answer. And then the next book we read was a book called Excellent Sheep, which was written by a former Yale professor, I think of literature. And he was talking about the sheep were the Yale students and and what college was like today and what neoliberal education looks like. And so that was, that was how I prepared the kids to start thinking about college. And I’m not sure, I’m not sure I would do it again, but we had a lot of fun reading those books. So, yeah, I, it’s a little bit different than I would normally approach a course. Maybe I’m experimenting a little bit more in advisory than I would in a course. So, yeah. But, and so maybe there’s a little more freedom, too, in advisory.

Jon M: 07:25 One of the things that has changed dramatically in the last couple of decades is the ubiquity of technology in students’ lives and in schools. What do you see as the best approaches for schools to technology? And by technology, I really mean all aspects of technology from you know, computers, cell phones and so forth.

Lev M: 07:47 My basic approach is that the bringing electronic technology into the classroom, I mean cause you know pencils are technology too, right? But bringing electronic technology into the classroom isn’t going to solve any problems that already exist in the classroom. In other words, if, if you’ve got, if the teacher is not prepared or not a very good teacher or doesn’t have control of the classroom or learning is not taking place, bringing computers in is not going to solve that. It’s not to say that computers can’t be very valuable if you have a well-designed course and if you’ve got a very specific task that you want to accomplish. I think, you know, more and more kids bring computers in to type notes. And we had a meeting today with couple of new history teachers in my department and the advice that a couple of us gave who had been there for middle school teaching for a while is that unless the kids have an IEP that says that they need to use the computers for note taking, I don’t allow it. Because what mostly happens is that the kids are, you know, and I understand the attraction, but they’re not able to, to not have three or four tabs open and, and search the web while, while classes is going on. 

I had this experience going to graduate school. I had to take some in 2004 some undergraduate-graduate classes that were mixed and I was in a class with mostly undergrads and there was this incredible professor. But you look around, you see everybody’s laptops open and everybody’s on ESPN or something else. So they’re not really listening to the lecture. I think that happens in our school as well. So I discourage computers in the class and, and i’m on the lookout for kids who are on their phones and you have to be really vigilant about that. Some teachers have the kids write notes on their phones even or look stuff up, but I think it’s too tempting and it’s too difficult for the kids not to get super distracted by them. So Neil Postman writes in a wonderful book called Technopoly where he talks about the uses of technology and the abuses, and one of the things he says is that technology is not additive. It creates an ecological change.  So you don’t have, for example, at home you decided to get a new television. You don’t have your home, your old home plus a TV. What you have is a completely new home, So the cell phone in the classroom is not the classroom plus a cell phone, it’s an entirely different classroom. And the technology is not neutral. One way to see technology is that, you know, you can use it as you like. I think that technologies all have biases.

Amy H-L: 10:48 Lev, if we could go back to advisory for a second, if you have the same class for four years, I would think that you develop some pretty significant relationships with the students and that they would develop relationships with one another. Could you address that a little bit?

Lev M: 11:10 If you do it right and I’ve done it wrong. You know, when I first started, my advisory wasn’t, I didn’t do a very good job, particularly with the younger students and I don’t [inaudible] with the ninth graders, and I’m going to take, I’m going to get a new group of ninth graders this year and I’m a little nervous about it. But yes, if it’s done well, you can develop very strong relationships with the kids and it’s wonderful. Many of my advisees eat lunch in my room and are writing me from college right now and they just arrived at the school and they were sending emails and they would develop close relationships with each other. But I think it takes, it takes a lot of thought and a lot of planning to do it well. So advisory really could be this incredible thing, but a lot of it requires us just doing professional development on our own and reading on our own and growing as people and teachers. But it’s incredibly difficult.

Jon M: 12:01 I want to go back to the technology question again. You said something really interesting, that the technology changes the ecology of the situation, whether it’s a home or a classroom or whatever. So I guess it’s almost a two part question, but they’re connected. So given that we’re definitely in a technology age, do you see, and also you said that you think that one of the key issues is getting students to read deeply. Do you see schools necessarily being on the defensive? Do you see yourself fighting almost a rear guard battle for the importance of print, whether it’s on a screen or on the pages of a book or a magazine or journal? And that’s sort of question number one. Question number two is do you see sort of a, if it’s a dialectic process of thesis, antithesis, synthesis, can you foresee some kind of a synthesis with technology that ends up in a more positive place rather than it only being an issue of kids, or adults for that matter, being distracted and being short, short attention spans and so forth.

