Beyond November 8: How to promote democracy and empathy in the classroom
Many frustrated teachers abandoned their election curriculum during 2016’s contentious election cycle. This is such an important time to promote civil discourse and real, engaged learning. In fact, maintaining the conversation, difficult as it is, appears to be making its way into the mission statement of public education.
Public education should promote democracy
In a recent article U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King made clear that promoting “democracy was one of the original goals of public education,” and schools and colleges must educate students about their role in democracy and help America’s youth become problem-solvers.
The onus of this goal falls directly on educators. It can be overwhelming, and the issues are so much larger than one school building, one classroom, one teacher. The climate in 2016 makes it harder than ever to know how to stay in your lane. Fortunately, there are a ton of excellent resources to help educators face these topics head-on while modeling civility in the classroom. Ten suggestions are highlighted in this article from the New York Times.
What civility looks like in the classroom
The road to civil discourse starts with inquiry. Do your classroom rules and structures support respectful discussion? Does your classwork lean into or avoid the events and news highlighting the problem of a divided America? When you use digital resources in your instruction, how are students expected to conduct themselves in online comments and forums?
Further suggestions from The Times are more meta and reflective. Educators should practice and model empathy. Statements should be backed up with evidence and sources. Listening should be augmented with genuine questions aimed toward understanding, not judgment.
Dealing with the bully residue
After this charged election season, there will inevitably be fallout from the negativity. The contentious example set by the national media, candidates, trusted adults, and peers has lasting effects. It may take some classrooms time to heal and reunite. Sensitive students will be especially affected, though most children under the age of 12 may not even be able to identify what they are feeling or why. Adolescents and teens, tuned into the language and understanding the meaning of the messages that came out during the election may seem visibly charged or changed.
There is good news, though. From one of the most comforting of all media offerings: Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street, conducted a study with 2,000 parents and 500 teachers. It found that “both parents and educators overwhelmingly felt that being kind was more important than having high academic achievement.” Spending time on empathy work in your classroom will pay off for the rest of the year. And beyond.
K-12 Books for the 2016 Election
For age appropriate books to start the conversation, including fiction and non-fiction and biography, check out our Election 2016 J/YA list curated by our librarians.
Image courtesy of Britt Reints via Flickr
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