Education

This Rap-Based School Curriculum Is Teaching Kids That John Locke Was Cool Like Che Guevara

The Cuban revolutionary was not a big fan of life, liberty, and property.

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Che Guevara was many things: a bloodthirsty executioner, a propagandist, an admirer of mass murderer Mao Zedong. But he was not a big fan of the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, whose support for the rights to life, liberty, and property helped inspire the American Revolution.

Curiously, the curriculum company Flocabulary—best known for producing educational rap videos that teach history, vocabulary, and other subjects—thinks Guevara's a great example of Locke's influence and that students of all ages should know about it.

A parent of students enrolled in Alexandria City Public Schools in Alexandria, Virginia, has passed along a sample quiz question from one of Flocabulary's units on the American Revolution. The unit, intended for grades 5–12, purports to teach kids about Locke and how his ideas inspired Thomas Jefferson and the American founding. Much of the content is fine, though the accompanying rap begins like this:

I'm the thinker with theories 'bout the government
Got the Enlightenment on lock because I'm running it
You wannabe Beyonces—change your clothes
I wrote down thoughts and I changed the globe.

The Locke rap also includes the lyric "I advocate revolution like Che." And drawing a connection between Locke and Che turns out the be an idiosyncratic focus of the unit. Take a look at this bizarre reading section:

Where to begin? The reading implies that Locke's thinking inspired Guevara's revolutionary activities in South America and Africa, but there's no evidence this is the case. Che's revolution was based on Marxist-Leninism, and when he spoke about liberty he did not mean it in any Lockean sense.

Even setting Che aside, the question is a poor one. The correct answer must be A, but "the ability to blink" is not really "innate" in the same sense that rights are innate. Rights are abstract; the ability to blink is not.

Sadly, this sloppiness is characteristic of most—not all, but most—of the questions. Minor typos and awkward wording abound. Several items are duplicative. A few are so vastly superior to the others (an item about James Madison, for instance, is perfectly fine) that they must have been written by someone else.

I don't intend to characterize the company's entire curriculum based on one unit, but this unit was quite unimpressive. I realize that many lefties like Che Guevara: Frustratingly, his violent fanaticism is often overlooked by his T-shirt-wearing fans. But he's hardly a compelling illustration of the ideas of John Locke.

A spokesperson for Flocabulary did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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  1. What’s wrong with teaching the children of civil servants about the glories of Che Guevara’s revolution?

  2. How do I reech theez keedz?

    1. First, get a white van.

    2. Second, get some candy.

    3. Third, get a clown costume?

  3. Che most certainly DID believe in the rights to life, liberty, and property. At least as it applied to HIS liberty, life, and property. Somebody else’s, not so much.

  4. Mister we could use a man like Joe McCarthy again.

    1. There once was a Senator from Grand Chute
      He sought those who sucked skin flute
      At a Congressional hearing
      He lost his bearing
      But the voters never gave him the boot

  5. The unit, intended for grades 5–12

    The same unit is applicable to a 7-year span in grades?

    1. One man’s high school senior is another man’s fifth grader.

      1. “You see, Your Honor…”

    2. The charter school I go to passes the state exam at 99% rates in grade 8. So yes.

      1. Should say school my kids go to.

        1. it should but the first one was funny.

  6. The public school system would never be so sloppy.

  7. What is so cool about Che? Honest question. My guess is it’s to piss off their ‘capitalist swine’ parents that created their trust fund.

    1. His planet of the apes style likeness?

    2. This!

      If you went around with a pic of Mao, Stalin, or Hitler on your shirt, you’d catch some serious flack, but for some reason, it’s ok to have this bozo’s mug on your chest.

      1. Well, if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao…

        1. When you’ve lost John Lennon…

          1. … you ain’t gonna make it anyhow.

          2. Yokos net with goes up?

    3. Middle class medical student who gives it all up to fight injustice. Has a nice romantic angle to it. Better if they wore shirts with St Francis’s picture on it, since Che really didn’t fight injustice as much as spread it.

    4. It’s just his good looks. That’s it. You don’t see any of these idiot kids wearing Fidel t-shirts. There’s a simple reason for that.

