“Nobody’s Self-Made” – Jeffrey J. Weiss, DMACC instructor

corporate media after class at DMACC Urban last month.
Weiss (right) and student, Ed Carreno (left), discuss corporate media after class at DMACC Urban last month.

Jeffrey J. Weiss, an adjunct Social Sciences instructor at DMACC, had a question for his seventh grade history teacher after class. The lesson gave the European settlers’ perspective of their westward expansion in the United States. Outside of class, she told him that there was a Native American viewpoint too.

Weiss said, “I kind of started wondering why all of the class didn’t get the different version of that history. Why we only got a ‘whitewashed,’ pun intended, version of that history?”  

While studying history and journalism at Iowa State University, he heard about lynching in an African American history class. He asked, “‘What is lynching?’ It was the first time that I’d ever heard it and I started asking, ‘What else has not been taught? What has been left out of this so-called education?’”

It turns out that he also didn’t know about apartheid until college when he met Abram, a South African classmate and friend to this day. Abram taught him about the legal system of racial discrimination in South Africa and said that he had been tortured by a machine manufactured in Florida. 

Weiss said, “When I learned that my own government was supporting apartheid and learned what that was, I started to question everything. I learned one version of United States history and policy and then I started to learn that, wow, there’s a lot that’s left out.” 

He started to take part in the Ames Coalition Against Apartheid. He was an activist and went to conferences with South Africans. “I was in a great movement and that also inspired me to teach because, wow, you can change the world and part of how you can make the world more democratic is to bring more education.” 

Weiss’s brother, Daniel, influenced him as well. He was an artist and “a bit of a genius.”

“He would do his art, question everything, and look at society. He had a sociological eye and so it was kind of natural to grow up like that,” said Weiss.

He credited his parents for teaching him “everything that I need to know.” His dad was a first-generation Volga German immigrant from Russia and got a sixth grade education. “He wanted us to have all the education that we wanted because he never got to go to school at all as a new immigrant.”

Weiss took the opportunity and earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and later a Master in Political Sciences.

After graduation, he worked for AmeriCorps, a national network of service programs. It was there that someone that he knew, who later became a professor, told Weiss, “You should be a teacher. What’s going on with you? Go on down to DMACC and talk to people.”  

For over 18 years, he’s been an adjunct at Grandview, Upper Iowa University, DMACC Ankeny, and DMACC Urban.  He also served as the Peace Educator Director for the American Friends Service Committee and taught about foreign policy and war and peace issues.

After answering the question of how he got into teaching, Weiss said, “That would be sort of the long, convoluted story: family, friends, activism, all that.” He laughed.  “Nobody’s self-made because nobody births themselves.” 



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