Lev M: 13:16 So broadly speaking, I mean, I’ll address the second question first, broadly speaking, I’m pretty pessimistic about it and I think so I, I would say no, I can’t really, maybe the most, I don’t know if this totally answers the question, but where I see technology being useful, you and I do this a lot when when we’re at dinner, when we’re talking about something in the news and you don’t know the answer, you say, let’s look it up. And I think actually that can be really great. And so you’ve got this very powerful computer in your pocket, which you can find out the sort of factual answers very quickly, and I think that’s really positive. But as far as a positive overall positive synthesis that I, I’m pretty pessimistic. To go to go back to the first question, yeah, I think that we are, we’re, you know, the cat’s out of the bag, the toothpaste is out of the tube. I mean, I think that we’re not going back to a print culture and we can encourage the kids. I mean, I think that’s actually a big part of our job is to get the kids off the screens and get the kids to be, to read books. Coming into teaching. I as a history teacher, I sort of, this goes back to Dewey, but you know, he, I remember reading,  the first time I read anything by Dewey, and he said something like, look, there are two goals of the history teacher. The first is to get students to read the newspaper and the second is to get them to vote or participate in the democracy. That was my objective coming in teaching. It still is. I got a third component, which would be getting them to read books. And I think that going back to this, the point of the technology, each technology has its own bias and the ecological change that happens when you introduce a new technology and you can look at what’s happened with the introduction of television. You can look at the number of TVs that Americans own and you can look at the political, the state of political discourse in the country. And people complain a lot about, you know, the soundbite society.

And this is actually not a value judgment on conservative ideology. Conservative arguments are simple. And that’s not –I’m not saying they’re worse. “But, you know, Senator, do you agree with affirmative action or not?” And you know, “yes or no.” And the more complex argument tends to be the arguments that are on the left, which is well, “what do you mean? What do you mean by affirmative action? Do you mean if your father went to Harvard, you get to go to Harvard?” “No, Senator, answer the question in one word.” And so I think that that technology, the technology of television works for conservatives much better than it does or for people on the left. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that conservatives are thriving in an environment where you have soundbites. I think it’s much more difficult. The kind of liberal rules or people on the left that do well are people like Bernie Sanders who have been able to distill the message into the 99% versus the 1% and that’s really simplistic and, and I think it works to a certain extent, but I think it’s overly simplistic.

I know this sounds like a digression, but you know, Warren has complex policy arguments. I think she’s, she’s going to have trouble. She’s already having, she has trouble now getting those policies down to one sentence. So the technology of television, I think it’s a huge boon for conservative politics. If you look at the classroom, I think a lot of what we do in the classroom reproduce and the kids reproduce obviously what’s going on in the larger culture. So a lot of what’s happening in the classroom is that we are using screens, we’re dedicating substantial proportion of the class time to watching videos, whether it’s from Vox or the New York Times to keep the kids’ attention. It’s a struggle to get the kids to read in the class. And so most, most of what we do now, I would say a lot of the deep breathing we’re doing, we do it together. Like if I have a homework assignment where we’ve got a reading from a book that I think even 10 years ago, the kids could have read on their own. If you give the kids this book at night to go read and then come back the next day, 90% of them can’t do it. And so you’ve got to read with them and they find it to be really helpful. But the literacy skills are much lower and I think that’s no small part due to technology.

Jon M: 17:34 And what are your students when they come back after they’ve graduated and gone on to college? And of course there’s a whole range of different colleges, but is college replicating high school in this sense, or do the kids find that all of a sudden, you know, they’ve gotta be doing the long form reading?

