Tag Archives: elections

What SHOULD Teachers Tell Kids about Elections?

I made a HUGE mistake today.  

After checking out this Washington Times article about an elementary school in New York that cancelled its mock election because students were showing open disrespect towards one another based on nothing more than the political party that they “supported,” I read through the comment section.


Here’s a sampling of what I found there:

 “Nice going ‘educators’…you don’t realize it now, you think you’ve won because you stopped the Trump chant. You’ve lost, and lost big. The students just got an up close and personal experience with what marxist/communist/fascist tyranny feels like.”

“Agree with you. I taught my son the opposite. He knew that he was there to learn to read and write not for the opinions of the weak teachers or students. If one of his teachers started preaching their brainwashing, he knew to tun out!”

“It’s nice to see the youth of this island haven’t been corrupted and indoctrinated by the damn liberal teachers. To you “teachers”, what’s the matter, it didn’t work out the way you hoped it would? Children have figured out early that there is no assimilating the barbarians into Western culture? Why don’t you liberal dipschits move to Sweden and then you can write about how peachy everything is.”

“Go, kids, go! Lookit how their politically correct lefty narrative teachers scramble to cover it up. No doubt they all went to the transgender bathroom to make themselves feel less “offended”; the teachers, I mean. Fools. Morons. Idiots. It’s why all children ought to be home schooled.”

“It really is a necessity to check with your children about what was taught at school each day.  So you can correct the garbage fed to them by liberal-left unionized teachers.”

I wasn’t all that surprised by the hate being hurled at classroom teachers in these comments.  After all, the “teachers are trying to brainwash students to be slaves to the Democratic party” line of thinking — which makes me chuckle given that I’ve voted for as many Republican presidential and gubernatorial candidates as I have Democrats in the last three decades — has been a part of talk radio shows ever since  Rush Limbaugh first started calling people Sheeple.

But those arguments are pretty darn crazy, y’all.  Seriously.

I’ve taught for over 20 years and I’ve never tried to brainwash the kids in my classroom to support and/or oppose a particular candidate for public office.  More importantly, I’ve never had a supervisor order me to brainwash the kids in my classroom OR been handed sets of curriculum materials that were designed to trick me into brainwashing the kids in my classroom.  Turns out most of us teacher types actually dig the idea of helping kids to form their own positions.  In fact, my guess is that most teachers would flat out celebrate a student that made an articulate, informed argument in favor of positions that we personally opposed.

We call that critical thinking.

What drives me nuts is just how little people really know about the kinds of conversations that teachers are having with students about elections.

The fact of the matter is that the VAST majority of classroom teachers say little to nothing about elections to their students.  That’s mostly a self-preservation strategy.  Read enough stories filled with angry comments calling you a “politically correct lefty narrative teacher” or a card carrying member of a “Marxist/communist/fascist tyranny” and you’d keep your mouth shut, too.  The risk of being misunderstood by the wrong person and dragged head first through the professional mud far outweighs any potential reward that can come from talking to students about elections.

And that should FRIGHTEN anyone who REALLY cares about America.

You see, one of the primary goals of schools has always been to prepare students to be educated, respectful participants in our democracy.  Accomplishing that goal depends on teachers and other important adults — coaches, parents, preachers, neighbors, uncles, grandparents — who are willing to show students what “educated, respectful participation” looks like in action.  After all, “power to the people” is only an effective governmental strategy when “the people” understand how to use that power in positive ways to move our nation forward.

So what SHOULD teachers tell kids about elections?  

We should start by telling kids that the first step towards being an educated, respectful participant in our democracy ISN’T identifying candidates or parties that you believe in.  Instead, educated voters identify the causes and issues that matter the most to them.  For example, I care most about the economy, the environment, education and equality.  Those aren’t the ONLY issues that matter in an election, but they are the issues that I will use as a lens for focusing my study of the candidates that are running.

Then, we should tell kids that becoming educated about the issues that matter to them depends on studying a wide range of sources.  The saddest truth about the digital world that we live in is that it is all too easy to find content that is heavily slanted in one direction or another.  In fact, it’s darn close to impossible to find content that’s NOT slanted.  Kids need to be able to identify bias in the sources that they are studying and have a plan for countering that bias when working towards making important decisions.

Finally, we should tell kids to remember that people we disagree with are reasonable, rational people too — and that instead of demonizing them, we should sit down and talk to them.  Being educated means fully understanding what people who disagree with you feel about the issues that matter the most to you — and accepting that there are elements of truth that are worthy of consideration and respect in the positions of people who see things differently than we do.

If we could use election season conversations to convince our students that studying politicians and parties should ONLY happen after a voter has a clear sense of the issues that matter the most to them, has sought out unbiased information on each of those issues, and has had substantive conversations with people who see things differently, we’d leave our kids AND our country in a better place than it is right now.



