This Political Moment

THIS POLITICAL MOMENT: What kinds of teaching and learning are called for in this political moment? What does (or, what might) social justice education look like in your context(s)? What are we doing, and what do we need to be doing?

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  1. I think one of the most important thing that teachers can do in this political climate is to let their students know that their voices do matter, in the classroom and outside of it. Students may feel that they are not being heard, and their teacher is one person who should always listen to them, and show them that they do matter, and that their thoughts and feelings are important and valued. As an English teacher, I will need to choose literature that shows all kinds of people, cultures, and stories, so that my students never feel like they are not represented in my classroom. We need to be an adult role model who speaks without bullying or implying that there is only one voice that matters. We need to show our students that not only are they heard, but they are listened to as well. If students come to us feeling that they are being bullied, or misrepresented, or discriminated against, we must not only acknowledge those things, but do something about it, so that the students see that they do have an advocate, they do have an adult who cares about them and their voice.

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    • I like your bringing up bullying prevention as being important today; that was a good point that I didn’t mention. Especially interesting in today’s climate that our first lady has chosen this as her area of focus.

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    • I think that it’s also important to mention that we let ALL students have voices, but we must keep in mind that their voicing of opinions need to be grounded in fact. So while each individual has a voice, no matter what side of an argument they’re on, their opinions must have relevancy and a strong foundation. No one’s voice is more important than another, and in a time of alternative facts, we must stress the importance of equality and fact-based arguments.

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  2. Critical thinking is crucial in this political climate. Students (and adults) are so influenced by what they read on social media, by fear tactics, fake news, opinions from parents, celebrities and friends… I think it is crucial to teach students how to evaluate all the information that is coming at them and to make informed decisions based on actual fact, not emotion or “alternative” facts. Social justice education is more important than ever. Although all the ugly faces of racism and sexism have been lurking beneath the surface all along, recent events have caused them to rise to the surface and to be spoken loudly, and often boldly and without apology. Many students are feeling very unsafe. Students need to feel safe and supported in their learning environment. Teachers should be advocates for those who are afraid, but should also use their role to help the bullies understand what it is they are doing. Often, they are just repeating what they have learned elsewhere and without adults to help them understand other points-of-view, there is little hope that they will change. Ideally, we would be able to use the English classroom to spark true dialogue about these difficult issues and to begin to break down barriers. But, of course, this is much easier said than done, and takes a skilled teacher to successfully lead these kinds of discussions so all students feel safe and respected.

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    • I just realized our posts are quite similar but I really admire that you mentioned safety as well as acknowledging how difficult it can be for teachers to not only teach but lead difficult discussions. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who have expressed such disheartening moments where their students are worried about family members being deported, how they will be treated when they show up to class and what would happen if they were to express themselves. How can students stay focused and learn with all these things on their minds? These are very difficult situations for teachers to be in but I feel that we need to stay as strong as possible for our students and remind them that the classroom can serve as their second home and is a safe environment to be in.

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    • You bring up very valid points, that I feel are very accurate considering today’s society. “Alternative facts”, are indeed a strong issue that we need to address in our classrooms, as we can be most influential, considering that we are with our students sometimes more often than anyone else. As teachers, staying neutral and being that “safe haven” is important, considering the new fears that our students are dealing with. Hopefully, if more educators jump on the ‘social justice’ and ‘critical thinking’ train, then we can build a better society for the future.

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    • I agree that the focus should be on our students in the current political climate. Often times students can sense the unsettling feeling that is associated with reading or watching the news but do not fully grasp what the issue at hand is. It is the teacher’s job to be a stable example for them and be the driving force in their analytical thinking. It can be difficult for us when it seems that everything is falling apart, with constant disappointing decisions being made. But, it would behoove us not to wallow but to use these deficits as a starting point of conversations that show students they can make a difference.

