My brother-in-law said it best this morning on Facebook: “Sometimes I hate us. This is one of those times.” The ‘us’ he referred to is us humans. I get you, bro, I really do. Yesterday I had a belly-full of contentious social media postings: the general screaming from my conservative friends and National Enquirer-esque mode of salacious, taunting headlines such as “THINGS DEMOCRATS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW” just became so tired and trite. Were these otherwise kind, intelligent people seriously believing the garbage? And this is not a one-sided observation: any comments about how politicians on both sides play the cards they are dealt when they get a winning hand became lost in the din. Rationality drowned out by roars. My personal fatigue with trying to have an interesting conversation about things political felt combative and harassing. Folks were getting a little too aggro, if you know what I mean.
My burning question is–what role do, or should teachers and educators play in terms of debate and opinion? How much value do our personal biases possess in a classroom or meeting? In my utopia, not much, but admittedly, I am flawed. There are some beliefs I cannot reconcile: teaching creationism as science, not as a religious belief, teaching the 6,000-year-old earth idea, flat earth, or discussing religious or political views with students.
This morning was chatting with a friend who lives on the east coast and heard some worrisome tales. Her granddaughter came home with quotes from the teacher saying she was going to vote for Trump because he ‘cares about jobs.’ Also, this teacher asked the kids who had been spanked, and ‘she could tell because those were the good ones.’ Now let me flip this: the teacher said Obama cares about jobs, and kids should never be spanked. (It wasn’t Obama, but I’ve heard some kids speak their parents’ political views about him, too.) In a country as polarized as ours, the students are now divided. And those that fall away from the teacher’s point of view now feel this unease, this sense of ‘the teacher doesn’t like me.’ And they’re right. Often if we don’t feel liked or respected, we go into a defensive stance, and if our family’s values don’t align with the teachers, we end up not liking that person who made us feel bad. And as Rita Pierson says so wisely, “Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.”
This fourth-grade granddaughter also gets 3.5 hours of homework a night, too. I see the love of learning going straight down the tubes.
Now, what should parents do when their child is told something that doesn’t align with their values? There is nothing wrong with seeking to understand from the teacher, and the principal, with the mindset that this is information gathering and clarification, not a witch-hunt. All of us have said something that out of context can be taken the wrong way in our classrooms. That’s the human piece, and where we truly put our critical thinking skills to the test. Instead of assumptions, seeking context and clarity helps us all. Questioning. Seeking. If we don’t know that we offended someone, we never get the opportunity to mend the rift.
The takeaway is to keep religious and political views out of the classroom. Wait–that’s not quite right. How about make sure the conversation is always three-sided. Use the critical questions skills to challenge ideas, defend ideas, and construct new ones, teachers and students alike. But –with caution –be clear of intent. We are not trying to make students feel that we don’t like them if their views and conclusions are not ours. That’s when we need to check our biases and privilege. (The privilege comes from years of life experience, education, and safe places to come to our own points of view. Students haven’t had this luxury yet.) Consider age-appropriate discussions. Teach facts, opinions, and truth. Encourage creative, critical thinking with questioning skills and reflection
Caveat: once all modes of diplomacy and peace offerings have been…err..offered, and there still exists tension, I’m not sure what to do with that. Go all “Taylor Swift At The Grammys” speech I suppose.