Teaching Into Civil Discourse
Teaching into civil discourse often requires students to engage with complex and potentially controversial issues, especially as they move into upper elementary, middle, and high school. This should include conversations about current events and local, state, and national elections.
We understand that doing this work in our current climate is not easy, given the potential range of beliefs in our classrooms and the often divisive nature of daily news and social media feeds. This work, however, may be more important now than ever before. We must teach our students to listen to others, recognize bias, engage in civil conversations about important ideas, and be willing to change their views based on new evidence. As teachers, our role is to support this thinking and classroom discussion, in an overtly balanced manner, rather than guiding students toward a particular belief or opinion.
Any discussion of potentially controversial issues in the instructional setting should be on an informative basis. Teachers should make every effort to treat topics as impartially and as objectively as possible, using the cues below as a guide.
- Explore the possibility of alternate and/or divergent positions and opinions
- Determine the degree of consideration and amount of time that should be devoted to a specific issue, based on curriculum, maturity of students, and knowledge level of the class
- Ensure that an accurate, factual, and balanced presentation of materials is readily available for students
- Help students to be tolerant of arguments in opposition to each individual's point of view, and to cultivate a habit of delaying decisions until all available facts have been considered.
Work must be done to establish community norms and expectations for whole group discussions and breakout rooms. We should actively communicate with families about the value of discourse in our classrooms, and should encourage student thinking while not promoting specific thoughts.