So here in BC we just had an election this week – which means there was a lot of political talk in schools (and everywhere else!) During a discussion with a friend she asked me how I teach about politics without letting my personal views sway students one way or the other. I explained how I like to draw the opinions out of conversation from students and tap into their critical thinking skills but this question really got me thinking about what and how we share political information with our students.
I really believe that being an informed voter is more about critical thinking than anything else – especially with the heavy role the media plays in everything! In middle school, critical thinking skills are often at the root of daily lessons, but when it comes to political discussions they are at the forefront.
About a week before the election I was subbing in a class where I had to teach a Social Studies lesson about the platforms of the different parties and help students discover who they wanted to vote for in the Student Vote the following week. Being an opinionated… mmm VERY opinionated… voter myself, I had to consciously think about the words I was choosing to explain different party platforms. There were many important issues in this election (Enbridge pipeline in particular) and it was really interesting to hear what the students thought of the main issues.
During this lesson I discovered what a wealth of knowledge these students have and how their own passions are really going to drive their ideas of what is important. Like the student who said he didn’t care about “any of this voting stuff” until the issue of care for people with disabilities came up and struck a chord with him personally. Or the students who thought taxes should be eliminated altogether until we brainstormed the things that would be lost without tax money.
These students had so much to offer in terms of their ideas and opinions that by the end of it I realized how little my opinion even mattered in the discussion. I could really see how much richer the discussion was when there wasn’t a right answer or easy solution. It was an amazing experience witnessing this group of kids digging deeper into those real questions: “What do I care about?” “Why does this matter to me?” “What kind of future do I want to be a part of?”
Let’s just say that this teacher was learning a lot! …And hopefully the kids were too (BC is definitely in need of a young generation of voters!)
How do you approach political discussions in your classroom?
What is the best way to engage the indifferent when it comes to these conversations and debates?