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    • I agree that critical thinking must be a central part of our instruction in this political climate. The proliferation of fake news and alternative facts is certainly concerning and our students can easily fall victim to this. I think that including nonfiction in our curriculum can be effective in teaching students how to identify the truth. This teaches students how to determine if a source is credible and if it is based in fact. Additionally it teaches them not to just repeat what they have heard, but to actually investigate for themselves.

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    • Jeannine, thank you for your post. It speaks to a major concern facing students (and adults) today: the ability to evaluate online articles and news sources for their credibility. With the majority of our information coming from the Internet, and especially social media platforms, unreliable sources are continually sparking fear in its readers. My question is: in this political moment, how do we effectively teach students the basic skill of becoming fact checkers?

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  3. Hi Mary Katherine, Jeannine and class

    Great point about critical thinking – it is essential to navigating in this political climate. We do need to teach how to discern what is real and what is likely not real, even at the elementary level. Having this background can help students make more informed decisions about what they are seeing and hearing. It is important to empower all students in this political climate because there are so many students, so many people that are feeling as though their voices do not matter. Certainly literature is one way to do that, and one way to demonstrate that people do have the ability to effect change. While I have only just begun to delve into the reading for this week, I found myself pondering how to effectively choose literature for all grade levels. At the high school level, or even at the middle school level, do we have to teach students to avoid personalization of the text so that they can achieve an intellectual distance between controversial texts? If so, how do we do that? When?

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  4. I believe that staying neutral as a teacher is an important concept. I have learned from experiences that if people do not agree with your opinion, you can sometimes lose their respect, or lose respect from them. Especially nowadays since the election there has been a big divide, so as an educator we need to stay neutral and be a mediator in class discussions. It is also important for my students to know that their opinions do matter to me and that their voices are heard. The classroom community would need to be establishes as a safe and trusting environment in order for my students to want to engage in conversation and give their opinions. I also think that people need to be open to other people’s views and opinions. It does not mean that you have to agree with everyone, but sometimes being a good listener is better than always offering a negative comment back to a difference of opinion. As mentioned by Jeannine, the media does play a huge role in today’s society and we have to teach our students and our children that it is important to be educated to not believe everything that you see on the TV or on the computer.

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    • I really appreciate you bringing up the importance of “staying neutral” as a teacher. This is one of my goals as a pre-service teacher, as I feel that I was, sometimes, wrongly influenced in my education along the way. I also believe that it is important to direct our students with their opinions, if they seem to be expressing things that they feel they ‘should believe’ versus what they ‘actually believe’, or if they are simply replying based on ‘alternative facts’.

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  5. I believe an open mindless is key to teaching and learning in this political movement today. I think that it is easy to close your mind to BOTH sides of the various movements going on, especially in regards to birth control, abortion, building the wall, and the restrictions on refugees and certain countries from entering the United States. I lived in a very rural town before moving to Buffalo, New York and I am fortunate to see both sides of different arguments because I have a very diverse group of friends who choose to listen to each other and keep an open mind about topics that are controversial. Inside the classroom and becoming a teacher, I do agree with Alexandra Barbetta that we need to stay neutral. I also agree with Alexandra, Tanya, Mary Katherine, and Jeannine that we need to listen to students and what their needs are. One of the most important things that you can do as a teacher is listen to your students!

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  6. I feel that it is very important for teachers to encourage their students to ask questions, teach them how to explore various resources to form a well rounded viewpoint as well as provide students with an opportunity to express themselves in a constructive manner. Students may feel that they have to believe what their parents/friends believe just because that is all they’re surrounded by. Learning diverse perspectives can and should be done in a respectful manner as to not promote conflict within and outside the classroom. Students can be easily influenced by all the media in the world today and I think it is crucial for them to be able to speak for themselves instead of just jumping on a bandwagon because their friends or family might feel a certain way. Multicultural literature, community information and access to as much media as possible can serve as tools to help students formulate and express themselves among their peers. Teachers should strive to advocate for their students and let them know that the classroom is a place where their opinions are valued and can be expressed without repercussions. Validating students’ perspectives and diversity will create a threshold for optimal learning and communication within the classroom as students learn about themselves, their peers and how to respect others as a whole.

