As I walked into the school gym to cast my vote, I pondered over what someone said on social media in response to my friend saying she voted. “The only difference between a communist country like China, and America, is superficial. In China, one party rules forever. In America, they give you a chance to choose which political party you want to be exploited by. But what is the difference? — you are going to be exploited. The exploiters go on changing… but the exploitation remains the same. What does it matter? One party exploits you forever, or two parties make a pact and in rotation they exploit you? But your exploitation is the same.”
I don’t know if this individual will let his voice be heard, he may just be one of those people who complains but never does anything about it. I feel sorry for him and those like him because they’re so jaded by what’s been happening in the world and I’m saddened that they see no hope for the future.
We educators, need to have faith that students care enough about our democracy to become voices of change. As I look through social media posts, I’m pleased to say that many of the kids I taught, most in their 20’s, are taking a stand, and I’m so proud of them. I’m not saying it’s because of me, but I know in some small way, I helped pave the way for their social consciousness and independent thinking. Quite a few years ago, there was a KKK rally in the town where I taught, and a former student, in high school, at the time, stood her ground against the bigotry and hate that emanates from these groups.
Just look at the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors, they, too, stood their ground and energized millions of students to vote. We need our young people to take an interest in politics because they are the future and one day, what happens in our country will be in their hands.
How does one develop independent thinkers?
- Present an argument and have students look at and discuss both sides. Lead them to where you want them to go but NEVER, NEVER give your opinion, especially when discussing politics.
- Don’t ever try to convince kids there is only one right way, that discourages then from thinking on their own.
- Make sure your students understand that it’s OK to disagree, the right to disagree and have our own opinions is part of our democracy. If you have a child who thinks to the beat of a different drum, that’s great, let them know.
- The idea that helping kids make values based decisions is important. But they also need to be aware of the facts. Focus on the values that underlie your positions and the positions of others so that they can visualize these ideas from a values based perspective.
- Suggest they get involved. Many kids are interested and concerned about current events. Taking action helps them feel empowered and encourages problem solving skills.
- Discuss how little things can add up and make a huge difference. If each of us does one little thing for the good, imagine how much better our world would be. Let them know that voting for a candidate can make a difference, so can working on an issue you believe needs changing.
Unfortunately, politics can get ugly, a candidate that you disagree with, may be elected. How should you deal with this in your classroom?
- We’re all aware that in the heat of an election, sparks may fly due to strong feelings. Take advantage of this opportunity to model how one can voice a difference of opinion with respect, strength and conviction. Have them role-play different positions.
- Keep discussions focused on policy rather than personality. By doing this, we can keep the nastiness in context and help them see how the dialogue can be much better than what they may see on the evening news.
- Ask what they would do when someone is mean, or bullies them. Discuss how they could defuse the situation. Another great opportunity for role-playing.
- Lastly, listen to their concerns, provide them with reassurance and perspective.
On that note, I’d like to end with a letter that a parent wrote to their child after an election.
Upon reading this, with tears in my eyes, I felt a bit stronger, I knew that together we could make a difference. So I’ve joined thousands of teachers to make our voices heard, to show kindness instead of anger and hate. As was said by one of our former first ladies, “When they go low, we go high!”
“My dear child, I know that you asked me to wake you up when we learned who won the election. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I am very sorry to let you know who the winner is. He will be president for at least the next four years.
Mom and I are very upset by this, and we know that you will be too. We want you to know a few things:
We are not alone. Millions of people voted for the other candidate. They share our shock and disbelief this morning.
- You don’t need to be afraid. Even though you have heard hateful things from this individual and his supporters there are ALWAYS people who will stand up to that hate. Together we will protect each other and the values we find important.
- There is a lot to be hopeful about. This isn’t the end of a fight. This is just another chapter of a struggle that’s been going on for a long time. If you look at the progress we’ve made as a country and as a planet, you’ll see that there is much to celebrate. This type of setback happens often, and it makes us even stronger.
You have learned in school about the dream of what our country can be. Today you might be learning that there is still a long way to go before that dream becomes reality for all of us. But I still believe in that dream very strongly, and so should you.
I hope this experience helps you understand why Mom and I spend a great deal of time and energy fighting for things that we believe in. Why we speak up when we see something that we think is wrong. We hope that as you grow up and make up your own minds about things, that you’ll join us in this struggle. We know that your passions will allow you to accomplish great things.
Days like this are hard. But they are also great reminders of how important it is to keep fighting for what is right, and we will.” by Joel Levin
Please take a look at these resources that will help to instill empathy, kindness and understanding in your students. Click on the images.
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