School Views: Current events and the classroom
Eagle County Schools
Discussing current events has always been an important practice in schools, with lessons tailored to the developmental level of the specific grade. This is not only critical in preparing students for citizenship in a pluralistic society and representative democracy, but also connects learning with the real world.
Going back to before Election Day, principals reminded staff members of the importance of discussing the election in neutral, nonpartisan ways. High school students in particular were highly engaged with the political rhetoric leading up to the election.
In this election cycle, a broad spectrum of public discourse was on display, and not much of it was civil debate. Current events conversations extended beyond political campaigns and slogans to also look at issues of censorship, media bias, civil unrest, peaceful protest, and chronic misinformation. One of the seven skills we speak of as being necessary for graduates is information literacy – the ability to consider the veracity of information being presented as truth or fact.
Our obligation as educators is to foster discussion and careful consideration of current events, including politics, without taking a particular side. By being neutral moderators, educators can help students learn and engage in civil discourse that allows for the discussion of differing viewpoints without polarizing the class or student body. School is the right place for these kinds of conversations so students can learn respectful and productive methods of discourse.
The mob violence that occurred at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was an alarming event. Like the peaceful protests earlier in the year that spilled over into riotous behavior, the violence against the Capitol building and our elected leaders was an inappropriate response by a small subset within the larger group of protesters.
As worrisome as the events of this past year have been, it is important to help students talk about them and process their complex emotions. Education intends to model and prepare young people with strategies to discuss differences in a way that maintains human dignity and honors those involved.
Of course, the concern is always, “Can a teacher set aside their biases when guiding these discussions?” All people communicate in overt and covert ways based on their implicit biases on a variety of topics, so arguably it may be impossible to eliminate all biases. However, teachers are professional educators trained to be objective, so we are confident in their ability to avoid skewing a discussion among students one way or another. They take their responsibility to discuss controversial topics with scholarly objectivity very seriously.
It’s also key to consider that a student’s first and most important “teachers” are their parents. Students model their behavior from parents, the discussions in their homes, the news predominantly watched in their households. And, more than any generation before them, they are influenced by the abundance of media available in the palm of their hands. Unfortunately, much of the behavior currently modeled on media channels and by politicians doesn’t meet the standards we hold for public discourse.
Nevertheless, that’s a teachable moment. Students can see and discuss the need for unity, civility, and the recognition that our differences need not divide us as members of a community.
Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at email@example.com.