Lev M: 17:51 No, I think it’s worse in college. And I think in the humanities it’s worse because by and large don’t have homework that you have to turn in every day. You’re just expected to read, you know, two chapters a week or a book a week. But nobody’s checking on that. So you’ll have a midterm or final and you may have one paper, but the kids who come back from college say it’s way easier and they’re spending lots of their time in clubs or hanging out with friends. And, and that’s true in the humanities. Now again, I think if you’re in the hard sciences or the natural sciences, if you’re in math, if you’re in STEM, I think it’s harder. It’s harder to BS your way through. But lots of our kids come back and say that they worked much harder in high school. And the thing is in high school we’re contacting the parents if the kids aren’t doing well. Nobody’s contacting your parents in college if you’re, if you’re sloughing off. So I think it’s, I think it’s worse at most colleges. And I had some experience teaching at the university level. In Florence in Italy, we had American students would come over and study abroad and I did that for three years and it’s tough because I wanted to keep getting rehired. And so you want the kids to write nice evaluations really. They really are your customers and so there’s grade inflation and the professors aren’t going to come down hard on the students. So yeah, I would say the situation’s more terrifying and, and worse in college.

Amy H-L: 19:16 You mentioned homework. I mean, what do you see as the role of homework in high school?

Lev M: 19:19 I’m rethinking it. Most of the studies say that it doesn’t, it doesn’t really help. And you know, the way to think about it is, imagine you worked an eight hour day and then had to come home and do another four or five hours of work at home. And obviously lots of professionals do that, but it’s, you know, it’s not a good life and the kids, I saw this op-ed the other day in the Times, it was about teenage suicide and students are, the kids are much more likely to kill themselves during the school year, whereas adults are more likely to kill themselves in the summer. Teenagers are more likely to kill themselves during the school year. And part of what the author was saying is that there’s just too much stress. And so I started teaching in 2005 and I’d say for the first 10 years I had a reputation for giving lots of homework. And part of it was I wanted the kids to read because I didn’t trust that if they weren’t reading cause they weren’t doing homework, they wouldn’t be doing reading otherwise. I now don’t give any homework on the weekends and never give homework over breaks. And I try to limit it to, this may sound like a lot, but to no more than 45 minutes a night. But it goes back to the other thing I was saying about, I actually think that the literacy skills are so low. And again, I’m at an elite public high school, they’re so low that it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense to give them even a 10 page reading from a nonfiction book or from a history book. I think a lot of that has to be done in class. So for homework, I might give them some questions to answer from the stuff that we’ve done in class or perhaps listen to a podcast. I’m really cognizant of the fact that the kids are, these kids that I’m working with are stressed out. 

Now there’s another thing that’s going on is that a lot of kids who are in public school are not getting any work at all and are not being challenged at all. And so you have these two very, at least two very different school systems, one being high pressure and the other one being no pressure. And they coexist side by side and that’s certainly true here in New York City. And when I talk to friends who are history teachers at other schools that are low performing schools, they’re not giving any homework at all and the kids are not being challenged at all and that’s problematic in its own in its own way.

Jon M: 21:32 You talked about one of your reasons for giving a lot of homework when you were was that you want the kids to read. What about writing? What do you have your kids do? And I know that you have, you mentioned the PBA, the performance based assessment, but do you see students writing at home? Is that a legitimate function of homework and does it work?

Lev M: 21:54 It is a legitimate function of homework. There are lots of ways that you could have kids write, so obviously you could have the kids write essays, you can have them write argumentative essays or historiographies, which we do a lot of.

Jon M: 22:09 Define what you mean by historiography.

Lev M: 22:12 Well, for example, you could write a historiography on the cause of World War I and what you would look at in that paper. So let’s compare that to a paper on the French Revolution, which would be what are the three major causes of the French Revolution? And in that paper, you maybe have 16 causes that we’ve looked at and you pick the three most important and you’d argue for those three. And then you’d have a section with a counter argument saying some people say it’s this other thing, but actually it’s not that. And that’s your, that’s a standard paper that that a lot of schools have kids do and it’s a very valuable thing to have kids do.

Historiography is the kind of thing that you, you know, you usually wouldn’t get to until college and maybe even grad school. But I’m really excited that we do in our history department. And what that would be, let’s say it’s at the World War I paper, you would say, look, even in 1914 and 1915, they were already writing histories of the beginning of, of the causes of the war. And you know, you had British a story and saying it’s not our fault, it’s the Germans’ fault , it’s Austria-Hungary. It was a way to actually convince British people that they were on the right side and also to get people to join the army. And then after the war, clearly when you’re talking about Versailles, you want to make sure that the British and the French, you know, the governments themselves put a lot of money and resources into supporting their historians, which would say it’s all Germany’s fault. So of course you could write articles from World War 1 saying it’s all Germany’s fault and Germany should pay reparations. 1960s you have like the Fischer pieces. That’s this guy, Fritz Fischer in Germany who says, actually, you know what Hitler did in 1939 wasn’t all that different than what the Germans were doing in 1914 and it’s all the Germans’ fault. Anyway, so you look, you look at arguments through the lens of the dominant debates during discrete time periods. That’s historiography.