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  7. Critical thinking, making inferences, and socially responsive instruction are all crucial aspects of an affective, socially just education in this 21st century political moment. As a life-long graduate of a Catholic and Jesuit institutions, the ideals of social justice, cura personalis, and magis have been instilled in me from a young age. Thus, my view of education has been one endowed with the belief that education is not only an intellectual pursuit, but also a philosophic and moral one. In other words, an educated individual in this political moment is not just one who knows the academic content, but rather one who knows how to apply it in culturally relevant and sensitive ways. For example, a student who leaves my class would not only leave with a knowledge of the civil rights movement, but also with a penchant for social justice that will motivate them to fight for justice and protect the vulnerable and oppressed.

    However, not everyone shares a penchant for social justice, or believes that it has a place in the curriculum in American schools. In his article, “Towards a civic education in a multicultural society: Ethical problems in teaching literature” Smagorinsky (1992) describes the public outcry of the community in Kanawha County, West Virginia, after the school district decided to purchase textbooks that reflected multicultural perspectives. Certain community members believed that the issues raised in these textbooks from multicultural perspectives raised questions about issues they already considered settled (pg. 212). At first, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. How could someone reject multicultural perspectives in this day and age? This then led me to ask another vital question: Was their opinion or perspective on this issue valid? Further, do we, today, have an obligation to respect the opinions of others when their opinions are blatantly wrong or prejudiced?

    For example, look no further than President Trump’s executive order on immigration, or “Muslim ban”. I have seen people on Facebook defending Trump and his executive order by saying that “Muslims can’t be trusted” “Better safe than sorry” and “They shouldn’t be here if they don’t want to assimilate”. Is everyone still entitled to their own opinion, even if their own opinion may be based on fear, misinformation, or propaganda/fake news? How can people disagree on something as basic and important as human rights? Don’t we all have the right to live a good life, free from prejudice and discrimination? Most importantly, however, what does all of this mean for us, as teachers? What responsibility do we have, if any, to teach students about social justice and multicultural literature? I look forward to having these discussions with you and listening to your different points of view.

    As other’s have said, I agree that it’s important for teachers to remain grounded, reasonable, and open-minded, as we should expect our students to be. However, I don’t think that means we should avoid discussing controversial topics in the classroom. After all, if we want our students to be critical and inferential thinkers, then we have to encourage civil debates and the inclusion of different perspectives. Students have to learn to think for themselves, without having the views of their teachers, parents, or others imposed upon them. We should have them cite facts and other evidence to support their claims and then listen attentively and respectfully to the opposition. Through this process, we should be sure to protect the inherent dignity of the human person and practice kindness and respect.

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  8. At this time it is very important that students be made aware of fake news and how to evaluate information. It’s very interesting that both with the Common Core Learning Standards, the new Social Studies Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards that evidence-based writing and inquiry-based teaching and learning are stressed. Old models of teaching where the teacher stands and delivers clearly have not educated the American public on how to make informed decisions based on facts. It’s also interesting that within the Social Studies Inquiries that “Taking Informed Action” is an important new emphasis in learning. Teachers are encouraged to help students question and analyze information and once they have obtained the required learning that they then take it an apply it to a current problem that exists in today’s society; from letter writing, to creating a program or service.

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  9. I think it is important for students nowadays to learn respect and keeping a modest mind. Living in extremely diverse environment, it is barely possible to learn about the culture or custom of whoever is different from us in order to avoid being stereotyping or racist, simply because of our limited time and resource. Having a modest mind is definitely another way to mitigate the conflict among different ethnic or social group. With this mindset, people tend to respect not just because they have less sense of alienation from those who are different, but because they value other individuals as more wholesome individuals with rice emotion and cultural background. Different in appearance but identity in essence. It is a new perspective of viewing and valuing the world, yet it cannot only be done in school. Our perspective is built in such a subtle way that it cannot be written in code so that we might standardize it and spread it in a massive way. We all learned it from our family, community and society. This perspective learning might be the most disordered thing I have seen in our ordered society.