    5. Probably more to do with sucking up to their pig ignorant “instructors”

    6. Here’s the take I got from a good friend who has become more libertarian over the years that I’ve known him, but still has some affinity for Che. It’s the fact that Che was a “sincere revolutionary” — he fought on the front lines with the Communist rebels, as opposed to Castro, who was power-hungry and manipulated the revolution for his own gain while calling shots from the officer’s camp. While both came from similar economic/education backgrounds, the perception is that Che truly came to sympathize with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, unlike Castro. He also says that Che never struck him as particularly knowledgeable when it came to Marx’s theories and their consequences — he simply wanted to see the people empowered, literate, etc., and Marxism (as he understood it) seemed like the best means of achieving this.

      I have no idea how accurate the latter point is.

  8. >>Minor typos and awkward wording abound.

    nobody edits content until after putting it up anymore.

  9. But Che is so dreamy.

  10. Time for some mainstream media outlet to run an article about right-wing clingers attacking education professionals with the help of out-of-context quotes from selectively-edited portions of the curriculum in the prestiditious Alexandria School District.

    Some reference to right-wing obsession about “communism” should help.

    And Koch Brothers.

    Maybe the Washington Post can do the honors.

    1. “John Smith*, a long-time teacher and educational entrepreneur, doesn’t look like a communist trying to brainwash schoolchildren, as the Koch-funded, anti-public-school Reason Foundation claims.

      “‘Sad but not surprising,’ is Smith’s comment on the ultra-right foundation’s inflammatory claims.

      “Smith, who does a video interview while his children, Dylan*, 11, and Rainbow*, 7, do chores and play in the background while his adorable kitten Meowser* plays with a ball of string, explains how his nationally-renowned curriculum, used by many school districts, was developed.

      “‘We got input from all sorts of subject matter experts, but no communist conspirators that I know of,’ Smith says with a twinkle in his eye while Rainbow pets the kitten.

      “In an email replying to the Post’s questions, Nick Gillespie of the Reason Foundation said that the charges against his foundation were ‘exaggerated.'”

      *Hypothetical made-up name, no similarity to actual people’s names intended

      1. Oh that was so convincing, you are so right, no Communist could ever own an adorable cat.

    2. Obsession with communism? Who walks around with a Communist mass murderer on their chest? Which party nearly nominated a self deceived socialist who has praised the Cuban regime, honeymooned in the Soviet Union and praised bread lines in the old USSR? Which party is toeing the official line put out by the CCP?

      1. Just to be clear, I’m trying to see things from the MSM perspective.

        Apparently it was convincing.

        1. Another victim of Poe’s Law.

          1. Well considering DOL, JFree, Mtrueman, TheRev etc, is it any surprise?

            1. To be fair, I used quotation marks and avowedly fake names.

              1. You caught me. I admit that,

        2. And I followed the formula –

          -Taking what could have been been an “educators do something questionable” story to a “conservatives pounce” story.

          -Switching the question from “was the Che comparison a wise educational decision” to “which team are you on – ours [enlightened educators] or theirs [right-wing lunatics]?”

          -Soft-focus interview of the person who made the questionable decision, daring the reader to bash this father of adorable kitten-petting children.

          1. Oh, and don’t forget the “don’t say we didn’t talk to both sides” approach of letting the opposition get in a brief quote denying the charges.

  11. Flocabulary—best known for producing educational rap videos that teach history, vocabulary, and other subjects

    Does one of those other subjects happen to be debating?

  12. I think I especially like the question asking about ‘innate’. Well, you don’t need to teach people to walk or blink and the other two choices are obvious false…so…

    …basically it’s just trash education regardless of Che being compared to Locke. I mean, that’s trash as well but even the specific question is trash.

    What else would one expect from ‘rap-based’ curriculum? Wasn’t that type of shit an abject failure in the 90’s, too?

    1. What do you mean? Even top physicists rap!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn7-fVtT16k

    2. Wasn’t that type of shit an abject failure in the 90’s, too?

      Yeah, but at least calling it Ebonics was racist too.

  13. I’m a first year teacher in Lancaster, PA. I went and looked through the curriculum, since I haven’t heard of Flocabulary and I was interested to see how they compared Guevara and Locke.

    First off, it’s not curriculum in the sense that it’s a lesson plan, it’s more like a series of resources from which a teacher might pick a few parts to put into their own lesson plan. If a lesson plan is a wall, this is a small pile of bricks with no mortar. That’s why the age range can be so wide; there are parts, like the rap video and flash cards, that would work in a middle school class but wouldn’t work in one of my classes. This is also a private company, so they’re trying to make their product as widely appealing as possible. Realistically, I can’t see any of this used past 9th grade.

