Plattsburgh State hosted its first Teach-In and day of dialogue this Wednesday in an effort to improve race relations and discuss social injustice on a campus-wide platform.
The Teach-In was similarly formatted to those of the 1960s. The forums were hosted as an informal way to discuss important matters not mentioned in the classroom, according to PSUC English professor and Honors Program Associate Director Tracie Guzzio.
“It was a way to be a kind of social protest. They would stop classes to go and talk about something that no one was talking about in the classes, ” Guzzio said.
Guzzio worked alongside computer science professor Delbert Hart and History Chair Wendy Gordon to organize and moderate the event.
The Teach-In consisted of 18 faculty-lead discussions, each lasting roughly 25 minutes. Some of the lectures included “Understanding the North Country: On Poverty, Race and Prisons,” by History Chair Gary Kroll; “Was Anyone Hurt? Once and For All, Black Lives Matter,” by english professor Paul Johnston and “A Southern Childhood: Remembering Integration in the South,” by english professor Richard Aberle.
“We thought these issues were important and we wanted to do something to bring greater visibility to these topics,” Hart said.
He also said he hoped students would take advantage of the event in order to gain new perspectives on topics they may not know much about.
Students and faculty were encouraged to participate by cancelling courses to attend the lectures.
“I think there are faculty who really care and want students to know that this is something we want to talk about. And we all get crunched with making sure we’re taking the exams we have to take and hitting the assessments that we need and we forget that we actually have to talk about this too,” Guzzio said of social injustices in an educational setting.
The day of dialogue concluded with a presentation, “Savage Inequalities,” by Doctor Jonathan Kozol. Kozol has dedicated his life to advocating for low-income families and school funding for poor school districts.
PSUC President John Ettling called Kozol a “spokesperson for the disenfranchised” as he introduced him to a full audience in the E. Glenn Giltz auditorium.
Kozol used his lecture to discuss educational reform, poor testing methods and insight on past classroom experiences.
Kozol began teachng after three civil rights activists went missing, and were later found dead, in Philadelphia, Mississippi in the 1960s.
“That event changed my life,” Kozol said.
Kozol said he was fired by the Boston Public Education System early in his career for teaching his class about African American author Langston Hughes. He said his grounds for dismissal were based on “curriculum deviation.” Shortly after, he was hired by the federal government to work on curriculum development, where he went on to create the Upward Bound Program.
“I think it was good for him to make the connection between the past and the present, that we are kind of at a point where we are in a crisis situation,” Guzzio said of Kozol’s lecture.
Kozol also discussed the state of race relations in America when he began teaching and how it has evolved over time. “African Americans and Hispanics are more isolated intellectually and segregated physically now,” according to Kozol, in comparison to the time since Martin Luther King advocated for civil rights. Kozol said it is “terribly important” to hold these Teach-Ins as a form of education.
Guzzio said she thinks the Teach-In will call for students to take action, instead of waiting for things to “work out.” She said learning about the past can also help prepare for the future.
“We all die someday,” Kozol said in his closing remarks. “But the innocence of children outlives us all.”
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