Addressing political issues in the classroom can be stressful, but it can also be productive if done through encouraging intelligent discourse and impartial discussion.
Tackling political issues in the classroom shouldn’t lead to an NFL-level rumble between students, or lead educators to resemble authoritarians who censor opinions in the classroom. Take the opportunity to cultivate intelligent debate skills that provide lessons about making progress, not simply arguing who is wrong or right.
1. Debate the Arguments
Arrange groups of students, each comprising kids who hold different opinions of the issues, and ask that they alternate discussing the pros and cons of political issues in the classroom. For example, to discuss climate change, challenge students to ponder the negative consequences that will occur if the phenomenon is real and not addressed. They should also consider the issues that could arise if climate change is not man made and we reduce carbon emissions. This will allow everyone to explore every political angle of the issues.
2. Don’t Talk, Listen
Children can be extremely sensitive when discussing topics about which they are passionate, especially if a teacher challenges ideas students learned from their parents. At this age, students are still discovering the types of people they are inside, while holding onto lessons they were taught at home. When exploring political issues in the classroom, allow students to voice their opinions and hear them out – even if it they are in opposition to others’ personal beliefs (unless they are demeaning or offensive to classmates), or even factual evidence. While listening, only speak to encourage them to explore the reasons they feel this position is true and discourage other students from adding to the discussion until their classmate is finished with his or her points.
3. Introduce Fake News
The only way to cultivate a legitimate opinion regarding issues and disagree with other points of view is to study different stances surrounding current events. Though fake news has saturated the media, resulting in a current-events landscape that is difficult to navigate, it is still important to read these stories to understand the reasons some members of the public believe them. Ask students to list the top five political news stories they have learned about in the past week – bonus points if they are able to remember the source. Go around the room asking students to read lists aloud. As each student reveals his or her list, write the stories on the board – tallying those that are repeated – along with the source. Once each student has read a list, discuss how the stories might be accurate, partially true, or fake news.
4. Increase Compassion
Two of the biggest problems in politics are the lack of consideration of Earth’s other inhabitants and compassion toward others who hold different beliefs. From the right to the left and everywhere in between, many people have a difficult time thinking about the fears, concerns, and needs of everyone who is affected by politics other than themselves. Carve out time to discuss political issues in the classroom, but encourage students to imagine they were living a life completely different from their reality. Through this exercise, try to dig deeply into the issues that these children might face with challenges, decisions, and lifestyles that are the opposite of how they live currently.
5. Remain Objective
When discussing political issues in the classroom, it is extremely important to avoid preaching to students regarding personal beliefs. Rather than expressing thoughts using phrases such as “I believe…,” or “When you become more educated…,” deliver a message through using “One opinion on this topic states…,” or “Another side to this story is…” When aligning with one particular belief system, teachers risk becoming another intolerant voice, rather than an unbiased source of knowledge and guidance for children.
While politics includes many incendiary issues on which everyone seems to have a different opinion, it’s important to remind students that a world without different points of view would be an extremely boring place. Rather than instilling in children certain ideas, the goal of discussing political issues in the classroom should be building confident, respectful student leaders with strong voices.