    I was dissapointed to see that there isn’t actually a comparison between the two. Che Guevera is only mentioned twice, in the bits you showed. Che Guevera isn’t a character often included in school curriculum before 12th grade, at least in the schools that I know of, so most students would only know of him through pop culture, which is to say as a rebel. So including him serves to support students’ understanding that Locke advocated rebellion. The rest of the curriculum is standard fare ideological underpinnings of the American Revolution. I’ll add that it’s not really revisionist stuff either, it’s fairly standard neo-consensus historiography.

    The question about “innate” is a fair one for students in the middle-school age range. Prior to 7th or 8th grade, most students don’t have the ability to fully conceive of abstract concepts without something concrete to go along with. This question is performing what’s known as “scaffolding”, a basic principle of teaching. Similarly, the wording that seems awkward is clearly written for a middle school age group, so it looks like the writer took pains to simplify.

    All in all, this curriculum is pretty unremarkable. The rap is a small part, and the mentions of Guevara even smaller. This definitely does not deserve an entire article’s worth of criticism.

    1. “If a lesson plan is a wall, this is a small pile of bricks with no mortar.”

      OMG such a perfect set-up…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR5ApYxkU-U

    2. I think what we Libertarians have a problem with with this type of education, is it assumes that kids (<9th grade) already know who Che Guevara is.

      I can guarantee that every kid in public school has no idea who Che Guevara is. Who he really is. They might recognize the name or the image on a Commie T-shirt. They have no idea about all the other things that made Che a murderer of innocents and a Communist (which opens up a bunch of other facts about how bad Socialism is).

      So then schools proceed to instruct kids on how Che is not that bad. We call this brainwashing because its revisionist nonsense and because there is a very dangerous agenda behind it. The agenda is to create a nation of kids that will accept "cool" culture concepts coming from Socialists.

      Why any American would want fetishize a person who hated America, Americans, and freedom I will never know. Know your history and enemies of freedom, so you can be prepared when that enemy comes for you.

      1. I don’t think the author of this curriculum, nor any teacher who used it, would assume someone under 15 has a full grasp on Che Guevara, but certainly his face appears in pop culture that young people consume. I’m guessing most people would use these resources in a lesson on ideological underpinnings of the US’ founding, not a lesson on radical ideology or South/Central American history. So his inclusion in this resource clarifies for students who have seen his face before that he was a revolutionary, but doesn’t dive into his actions or ideas because it’s likely not the focus of the lesson.

        In the public school I teach in, we talk about Che Guevara senior year, when students have a good grasp on forming and defending opinions. We could 100% require students at a younger age to memorize and recite Guevara’s sins, but I believe that accomplishes nothing meaningful no matter the topic. It’s much better to introduce it when they’re able to weigh the pros and cons and come to the conclusion themselves. That’s the central goal of the social studies in my mind, that students should be given the tools to come to their own conclusions. Naturally, I would like them all to come to the conclusion that Guevara was a monster, but I’d rather produce a whole class of socialists who can make and defend their arguments than a class of patriots who can only repeat what they’re told. Schools aren’t in the business of making robots anymore, and I believe that’s for the best.

        1. Schools are absolutely in the business of creating robots. You see the robots roll off the assembly line every year.

          Ignorant, brainwashed, subservient, and down right stupid young adults.

          I learned about Communism before High School. There is no reason that kids in Middle School cannot learn critical thinking and have an education on WHY America is so great. We were taught that decades ago.

          Based on what you said, you are an example of how our education system is horrible.

    3. “So including him serves to support students’ understanding that Locke advocated rebellion.”

      Well, why not use Franco – didn’t *he* run a successful rebellion?

      But I don’t think they’d use Franco, nor do I think they’d be able to get away with it by saying that Franco was only mentioned twice.

      1. Unless you’re teaching a class of primarily Spanish immigrants, I’m guessing most students in middle school don’t have any background knowledge on Francisco Franco. His name and face don’t appear in pop culture like Guevara’s. While Franco certainly led a revolution, his face isn’t a well-known symbol of revolution and rebellion. If the lesson is introducing students to Locke and his ideas, and you need a visual representation of the idea of revolution that teenagers recognize, Guevara’s a pretty logical choice.