Jon M: 24:04 So these are two different, these are different kinds of writing assignments that you might have kids do.

Lev M: 24:09 Yeah, but on a nightly basis. Those are big projects. But on a nightly basis, you could have, I don’t know what book it came from, from Neil Postman, but somewhere in Neil Postman’s writings, he talks about what should be happening in a classroom every day are three things. Students should be able to summarize what they’re reading or what they’re listening to or what they’re watching. That’s the S. They should be able to reflect and respond to it. So here’s the R. They should be able to reflect or respond to what they’ve read, make connections even to other things that they’ve read. And then questions. They should give it a formulate questions. So that’s what we’re calling SRQ. And it actually helps when you’re developing lessons to be thinking like at what point in the period is the kid doing the summarizing, at what point are they doing the reflecting and at what point are they writing questions, deep questions about what they read or what they listened to. And Postman says it’s actually the question part which is the most difficult because. Sorry, the reason I’m talking about this is cause this is the kind of writing they can be doing every night. And you could have them do an SRQ every night where it’s a one paragraph, one paragraph and two or three questions. Or they could just do the reflection part at night. But this is a really valuable tool to have in the tool belt. And what Postman would say is that really the goal that he got onto with Dewey because, you know, I think he’s really excited about Dewey too, but you’d add on the other goal is not just to get the kids to read the newspaper and to vote but also to question everything and to develop really good questions. 

There’s a wonderful activity that I also stole from Postman. And I used to do it when I taught freshmen. What I would do is on the first day of school, I come in with a briefcase. It’d be the fancy leather briefcase. It was actually my grandfather, your dad’s briefcase. And I would tell the kids that in this was a super powerful computer that was given to us by Stanford University and we have a special relationship with Stanford and they lend us this computer. I’m very delicate with the bag because the computer, it costs more than a million dollars. And the cool thing about this computer is that you can ask it any question you want. And so why don’t you guys write down three or four questions that you have for the computer. And you know, the kids write down silly things. They’re, they’re freshmen. But you know, some of the questions are like, where do I live? Or how far is it from the earth to the moon? And, and what I say is, no, no, these questions are, the thing about this computer is that each question, it costs $10,000. The computer generates the answer to each question. So let’s not do those questions cause we can just look those questions up and we can find out really easily where you live. Let’s think of deeper questions that we can’t just Google. And the way you’re trying to do is that when you ask a kid for example, to generate a question from the reading, you know a lot of times the kids will write questions and the answers like you can find the answer on page 72 in the reading because that’s what their textbooks do. But you’re absolutely not trying to get the kids to ask those kinds of questions. You know, I think I called the computer like the Blue Wave computer or something. 

And then what you’re able to do for the rest of the year is to say, okay, tonight for homework what I want you to do is read these three pages or maybe we read the three pages in class. Come up with two Blue Wave quality questions. And they know what that means. And what’s kind of cool about it is on the first day you put up all the questions the kids have and then you can tell the kids, hey, maybe you can help me replace some of these or strike a line through some of these because they’re questions we could easily look up on Google and then if the kids are like, they can identify which questions are not great questions and then we start doing, we spent half the first class just erasing questions and coming up with better versions of the questions. I think that the SRQ, to go back to your original question about what kind of writing is quality writing, the SRQ is a really good kind of assignment.

Amy H-L: 27:59 When you’re talking about questions, I guess our perspective at Ethical Schools would be that most of these questions have ethical implications. Do you use the language of ethics?

Lev M: 27:33 I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Tony Judt. Do you guys know Tony Judt?

Jon M: 28:22 I do. You’ve given me any number of Tony Judt’s books.

