As a middle school teacher, it is hard to think of a time where the Marxist lense would apply or be appropriate to teach simply because it is so complex for the young adolescent mind. It would perhaps be easier if the more modern types of government and economic systems were in the curriculum, but the middle school social studies curriculum exists of ancient civilizations and US history from pre-colonial times to the late 19th century, so the opportunity for cross curricular teaching and learning doesn’t present itself readily. If it were easier to present this theory, I would. I think looking at Marxist theory in a historical context makes the most sense. You need to look at the revolutions of Europe and the rise against monarchy. I would also have no problem saying the words “Marx” or “socialism”. Quite frankly, I would think it pointless to even talk about the ideas without saying the creator’s name. It’s like saying “he who must not be named” instead of “Voldemort”. Students should be exposed to these terms and understand them in an age appropriate manner.
In typing this, I have realized that this topic could actually links very easily to the novel I am teaching right now, The Giver. In our closing writing assessment, an argumentative essay, students had 5 research topics to choose from that connect the novel to our world we live in today. One topic in particular has to do with The Sameness they practice in The Giver. In a way, I have been discussing social programs with students and the social programs in the novel already. Students have to argue if The Sameness is good or bad for society while comparing it to examples in the real world. In teaching these essay topics, students have been investigating our government vs. China’s, Cuba’s, and North Korea’s, among others. This just goes to prove my point that these ideas, though to some may be extreme, can be discussed and they don’t need to be hidden. How are students supposed to understand the capitalist society we live in, that has some socialist aspects to it, if they don’t understand the force that competes against it?
Cultural studies, on the other hand, is something I find myself going through every day almost. With every piece we read in class, I need to build background knowledge of the topic or the writer or both. This always deals with the historical lense, but also the cultural. Students respond very well to this. Regardless of if we are reading a book or discussing an article or just discussing current events, culture is a conversation that is very prevalent in my classroom. Students find it interesting and they like to make connections to their own cultures and their own lives. This year we have read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Giver while we have The Diary of Anne Frank and possibly The Book Thief coming up. Reading these books through the cultural lense, I would argue, is the only way to read these books, especially for middle schoolers. Using the cultural lense helps students discover other people they haven’t encountered yet in their young lives, but they most likely will encounter in their adult lives. By exposing students to all of these ideas, we are giving them the tools necessary to interact with others. We would be stunting the intellectual growth of our students if we kept these topics of discussion away from them.