        1. I believe the opposite is the case, viz, that Locke did not advocate generic “revolution,” contrary to what the rap and the attached commentary suggest – certainly Senor Guevara wasn’t inspired by Lockean principles in his revolutionism.

          Better to say nothing than to give students such misleading information.

          If in fact Che Guevara is too complex a subject to tackle in lower grades, all the more reason not to give students fake news about him.

          It would certainly be a good idea to teach students about the history of totalitarian movements, especially National Socialism and Communism. It might even be helpful to learn about some of the top henchmen of the totalitarian leaders – eg. Himmler, Beria, Guevara.

          1. My snark about Franco reflects my hypothesis that any curriculum containing pro-Franco elements would meet massive resistance in the educational community.

          2. “…If in fact Che Guevara is too complex a subject to tackle in lower grades, all the more reason not to give students fake news about him…”

            Disagreed WRT the claim of “complex”.
            Simple enough to point out that he was a pampered brat who turned into a mass murderer when he was given government support to do so.

            1. Mine was an if/then statement.

              I’d say that any school – especially a government school but also a private institution or home school – would have to draw the line between what is taught as truth (with the hope the lessons will stick) and what will be considered debatable (with the children hopefully developing critical thinking and debating skills).

              Presumably the kids wouldn’t be debating stuff like did the Holocaust happen or was slavery hunky-dory, or were communist henchmen actually nasty killers. Those are things where we have learned (often at great cost) certain factual and moral truths which we strongly hope the kids will share.

              1. As Santayana said, those who don’t remember history will be sent to Alaska Military School.

          3. While I would love to be able to have the freedom to spend days digging into Locke and Hobbes with students, I’ve got about 150 total hours to make sure every student has met the expectations of my school district and the state. This leaves me with only a few dozen hours to work with ideas that I believe are crucial. It becomes a game of priority. What’s more important, hashing out Locke’s social contract or analyzing Washington’s style of leadership? There’s merit to both, but only time for one, so maybe Locke gets simplified to this form to allow for more time for Washington. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not uncommon to see important topics like this get watered down to make time for other ideas and concepts.
            And certainly there are differences between Locke and Guevara’s revolutions, but if one of the objectives of the lesson is simply to ensure that students understand Locke advocated revolution, and conflating the two helps the students understand, then it’s a reasonable choice. If all of this curriculum were incorporated into a lesson, no student would come out of the 30 total seconds of interaction with Che Guevara assuming that he and Locke believed exactly the same things, merely that they were both advocates of revolution. If the teacher is concerned about this, they could always spare a few seconds to make their differences clearer.

            1. Thing is, telling students Locke advocated revolution “like Che” gives the students negative information – they’re less informed than if they hadn’t learned about Locke or Che at all.

              Better to remain blissfully ignorant about Locke than to remember him as “that Che-like dude.”

              1. I don’t think the comparison spoils the value of Locke altogether, he’s essential for understanding the ideological basis of our country. The curriculum also talks about Locke’s belief in religious tolerance and his influence on Madison and Jefferson. They wouldn’t simply know him as the “Che-like dude”.

              2. Exactly Eddy.

                Locke should be able to stand on his own and why that is important since many of the Founders were directly influenced by Locke when they formed the USA.

                Che is a piece of murdering shit who aided in the misery of tens of millions of South and Central Americans that are suffering to this day.

                The fact that Lefty teachers are trying so hard to include Che in some comparison of achievement, illustrates how messed up our teachers are.

    4. “…Prior to 7th or 8th grade, most students don’t have the ability to fully conceive of abstract concepts without something concrete to go along with. This question is performing what’s known as “scaffolding”, a basic principle of teaching…”

      This seems very close to what those not required to pass tests in Ed would call ‘context’, correct?
      You’ll forgive my skepticism of E-school jargon.

      1. Definitely context plays a role, but scaffolding has a more specific meaning than just synonyms or background info. Like scaffolding that’s used for construction or painting, which lets a worker scale the side of a building, it moves the student up from a basic, tangible idea to a complex abstract one. It’s got a role in teaching all levels, but especially middle school students who haven’t fully developed mentally. I’m not a fan of unnecessary jargon, but here I think it’s warranted.

        1. Certainly, but applying that to Che situation, there’s still no call to slip in a comparison between Locke and Guevara, at any age.

          And if that’s just an unfortunate hiccup in an otherwise-fine curriculum, OK, then, just cut out the Che part and you’re fine. Though if other “errors” like that keep cropping up, it may be worth looking for a different curriculum.

