Times have changed.
We are no longer living in the world where our parents grew up. Instead, the world and politics have taken some huge swings over the past decade towards a liberal approach. The effect has forced me to reevaluate how I tackle certain standards to make it relevant for my scholars. In the midst of reading instruction, I often question what background knowledge my scholars come into my classroom with daily.
With a snag in our daily announcements, I decided to tune into Channel One Student News. The morning’s show shared information about an incident which evolved around race and prejudice.
My scholars jumped up and started to share their opinions on the incident. I was excited because scholars who are very passive finally found a topic they were passionate towards.
A colleague of mine passed along some Junior Scholastic magazines to look through for argument writing, and I came across an article entitles Is this a Flag of Hate? It broken down two sides of an argument on whether the confederate flag and other items (i.e., statues, school mascots) where inappropriate for our current culture.
From an instructional viewpoint, students synthesized the article and managed to master the argument writing standard quite well, but it came at a cost.
It had nothing to do with monetary money, but it cost them to step out of their comfort level. My classroom is nothing less than diverse with Caucasian students often being the minority along with a handful of Hispanic and Asian students. Not to mention, I am a Caucasian male within this diverse group.
In class conversations we did the traditional close-read, but spent a lot of time on large group conversations with a focus on why and how the removal of the flag would change our society today. Some scholars would glance around the room and get a feel for their audience before talking. Many of them shared opinions taught to them at home by their parents. When I asked how they came to that belief of conclusion many did not know beyond “that’s what my parents said.”
As I picked into their responses to get them to go deeper many of them were awestruck in themselves because they did know why they felt the way they did. Therefore, it had to be discussed more … yes, it was an uncomfortable topic … however, I wanted to enlighten them on what was going on outside the bubble of our community and allow them to decide for themselves what was right and wrong. As barriers were broken down, we debated the subheads and whether the evidence was credible explaining why each of them thought one way or another. We disagreed and validated one another, and it was no longer a conversation hindered or ignited by race. It was a conversation about a dilemma in society which needed to be addressed.
It needed to be addressed by the youth who are one day going to run the society in which we live.
Staying neutral and only offering historical background (to fill in the gaps). My scholars began open conversations about race and ways to change their own world. It was breathtaking. Many of them grew intellectually and learned the importance of taking a side to an argument. In addition, it was OK to disagree with another person.
As I graded the assignments, my students were divided on whether to remove the Confederate battle flag, but more importantly they were able to explain their thoughts in a respectful, academic manner in safe environment.
Here are some student examples (please, feel free to comment):
- Lowering the flag ‘won’t change people’e hearts’
- The flag should stay up
- Let the Confederate Flag rest
After that week, I knew they were taught skills that went well beyond teaching argument writing –appreciation for one another, respect for different opinions, and how to remove the elephant in the room to have an honest conversation on a sensitive topic.
It came at a great cost, but the rewards far outweighed the cost.