A Real-Life Learning Opportunity

This is a blog post I should’ve written weeks ago, but it’s been a busy school as usual. However, it’s an important topic and it’s been weighing on my mind. I want to talk about racism. That’s right, it’s a topic that most people want to avoid and the conversation most teachers would rather not have. But there’s a systemic problem and if we as Americans continue to ignore it then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

A few weeks ago there was a court decision here in St. Louis to not prosecute a police office who killed a black man a few years ago. I won’t use their names because it’s not my place to opine on the court decision itself. Rather, I’m writing here concerning the aftereffects and how it impacts my job as a classroom teacher.

What I know as an educator is that much controversy and animosity between students emerged after the court decision. It led to many students getting suspended, a few fights, some protests, and ultimately a “unity event” in which students walked out of school to stand outside at the football stadium together.

The problem here is that aside from some morning announcements by administrators over the intercom, teachers were left in the dark about the real issues happening between factions of students. At the same time, students never had the chance to voice their opinions and raise their concerns about the situation.

Now, I do applaud my school for how they handled the situation in terms of allowing students to protest and conduct a “unity event”. However, I think that all schools in St. Louis, not just mine, missed a huge learning opportunity. This court decision brought to light an unresolved issue in our society and every time something similar comes up the same reaction happens but it effects no meaningful change. In schools, we sweep these current events under the rug and try to push on with the mandated curriculum instead of addressing real-world issues head on.

I believe we’re doing our students a disservice. We’re not preparing them to take over the political and judicial processes when they become adults. We should want them to care about current events and we should give them an outlet to voice their opinions, work through differences of opinion, and collaborate on viable solutions. Though the topic of racism is extremely tough to tackle. schools aren’t even trying to address it.

The election of 2016 proved to me that America is failing to address critical differences among its citizens. It’s not about getting all Americans to agree with each other, but rather it’s about teaching them the skills to discuss their differences without needing to offend, belittle, or harm anyone for their opinions. We’ve missed yet another teaching opportunity in school, which is why adults continue behaving in newsworthy ways and the systemic issues inherent in America remain in place. We need to open up the discussion on race and while we’re at it maybe gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, poverty and many other topics often ignored by society because they are too “uncomfortable” or “divisive” to address in groups.

Over the past few weeks of ruminating on current events, here are key takeaways and steps I realized we should be doing in schools:

  • Let’s teach our children to not be afraid of sensitive or uncomfortable topics

 

  • Let’s help our children verbalize their thoughts while also listening to others

 

  • Let’s teach our children digital citizenship and how to advocate for and enact change using technology and social media

 

  • Let’s empower our children to think critically about real-world problems and come up with new solutions.

I watched this TEDtalk recently called “The boost students need to overcome obstacles” by Anindya Kundu. He posits that schools should do more than just teach students grit and how to be resilient in the face of challenges. Rather, schools must provide students with mentors who work with them through tough problems and help them develop character and agency. Teachers should arm students with life tools such as networking, social etiquette, job searching and resume building, as well as skills like political activism, environmental awareness, and empathy.

Schools need to respond to societal problems and technological advances. Recent events have highlighted for me our failures as a society to respond to such changes. It’s time to start mentoring students and helping them grow in their character, grit, and agency so that they will be able to tackle meaningful problems in the future.

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