          1. I don’t think the comparison is used as a scaffolding tool. The purpose of the question above is to make “innate” understood, most students would not have come across this word before, so conveying the abstract meaning requires a tangible comparison. Students have an understanding of the word revolution, so they don’t need a scaffold.

            I think the purpose of the comparison here is simply an effort to appeal to prior knowledge and pop culture interest. Students have no reason to be interested in an old dead guy named John Locke, so teachers need to find ways to get kids interested and participating. Maybe they’ve seen his face on a shirt or his name in a song, and suddenly he’s now appearing in their social studies lesson. Maybe they know the picture as a symbol of rebellion, and as a teenager rebellion is pretty cool as a concept; Locke also liked rebellion, maybe that commonality inspires some interest. If the teacher is genuinely uncomfortable with students getting the wrong idea about Locke, they can clear it up verbally or just skip reading #4 of 15 and the 3 minute video.

            1. If you want the brief takeaway for the test, how about “his theories about the limits of government and the right to rebel when these limits were violated, influenced the American Founders”

              1. You’d relegate John Locke to a single sentence that, what, students should memorize? Great way to damn a crucial ideologue to the footnotes of their memories.

                1. I apologize, you brought up the time pressures of teaching a fairly lengthy list of subtopics in history.

                  My teacher skipped over most of the actual battles of the Civil War, just giving an overall summary of the advantages and disadvantages of each side.

                  And this was a teacher who *did* like to go into certain details to an informative extent, just not every detail.

                  I don’t even remember if they did any Locke before college.

                  1. I learned about Communism in Elementary School.

                    All this talk got me to pull my transcripts from school.

                    I had Social Studies in Elementary School. US History in Middle School. World History, American Government, Economics, and Civics in High School

  14. Out of all the historic figures available why would politically minded activists chose the likeness of Che Guevera to wear on a T-Shirt? Why not Ghandi, Mother Theresa, MLK? Because that one ultra high contrast image of Che that you see on those T-Shirts makes him look like a hottie, it’s a simple as that. It’s a cartoon, just like Gueveras political morals.

  15. Another reason to re-institute corporal punishment in schools, primarily for the faculty.

  16. “Just after the Cuban missile crisis ended—with Khrushchev reneging on the promise made in Yalta and negotiating a deal with the United States behind Castro’s back that included the removal of American missiles from Turkey—Guevara told a British communist daily: “If the rockets had remained, we would have used them all and directed them against the very heart of the United States, including New York, in our defense against aggression.””

    https://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=1535

    1. …which might have put a dent in American sales of Che T-shirts.

    1. For once they don’t mention slavery, though this time it was actually relevant. But they want a straight heroic narrative, an American Thermopylae (you know, like the movie).

    2. You wanna argue about this one too? Look at the comments on that video and tell me it’s not good at making kids interested in history.

      1. I don’t mind a straight heroic narrative. Quite the contrary! And yes, the commenters (kids I presume) seemed to agree.

        1. Personally, if were given two choices (a) die gloriously in a last-ditch stand for freedom, or (b) choke to death on my own snot because of some virus, I’d do the one where I die for freedom.

  17. Martin Luther King.

    Of course, you can’t make a *real* rap song about Rev. King, because there wasn’t any sexual depravity.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkP7FEhq52M

    1. Eddy are you spouting *gasp* revisionist history?

      1. I don’t know who I’m revising. Everyone knows he courageously stood up against Jim Crow, and most everybody knows he wasn’t monogamous while doing so.

        And Admiral Nelson banged some other dude’s wife, didn’t keep them from giving him a column.

        1. Alan Turing and Laurence of Arabia both hired rent-boys, Cornelius Vanderbilt hung out with Victoria Woodhull the free-love advocate (and her sister), in fact, if the priority is to keep the students’ interest…well, not really age-appropriate, is it, like much of history…

          1. Technically speaking, revisionist history is the inverse of consensus history, so regardless of the factual nature of any of it, if it goes against what’s seen as the common, consensus perspective of a historical character or event, it’s classified as revisionist by historians. Interest is important in a class, but it’s never the end goal.

            1. In part I’m being serious and in part I’m playing with you.

              I don’t even know if teachers are *allowed* to discuss the sex lives of historical figures?

  18. “Rap-based” is all that is needed to be known to denounce it. Please come back, Richard Mitchell.

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