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  10. As teachers, it is our job to make sure that our students feel safe and treated equally in the classroom. With what is going on in the political sphere at the moment, it might be harder for some students to feel accepted by others. At the moment, the media is treating different minority groups with prejudice or stereotype, and it is important to not let these prejudices seep into our classrooms. It is important for our students to know that our classrooms are a safe environment for all students, despite cultural, religious, political, and ethnicity.
    In my classroom, I hope to use literature as a way to incorporate social justice education in my curriculum. By using multicultural texts that show different perspectives of different peoples, I hope to expose my students to different cultures and to breakdown the stereotypes that the media creates of certain people.

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    • What you shared holds true to every person aspiring to teach open mindedness and respect for others differences. Teachers have a unique opportunity to shape and influence the minds of younger individuals; their roles should be regarded seriously and their decisions should be thought of as significant.

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  11. It is very important that we keep our classrooms free of judgment and open for discussion. There is lots of fear and the fake news that is going around is spreading that fear. All of this is definitely having a negative impact on everyone especially children. I remember during the elections for Obama’s second term. Many of the kids in my school where scared saying that the other candidate would bring back slavery. It was very disheartening to hear what they believed was really going to happen. I listened and we had some very intense discussions. I also read books with them that dealt with their feelings and this helped calm their fears.
    We might not be able to change what is happening right now, but we can provide a safe classroom where students can speak freely on what their feeling.

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    • Rosa, I absolutely agree with you on keeping classrooms judgment-free. Our classrooms and schools need to be a safe environment that fosters important discussions about our current political climate. While I am not currently teaching in my own classroom, I’ve heard many stories of students clashing with each other over the recent election. Instead of shutting down these debates, we as educators should steer the conversation away from argument and gear it towards an informed discussion. Students need to understand that their opinions and experiences matter, and what better place to explore existing and new perspectives than a classroom where all students will ideally feel valued and important.

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  12. I think that it is important that we teach our students open mindedness. William Hare defines it as “an intellectual virtue that involves a willingness to take relevant evidence and argument into account in forming or revising our beliefs and values… It means being critically receptive to alternative possibilities, being willing to think again despite having formed an opinion, and sincerely trying to avoid those conditions and offset those factors which constrain and distort our reflections”. I think that this quality is important because often times we form an opinion and are unwilling to investigate in order to come up with more information on the topic at hand. Open mindedness leads to inquiry and possibly even appreciation of different points of view. When we form opinions they are often biased and based on our limited knowledge. In school, we often teach inquiry skills in reference to research papers and perhaps science projects, but it is also an effective tool in conflict resolution because inquiry allows us to decipher the validity of our own arguments. if we continue to question, inquire and keep an open mind then we have hop of becoming objective in these difficult times.

    “Open-minded inquiry: A glossary of key concepts,” in Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines 23, 3, 2004: 37-41.

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  13. As educators, it is important to present the facts and truths. It is also important to give students a safe environment where they can grapple with the content and develop their critical eye for truth and fact. With the current state of the political landscape, it is clearly very critical that our students are or should be taught and/or reminded of the principles, policies, ideals, etc. our nation was forged on. To live as citizens in our nation, where the government ideally is “for the people, by the people,” our students need to be taught their responsibilities, their rights, and their privileges as citizens. I agree that students should be presented with open minded thinking, critical thinking, conflict resolution skills, compassion, etc. I am a strong advocate for Education making “Social Studies” a priority, the way STEM has become the priority of our national education focus.

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  14. I think it is important for teachers to be a calming voice to those frustrated and scared in this time of difficulty, while also being there for students who may not understand the fears of others. It is our job to be the middle ground to bring the voices of students who all hold different values and beliefs together in our classrooms. We should allow students to express themselves and their opinions, but teach them how to do so respectfully and while considering both sides of every argument. We should also take the opportunity to teach them how to find out which facts are true or “alternative” and form their own view and take their own standpoints regardless of how their classmates, family, or friends feel about a certain issue. As students grow into adults, their beliefs change and it is our job to be there to guide them through it, whether we agree with their beliefs or not.

