Slice of Life 2013

Talking About Tough Topics

on January 31, 2017

As I was driving in to school on Monday morning I kept thinking about all that had happened over the weekend in our country and if I could/should talk about it in my classroom. In the days since the election, many of my colleagues and I have been tip-toeing through the new political landscape, anxious not to step on toes yet strongly convicted to speak up about the issues that matter. This is not easy in a “red” state in the south.

I chatted with a few of my colleagues after I arrived at school, and they too felt that we needed to address it, but how? How do we even begin to address the chaos that is happening in our world today?

I opted to have the students respond to a prompt that I put up on the board. The prompt consisted of a statement about the executive order to ban Syrian refugees and the travel ban on the other majority-Muslim countries. I asked students to share their response to this event as well as ask any questions they had.

The response was lukewarm at best. Students either wrote “I heard something about a ban, but I am not sure what it’s about” or “I guess the president is just trying to keep us safe.” One student wrote that President Trump was just “doing what he promised” and he didn’t understand why people were so “surprised” by it.

I received the strongest reactions from my 2nd period ESL English II class. This class consists of immigrants from mostly Latin American countries, and one student who is a recent arrival from Syria. They wrote of confusion of why President Trump “hates” them and why he wants to send people back to countries where they might be killed. Their responses were heartbreaking. My student from Syria said he felt like the “luckiest person alive” since his family was one of the lucky ones to be able to come to this country, when many members of his family and friends were still stuck in Syria. He also shared that it took his family three years to complete the vetting process. Extreme vetting?  Talking about what is going on gave me and my co-teacher the opportunity to reassure our students that we are here for them and that we support them.

While most of my colleagues agree that we must talk to our students about what’s happening in our country today, none are really quite sure how to go about it.This is all new territory for most of us. I believe that the lukewarm response from my students is at best a reflection of their lack of engagement with the news. Students whose parents are vocal tend to have the most knowledge about what’s going on, but the students in my classroom today seem largely unaware of the seriousness of the rapidly changing political landscape.

How about you? Are you wanting to teach about the Muslim-ban, the “wall” or any of the other executive decisions coming down from Washington?

Here are a few resources I’ve found over the past few days that might help you:

Facing History

Pernille Ripp started a google doc with a multitude of resources: 

New York Times Learning Network 

I teach high school freshman, and I think about how they will be eligible to vote in the 2020 election. It is imperative that I help them to be informed and to learn to think critically about the issues facing our country today.


3 responses to “Talking About Tough Topics

  1. I’ll dig into the resources tomorrow. Thanks for sharing. As the elementary Social Studies Coordinator, I’m pushing to send some messages to teachers about resources and messages and action. I really appreciate you writing about it.

  2. Peg D says:

    I appreciate that you are putting thought into this. However, as a parent and a conservative, I would prefer if you choose to open the current events up for discussion you not go into it with the desire to shape my child’s view to fit yours. We do discuss the issues at home. We try to look at both sides. We try to be objective. I would have a problem if my child came home and had to watch a video about the women’s march and explain how their behavior was “only exercising their first amendment rights”. Or if they had to read an article on how the ban is only against Muslims and then explain how that is wrong — especially when you are talking to 14 year olds. You can state your opinion and your reasons. But be sure to respect that not all your students or their parents will agree with you and may have reasons that are just as passionate and just as justified. Don’t put the kids in the middle. Thanks for putting the thought out there.

  3. i’m assuming you are a high school teacher? i think..either that or middle. i think 3rd grade in this matter is too young to have conversations about some of the things going on. im not sure if that is the right call or not!

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