To state the obvious, we are a terribly divided nation. Everywhere people talk—in restaurants, on TV, at the dinner table, in line at the movies—and they are either arguing viciously about politics or resolutely avoiding the subject. There was a time—really, I remember it!—when people could disagree about a political issue without the conversation degenerating into personal affronts. Sadly, that is no longer the case. And because we, and our politicians, can no longer converse in a civil manner, most of our societal problems are not being addressed.
There are many reasons for this state of affairs, and, yes, we can argue about what they are, but I want to identify what I see as one important factor: the failure of our educational system to teach children respect and compassion for all people regardless of how they look, where they come from, how much money they have, or what they think. It seems clear to me that demonstrators would not scream insults at the opposite side, nor would politicians malign their colleagues from across the aisle, if they truly believed that every human being is precious and consequential. And I am convinced that respect for others is learned and that it must start in Junior Kindergarten or Senior Kindergarten.
This is not meant to be an indictment of all schools and teachers; many do a fine job of exposing their students to many political points of view, different religious beliefs, and various cultural tenets. But many do not. Too many schools, administrators, and teachers are heavily invested in engendering a new generation of citizens who are carbon copies of themselves, convinced that they are right on all issues.
It is time to open our classroom windows and allow fresh air to come in. And, as we start talking about new ideas and different ways of life, can’t we do it without labeling them right or wrong? Can’t we stop being afraid of who or what is different and— worse yet—passing those fears onto our kids? I am convinced that there are enough people of goodwill—parents, teachers, administrators—that we can make all schools beacons of tolerance and truth. Surely, we can fill our classrooms with enough great books, movies, and art so that our students can see the best that human beings are capable of and learn to emulate it. To that end, here is an agenda that might move us in the right direction:
- Make sure that all schools are integrated.
- Read stories and novels that include characters from all racial and ethnic groups.
- Make time in class to discuss, in a respectful manner, age-appropriate current events.
- Make time in class, either through discussions or papers, for students to tell their stories.
There are many other things teachers can do to promote better understanding and appreciation of all people, and smart, creative educators can find them. But we have to heal the wounds in our society before it is permanently pulled asunder.
Welcome to the fall 2018 issue of Independent Teacher. Shorter than some issues, this one nevertheless contains some thought-provoking ideas that we hope will inspire and perk up your own teaching. The topics range from using an outdoor learning experience as a metaphor for the Syrian refugee crisis to thoughts on teaching students with ADHD to teaching the history of science and technology—and more! We‘d love to hear what you have to say on these subjects or any others related to your classroom. Please send responses, comments, or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.