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Friday, December 5, 2014

Ebola? Ferguson? Immigration? Too Hot to Handle or Great Learning Opportunities?

In light of recent events there seems to be no better time to teach children how to practice civil discourse and listen to and understand other perspectives.   However, it is often easy/wiser (and in fact sometimes even mandated) to avoid polarizing and emotional topics in the classroom.  So, how do we teach kids about them?  OR what do we teach kids about them?

It is difficult for any of us to get a clear understanding of what is going on through the filter and sound bites of the media.  One thing that has become clear (and is a lesson in itself) is that violence does nothing to solve problems and in the case of Ferguson, only clouds the issues or polarizes people even more.  The lesson that we want our children to understand can be taken right from the common core – to be able to develop arguments backed by facts and evidence.  We want to teach our kids how to think, not what to think.
Critical Thinking
Our children need to see that clear thinking is the only pathway to a solution to these complex problems and that there are ways to promote that clear thinking.  Once again, the simple critical thinking strategy SCAN (based on asking the right questions) can help you get kids to take apart complex issues, clarify them and create solutions.  A powerful way to get our children to practice civil discourse!

It doesn't matter whether you use the 4 step SCAN strategy to look at very tough emotional-ridden events like those in Ferguson (or desegregating schools from a historical perspective) or use it on simple situation like having cell phones in school (or should we be allowed to wear hats?) – The important thing is that we teach the kids (and adults for that matter) a way to deal with complex situations using a formula that helps them see different perspectives, weigh them and create solutions.

The SCAN tool (housed on the TregoED site) is an online discussion tool that has the SCAN strategy built in.  The advantage of using this tool, rather than just asking the questions in class are many:  kids find it engaging, roles and perspectives are built in, students use screen names, all students contribute, etc. Students read a scenario (write your own or use one from the library), select a point of view and discuss it guided by the questions that make up the four steps of SCAN.

Some typical SCAN lessons in our library:
Who owns Egyptian Artifacts?
Senior Pranks:  Crime or Tradition?
Cell Phones in School
Should there be zoos?
Should we all get trophies?
Who gets the Ebola Vaccine? (NEW!)- Have your students look at the perspectives of  ethicists, scientists, health care workers and vaccine makers and discuss how the Ebola Vaccine should be tested and distributed.

Write your own!
In addition, you can write your own lessons to meet the needs of your class.  Some hot topics in the media right now that are perfect for SCAN lessons:
Should kids be punished for parent’s behavior?  Parent’s brawl cancels children’s football championships. 
Should students have to do school at home on snow days?  Using technology at home can replace lessons in school.
Supreme Court tests the limits of free speech on social media.  Can you land in jail for something you said on Facebook?
Should we regulate E-cigarettes?  Should the same rules apply as regular cigarettes?
Who owns fashion?  Can you copy designs?

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that you may be able to avoid topics that you are uncomfortable with in the classroom, but you should never avoid the opportunity to demonstrate that clear thinking- seeing other perspectives, clarifying issues, evaluating importance and creating solutions- is a skill that can be learned and transferred to any problem.