Lev M: 28:24 Okay, so he passed away a few years ago. He was a historian at NYU. He was a historian of European history and I encourage everybody to Google this. He, he’s got his last lecture at NYU is, it’s called something like what’s living in social democracy? And he talks about the birth of social democracy in Europe after the war and then the decline of social democracy and it’s what’s left of it is his question. And what he says is the questions that we ask, let’s say about, about healthcare. I teach a 12th grade political economy class and we talk about the economics of healthcare. What he says is that for the last 35 or 40 years, really since the Reagan and Thatcher revolution, we’ve all become little deal liberals like we, we all ask the question, how are we going to pay for that? And so it’s, you know, when we talk about healthcare, we’ve all become technocrats and it’s like, well, you know, this system is, is cheaper than that system. And rather than asking the moral question of is it right or is it just to have a country that doesn’t provide healthcare for all of its citizens? What he says is we need to start thinking less like economists and or more ethically. 

And he talks about morals. We were sort of afraid. I certainly as a public school teacher, we’re afraid to talk about morals often because I think we get morality confused with religion. And this might be my conservative side coming out, but I think also the 60s maybe one of the bad effects of the 60s was that we’ve come to reject authority. We’ve come to reject explicit morality and we don’t expect to see it in schools anymore. I think there’s a real role for adults to talk to kids about morality, to think about how we could live in a more just and humane and moral way. That actually to go back to the circle, back to the advisory questions, that’s what we could be doing in advisory, but I also think that there’s a role for all of our classes. And I don’t mean to say that we should impose our own morality, but I do think that you’ve got to have those conversations.

Jon M: 30:40 You know, it’s interesting. I’m gonna, um, as somebody who lived through the sixties, I’m going to, you know, I want to take you up on that. It seems to me that what people, and I think it’s very possible as with so many other things, that the lessons if you will, of the 60s have been misinterpreted, in many cases deliberately because I think that what people were rejecting, I mean for example, the slogan “question authority” was that it was questioning illegitimate authority. It was questioning authority that had been proven to be a bunch of lies. You know, I was in my twenties and we were in the process of discovering that virtually everything we’d been told. And of course it was things like the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement and the women’s movement and then the gay movement and so forth that just, you know, like peeling an onion, one thing after another that we’d grown up with as revealed truth turned out not to be true and in many cases deliberately not to be true. So I think that in fact, we were raising moral questions. That’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted those conversations based on morality, but it could very well be that since the society as a whole, especially as it went into a more conservative mode and that’s threatening to any society, you know, any established order, then it was much easier to just translate that into sort of a rejection of, or to say that it was about a rejection of, of wisdom or of listening to people and so on. That’s just, you know, I mean that’s, it’s just another way of looking at it.

Lev M: 32:16 Yeah, no, I think you’re right. And I think to go back, I think the question of what is legitimate, what is legitimate authority is a great way you’ve kind of questioned. And I think even having that kind of question as a question for a whole unit posing that as a question will allow you to talk about morality in a really rich way, in a way that, again, it doesn’t mean you imposing your vision. But I do, I do think where we are. And I think what’s dangerous is that, and it makes sense how we got here. But you know, I think you look at someone like the president and he but also people like Putin, they depend on large parts of the population being really skeptical of any type of truth. They thrive on this idea that there is no such thing as as truth. And if you, you know, you talk to the kids at my school, I’d say the vast majority of them believe that we can’t ever talk about truths. And I think that’s scary. And I think it also, there’s no way you can, you can talk about ethics and what is ethical if you don’t, if you don’t have established truth, if you believe you don’t believe that there can be such thing as truth.

Jon M: 33:27 Isn’t the, I mean it seems to me that part of what existentialism was about after World War II was where, all the established methods of thought had sort of been totally discredited. And that what the existentialists and there are tremendous similarities between what someone like Sartre and someone like Dewey would say is that you have to, in some ways you have to create your own truth, but that that truth has to be, it does have to be based on morality. You may have to create your own sense of morality because it isn’t coming down, you know, from Mount Sinai 10 Commandments. But that at the root there has to be a fundamental respect for things as Dewey would phrase it in terms of democracy, in terms of human dignity, in terms of the kinds of things that the UN put into the Declaration of Human Rights. I mean, if what you’re saying is that there has to be an underlying sense of morality, I would agree completely. I’m not sure, and I’m not sure that you’d be saying that there is a single truth that that is sort of waiting out there to be discovered.