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  15. Looking through the comments, it looks like emphasizing classroom environment is a recurring theme, and I agree. Our students all come from diverse backgrounds, and they are going to bring those backgrounds with them to class. It is important as educators that we establish a safe and open-minded environment where students from all walks of life (including political beliefs) feel encouraged to not only have their beliefs, but to express them. By creating a classroom community which fosters respect and teaching our students how to appropriately communicate and disagree with one another, we are preparing them for the real world that lies ahead. Through these methods we can increase open-mindedness and enter into a discussion on social justice, as students learn to engage with and understand a diverse range of perspectives.

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  16. Teaching students to be critical consumers of the media that is a constant presence in their lives is an important step in preparing them to deal with this political climate. What makes a source credible? What is the difference between fact and opinion AKA “alternative fact?” What is my role as a consumer of media? These are all questions we can be discussing in the comfort of our English classrooms, instead of angrily on the internet. Misinformation is circulated because people can not or do not read critically. It is our role as English teachers to encourage the growth of these skills and create a space where students can ask hard questions.

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  17. Teachers in this political climate need to teach students how to critically read information in context of media outside of the classroom. I think students may get into the mindset of critically thinking about their school work because that’s required in order to get the grade they want, but do not apply these skills once class ends. In the English courses I have taken, I do not think any have specifically taught me about critically analyzing what I see in the news or in my social media feed. Some possible reasons students may not apply the skills they learned in class is because these mediums are not structured in the same way literature is, making the student more relaxed and ready to take in what they read rather than view with a critical eye.

    Educators need to not only explain how to view day-to-day information more critically, but why this action is important. It is very easy to get into an apathetic state when you feel your voice will have little to no impact. Educators need to show examples which show the consequences of believing false information and not paying attention to what is happening in the world.

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  18. I see many comments regarding critical thinking, critical media literacy, and open-mindedness, and I agree wholeheartedly that these are integral features of a 2017 classroom. They can be built, I think, through a diversified classroom: a classroom in which students are offered opportunities to pursue their own interests, to write argumentative papers on subjects that concern them and current events and to engage with literature in which a variety of identities and perspectives are explored. We should make sure our classrooms contain books, either as free-reading or lit circle options, that represent a variety of genders, sexualities, races, cultures, religions, ability-levels, and socioeconomic statuses. We also need to endeavor to ensure that our schools provide relevant, active courses for ESL, gifted, and differently-abled students, and that all students are provided equal opportunities to engage with school communities.

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  19. One of the most important real-world skills that we can help our students develop in this political climate is critical media literacy. In a time when “alternative facts,” and “fake news,” have somehow become valid talking points, and the government utterly lacks transparency, students need to learn how to check and double-check their sources before they believe and repeat information so that they avoid being mislead or contributing to an air of uncertainty by spreading false information. If students leave the classroom believing that there is no objective reality and no way to create a well-formed opinion, the English teacher has failed at her job. This goes hand-in-hand with social justice–well informed students are less able to ignore objective facts about systemic inequality and social injustice.

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  20. In this political moment, our classrooms should be a safe space where our students feel they can speak freely about their beliefs and know they will be treated fairly. This may sometimes calls for putting aside our own opinions in order to ensure that our treatment of students and/or situations is as unbiased as possible. However, working off that, we shouldn’t be afraid as teachers to tell our students when they are wrong. Such as, when fake news or prejudices seep into the classroom it is our job to halt that behavior and continue to the best of our ability to keep a safe and comfortable space for our students. In creating social justice education, I agree that we need to help foster the ability to have an open mind, to constantly build upon previous knowledge and beliefs, and to make informed decisions as members of society. Along with teaching how to foster discussion with someone who does not share the same opinion as you. From there explaining to our students why it is important to continue these behaviors outside of the school environment, I believe, is crucial to our school lessons and in carrying this on to the outside world.

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