Day 8 Wednesday June 23, 2010: Standing On Higher Ground


Today is Wednesday, June 23, 2010 and Day 8 of my time left at the Mont. I gave my last final exam at the Mont and got it out of the way First Period: two hours with kids I absolutely love; changed the final on them, since all the other classes had an advantage—the subjects of the essays were given to them the day before they were due. So First had to walk in cold. The five questions totaling 18 paragraphs on the Cold War became the student’s choice, as long as they wrote 9 paragraphs.


It was so different from what I normally do. The Utopia Project is my usual finale, the year’s swan-song. . It summarizes their efforts and demonstrates learning for the entire year of World History.


“A number of proposed utopian communities are being established in a great experiment.  Your 7-person team (as we covered seven units this year) has been selected to design and construct a utopia, a perfect society, on one of these island chains for a group of 50,000 (about10timesthesizeofFremont).” It tackles geography, including mapping the utopia, describing climate and resources, the creation of a government, and social programs. How will their government care for the poor?  How will it deal with housing issues?  As part of this, the students design an ideal city, including a map. They also answer the questions: “What rights does each and every person have?  When are you considered to be an adult?  What are your obligations as a citizen?”


They propose an educational system and deal with these questions: “Is education free?  Is it mandatory?  For how long?  What subjects will be taught?  Who has access to higher education?  Remember this is a utopia.” 


Since I take an anthropological approach to teaching history, they even look at the shape of the family. “What shape does the family take in your utopia?  How do we care for the young, the disabled, the elderly? The make-up of the family also determines the type of housing.  Describe the dwellings and include a diagram of typical family housing.” They explore economic issues, as well, preparing them for their senior year. (HEY! Superintendent Cortines! HEY! Dr. George McKenna III! HEY! Mr. Balderas! Are you reading this? THIS IS WHAT WE DID AT THE MONT!)


Now we get to the fun topics, the ones that show who they really are.


For “Art/Literature/Music/Architecture: “You must select examples of each of these from each era we studied, to be preserved as part of your society.  You are selecting the best of mankind and its greatest achievements; include pictures and examples.  Hint: you can include your architecture in your planned communities, and briefly explain how you are using it, such as a copy of Versailles for a museum (telling me what is displayed—is there music playing?) or a concert hall for the performance of music & plays, telling me what is performed there.”


The science fiction stuff: the “Advisors”: “In order to help you build this society, you will be allowed to resurrect people from the past, using their DNA (kind of a JurassicPark thing) to serve as your advisors.  You must select several from each era: the Classical World, Medieval times, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Victorian era, the Twentieth century, and the Cold War. You must tell me who you are selecting and why?  What will be their area of expertise?  How could they contribute to your utopia?  Your list of advisors will include philosophers, scientists, world leaders, generals, monarchs—those from the past who made a contribution.  You must explain your choices in two paragraphs each—accomplishments and what they bring to the table.” There was a lively debate over who was a better Prime Minister: Benjamin Disraeli or William Gladstone. Why was the Magna Carta a big deal when the English Bill of Rights protected more people? Who was more important to the Renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo? I remember a screaming fight over bringing back Beethoven and whether to cure his hearing loss or not. I sat in wonder, listening to the passion my students had as they argued for and against: “Think how much more he could do if his hearing was okay.” “No, it was because he knew his hearing was going that he was able to create his music!” That’s the joy of teaching; the unexpected beauty you discover along the way.


Each team had over a week to design the utopia, describing it with about 70 paragraphs, including pictures, examples of art, designs of their capital and planned community.  In order to achieve a grade of 70% or better, a team had to write about each subject area.  The more included in the subject area, the better the grade.


Not this year.


With all the distractions, with the shortening of the year, with the uncertainty of the future, I canned the project. It became, instead of the dreams of building and taking the best from humanity’s past, dealing with admittedly very powerful and moving ideas and concepts, but a lot more pedestrian. The good news? Most of the kids participated; many did well.


But a huge part of me wants to know what future they would have built. It’s kind of like a movie I love (Juan Puentes and Jasmine Lucas are groaning now), “The Time Machine” (the ‘60s one):


“There are three books missing from the shelf.”


“Can you tell which ones?”


“No… but if it was you, what three books would you take?”


So, I ask you: what three books would you take?  I guess we’ll have to wait to see what future they will build. But isn’t that ever the way?



I’m posting today’s and tomorrow’s entries as comments, since the Save Fremont website is expiring. Perhaps it has served its purpose. For the six months it existed, it rallied many of the faculty, staff, students, parents and alums to the cause, trying to preserve the Cardinal and Gray. But the site is gone. My plan is to create the new site and keep firing away. So here is the today’s post. Tomorrow’s follows shortly afterwards because I want people to read it before they walk away from the Mont.


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    Chuck Olynyk is a Social Studies teacher who saw the effects of reconstitution upon John C. Fremont High in Los Angeles. These are reposting of his original blogs from the Save Fremont website.


    August 2010



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