Lev M: 34:40 No, I’m not saying that. What I’m actually saying is that not a single truth. I’m saying that lots of young people, maybe older people too, don’t believe that we can ever talk about truth, even to say that this event happened. There’s such skepticism. I think it’s difficult if you’re asking kids. I think we’re in a pretty difficult situation right now as a culture to ask kids to somehow form their own roadmap for life and to come up with their own set of morals. They’ve got to look somewhere and I don’t know, without organized religion, where they look. Now they might look to something like United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Again, there are people though who say that that that’s a form of Western imperialism. The rights laid down by the UN are rights that have been laid down by the powers after World War II. So, yeah, go ahead.

Jon M: 37:38 Yeah, no, that actually leads into sort of a last question, at least for me, which is one of your history courses is, you know, teaching from the Enlightenment to the present. How do you de-center Europe in that course? And of course that also does tie into the questions of, you were just raising about values and which values came from Europe, which values came from elsewhere, come from elsewhere. How do you do that?

Lev M: 36:25 I mean this is a really relevant question because as far as understanding in New York State, the Regents for history is a 10th grade Global Regents. And that really is everything after I think 1492 and what that means that a lot of the history is going to be about the rise of Europe and the rise of the West. Because before the 15th century it was China and India where you had the most dynamic economies and the most wealth, so even that policy tends to put more of the emphasis, because you know, schools have to pass the Regents. So there’s more of an emphasis on that history. So how, given the fact that we have to teach that in 10th grade, you know, and I’m basically starting with the Renaissance and Reformation and focusing in a big way on the Enlightenment. Yeah. How do you teach the Enlightenment and the Post-Enlightenment in a non-Eurocentric way? 

And I think, I think the way you do it is you don’t shy away from the fact that Europe is ascending, but you, you talk about the whys and a large part of the why is that Europeans are engaged in, in the slave trade and they’re using that trade to fuel the industrial revolution. And it’s never that you teach European history in an isolated way, but you’re talking about the ways that Europeans are interacting with African and indigenous people here in the Americas and with Asians. And so, for example, the, the longest unit been in my 10th grade class is on the Haitian Revolution. So we do a unit on the Enlightenment and so forth. And then we do the French Revolution, which is the big Enlightenment revolution after the American Revolution. And then the Haitian Revolution, which is the third big Enlightenment revolution. And you can talk about the contradiction in the French Revolution and the French revolutionaries and the way that they write about, or think about Haiti and the revolution that’s going on in Haiti. And then the project really does become a month looking at Haiti, not just up till 1804 when Haiti becomes independent, but then looking at post-independence. And the kids, the kids are able to focus in on, there’s a bunch of events that they can choose an event from 1804 to the present in Haiti. And then they come up with questions that they want to ask experts that they can’t, that they’ve done research, but the questions would be Blue Wave quality questions. And then they actually have to go and interview a professor or an expert in Haitian history and record that interview and create a website. And they, what they do is they actually create a resource bank on Haitian history, on specific parts of Haitian history for other scholars and for the students who come, our 10th graders the next year, to be able to use their research and build on it. So Haiti’s a big part of the year, this revolution. Looking at the Congo is a big part of the year and then when we look at the Cold War. The Cold War is not a cold war for most of the world. If you look at the Cold War from the perspective of the United States or the Soviet Union, yeah, it’s not a hot war. But if you look at the global South, there are dozens of hot wars taking place from 1945 to you know ‘89.

So what you can do with what we do is we have the kids at the end of the year. So the last project, they are looking at a hot war during the Cold War and it can be anywhere in the global South and they are finding a movie about that then. And then they are finding these stories written about how accurate the film is. Then hopefully they find a second historian who’s writing in an academic journal who makes, you know, maybe has a different perspective on how accurate the film is, and then they present, you know, a bit of the film. They talk about the Cold War conference. So there are lots and lots of ways to talk about the global South to center the global South. I mean a lot of ways modernity is the global South reacting to, responding to the Enlightenment project.

Amy H-L: 40:15 That’s a fascinating way of looking at it. Thank you. Thank you, Lev. Thank you, listeners, for joining us. You can find Lev’s podcast at and we’ll link it to ours as well. You can check out our podcast episodes and articles on our website, or on Facebook, Twitter @ethicalschools and Instagram. Till next week.

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