A couple of weeks ago we were very fortunate to have a visiting lecture from José López, brother of Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican political prisoner of the United Sates. Mr. López’s talk addressed issues of oppression and domination throughout history, artfully weaving together a variety of histories to help us critically analyze the state of the world today. He challenged the way many of us have thought about the world and what we’ve been taught as “true” history. He inspired numerous questions and conversations throughout LightHouse.
One aspect of Mr. López’s talk examined the very question of history, whose histories have been told, and from whose perspective. It brought to mind the old adage, “knowledge is power.” While of course this is true, Mr. López reminded us that, more powerful than having knowledge is, in fact, controlling knowledge. Throughout history so many people’s stories have been hidden, whitewashed, and revised, and turned into new “truths” that, in their very teaching, rewrite the travesties of history and further empower the already-privileged. If knowledge is power, then controlling knowledge means dictating who has power…and who doesn’t.
Beyond being deeply thought-provoking, this lecture also resonated with what we do at LightHouse. Our curriculum isn’t dictated or prescribed, it’s both emergent and flexible. Our students have the opportunity to utilize primary sources and to explore a multiplicity of narratives in understanding and unpacking history. History—along with other subjects—is not provided to them in a tidy package. It’s explored through a process of inquiry and analysis that is complicated and challenging. It’s authentic. It’s an approach that asks teens to consider the messiness of humanity, and that places value on learning from that messiness. We know that the “facts,” as they have so often been taught, are merely sanitized and water-downed versions of a far more complex set of truths. It is the contradictions that we uncover in the facts that is where the most learning can (and does) actually take place.
We are also striving to help our teens understand the critical value in telling their own stories and defining their own paths, particularly in a society where many of our teens have already been told what their futures “can” or “should” be. Our teens are invited and encouraged to create their own stories and paths and to be the author of their own lives. In a world where such invitations have not been the norm, this is an experience that can be novel and that takes time. But, as Mr. López reminded us, the power lies with those voices that manage to be heard. So often voices are surpressed, particularly those of young people, people of color, women, and other underrepresented/underserved groups. At LightHouse, we work actively to help every teen create and tell their own story, and to find ways to build the future they want for themselves. LightHouse—and our teens— can change the future.