Thursday, June 10, 2004
At Hollywood High School - perhaps the most celebrity-packed campus in the country - it takes a lot for an educator to attract attention. But literature teacher Hildreth Simmons still manages to raise eyebrows, not so much with words as with her wardrobe.At some schools teachers have been told these political messages are unwelcome, but not Ms. Simmons. Interestingly, even the National Education Association seems to side with curbing this behavior.
Just about every day, Ms. Simmons shows up in her southern California classroom wearing a T-shirt with a provocative message like "War Without End? Not in Our Name" or "A Woman's Place Is in Her Union."
Her goal, she says, is to get students to ponder issues like labor rights, world affairs or, nowadays, the war in Iraq. "I am trying to provoke thought, and discussion," says Simmons. "I'd like them to think."
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, says the classroom shouldn't be a "pulpit," according to assistant general counsel Michael Simpson. New York social science teacher Gloria Sesso agrees and goes even further, saying educators should keep their personal perspectives private.
"You're helping kids to think for themselves," says Ms. Sesso, who teaches at Patchogue-Medford High School in Medford, N.Y. "You provide them with various perspectives, and you look at things you want them to analyze."
World history classes at the school have used the Iraq prison-abuse scandal to examine the role of torture in wartime, she says. In her advanced history class, students looked at the Iraq war through the prism of previous wars and military concepts like preemptive strikes. "The kids are very interested. They like to look at American foreign policy with a perspective," Sesso says. "They get excited about that."