Nicholas Ferroni: Meet the Teacher Who is Revolutionizing American Education


As you may have noticed, today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. Instead of distributing shiny apples and useless bath products outside the classes of over-worked teachers, PolicyMic has decided to pay homage to the noble profession by showcasing the teachers that are revolutionizing it.

Meet Mr Ferroni. He's not only a successful actor, brilliant historian, accomplished writer, and amazing host; he's also committed to making the American education system better and stronger.

Ferroni isn't your regular high school history teacher. Instead of shoving facts down the throats of students, he encourages them to form their own thoughts and ideas.  That's why he's made media literacy one of his top priorities.

"From day one I have stressed media literacy and awareness, on both a historical and social level. I even take it as far as when we are discussing and studying Roman art and even the Renaissance, that the art and statues that we have come to cherish and revere are also examples of media," Ferroni says. "As a high school teacher, who deals with hormonal and very impressionable teenagers daily, I find it imperative that I make them aware of the media (especially music, commercial, films and TV shows) that they are flooded with throughout the day."

He's observed first-hand the dominant role that has media in influencing the lives of his students and according to a report by MissRepresentation, he's entirely right. American teenagers spend at least 31 hours staring at a television screen every week. If you add time spent on the web, listening to music and reading magazines, it adds up to almost eleven hours a day. The images and values that are transmitted through these mediums aren't always realistic and children need to have conversations about what they see and what it means.  

The teacher strongly believes that a gender focus is paramount to any media literacy program. He frequently analyzes song lyrics and popular commercials with his students. Even when he's teaching about American history, he makes sure to address the inherent sexist bias in mainstream textbooks.

"Even our textbooks are examples of why media literacy should be incorporated in history classes, considering that in our history textbooks, we tend to leave out figures that didn't quite fit into the accepted role of the time, and this is especially visible in the lack of active and controversial women. We seem to have left out so many amazing, and deserving women, who have done extraordinary things in history, and replaced them with women who are less deserving, but fit the role.

"For example: we always mention Betsy Ross and her role as the seamstress who sewed the first flag (which we now believe is not true) and not Deborah Sampson who, not only fought in battles in the American Revolution as a man, but was the first woman ever to receive military pension. Media, including textbooks, have such a profound affect on what we believe to be true or accept as a society." 

Ferroni has also had conversations around controversial issues such as gay marriage and uses the lessons history has taught us to encourage critical thinking.

"Many of students could not sympathize with the gay and lesbian community for many religious reasons, and did not hate them, but just couldn't agree with homosexuality. As a history teacher, I can find many correlations for present issues in the past, since history does repeat itself, often. So, this was a great opportunity to explain to my predominantly minority student base how the treatment of the gay and lesbian community today is no different than the treatment of African Americans in the 50's, 60's and even 70s. We engaged in passionate discussions and, as a teacher, you can see in a student's eyes that they are truly processing thoughts. After the period, one of my students who was ultimately against same sex marriage, raised his hand and said, "Mr. Ferroni, you're right. It isn't any different from how blacks were treated. It's the same thing ... My bad." It was a nice moment, and he came to his opinion on his own." the teacher says.

Why is this educator so devoted to erasing gender disparities in the curriculum he teaches? Because he believes that the way children understand history will impact the way they view the present.

"By eliminating many deserving women from the curriculum, we are not only doing a disservice to history, but we are indirectly teaching boys, and girls, to be sexist by giving them the impression that women didn't do anything in history. I truly believe we can rid sexism in America by incorporating more powerful women in to our textbooks and, not only would it empower so many young girls, it will also help little boys be more likely to view girls and women as equals."

Anyone else think this guy is the coolest teacher ever?

For more on the importance of teaching media literacy with a gender focus, visit MissRepresentation's website. If you're a public school teacher in California, for a limited time, you can acquire their curriculum for free.

For more on great teachers follow me at @feministabulous and don't forget to keep up with Ferroni's awesome work by following him at @NicholasFerroni.