If teaching students about managing information, thinking critically and engaging in collaborative dialogue resonates with you, check out Teaching the iGeneration — Bill’s book on using digital tools to introduce students to essential skills like information management, collaborative dialogue and critical thinking.  


Related Radical Reads:

The Curse of Our Online Lives

Pushing Against Incivility

Bill’s Resources on Teaching Kids about Collaborative Dialogue

“The Curse of Our Online Lives.”

I’ve got a confession to make:  I have spent the past four months consumed by the upcoming presidential election.  

I find myself checking into both my news feeds and my social streams several times a day, waiting for another embarrassing revelation about the candidates.  I chew through articles about illegal contributions to personal foundations, seedy relationships with high dollar donors or foreign leaders, appallingly misogynistic statements, and accusations of political manipulation by party leaders who are more than a little determined to push forward their chosen candidates, regardless of the personal and political cost.

Worse yet, I often end up in the comment sections of the articles that I am reading, which are full of nothing more than rancor and shouting and vitriol and partisan insults.  People with usernames like “Crooked Hitlery” and “Donny the Deplorable” call one another delusional in ugly attempts to discredit one another.  The ever-present venom frightens me because it barely resembles the kind of open, honest discourse around controversial ideas that characterizes the strongest democracies.

So how can we move forward together when we spend so much time spewing hate at one another?

First, we have to do a better job helping the kids in our classrooms understand the filter bubbles that they are living in.

We may live in a world where ready access to unlimited information is available to everyone, but we also live in a world where social spaces and new technologies make it possible for everyone to build isolated intellectual worlds where core ideas and beliefs are constantly reinforced rather than consistently challenged.  And thanks to clever algorithms designed to “make our lives easier,” the more we interact with ideas online, the more isolated we become.

As Frank Bruni explains in this May 2016 New York Times piece:

“If we seek out, ‘like’ and comment on angry missives from Bernie Sanders supporters, we’ll be confronted by more angry missives from Sanders supporters.  If we banish such outbursts, those dispatches disappear.  That’s the crucial dynamic.  The curse of our lives online.  The Internet isn’t rigged to give us right or left, conservative or liberal — at least not until we rig it that way.  It’s designed to give us more of the same, whatever that same is.”

Critical thinking suffers when we are constantly surrounded by “more of the same.”  It’s harder to question your notions about politicians or the policies that they promote when every post, article and person that you encounter is pushing those notions forward.

Properly preparing students to be participants in a democratic society, then, means encouraging the kids in our classrooms to add diverse voices, thoughts and sources to the information streams that they are creating for themselves.  The best thinkers don’t just understand bias in traditional media sources.  They also understand that new tools and technologies make it possible for well-intentioned users — people just like you and I — to create biased spaces where what we believe is rarely questioned.

We also need to do a better job teaching students about collaborative dialogue.

I think what troubles me the most about public discourse in our divided world is the belief that every conversation has to have a winner and a loser.  We rarely listen to one another. Instead, we revert to shouting over one another.  Trained through countless interactions with people who think just like us, we aren’t just skeptical of the solutions put forth by people who who we disagree with.  We question their intellect and/or their intentions.  As Bruni explains, “We construct precisely contoured echo chambers of affirmation that turn conviction into zeal, passion into fury, and disagreements with the other side into demonization of it.”

Pushing against the zeal, fury and demonization that dominates public discourse depends on our ability to convince the kids in our classrooms that the best conversations are collaborative instead of competitive.  We need to spend class time helping students to develop the skills necessary to use conversations as learning opportunities.  Graduates from our schools should leave convinced that other people — no matter how different their core beliefs may be — have ideas worth learning from and that the best solutions are the result of diverse groups of citizens committed to building knowledge together.

Are these the kinds of lessons that you are teaching in your classrooms and schools?  If not, why not?  More importantly, when will you start?


If teaching students about managing information and engaging in collaborative dialogue resonates with you, check out Teaching the iGeneration — Bill’s book on using digital tools to introduce students to essential skills like information management, collaborative dialogue and critical thinking.  


Related Radical Reads:

Pushing Against Incivility

What Can YOUR Kids Learn from the Romney Perry Slugfest

Bill’s Resources on Teaching Kids about Collaborative Dialogue

I am a Cognitive Diabetic

Here’s Why I’m Thankful for Hillary Clinton.

Did you watch last night’s Presidential debate?

Another question:  Did you watch it without slinging a never-ending stream of curses and/or sighs at the television screen?

The truth is that whether you lean to the left or lean to the right, you probably had plenty of reasons to go to bed with a higher than normal blood pressure.  This campaign season will do that to you.  Whether we like it or not, our nation is fractured and the rhetoric that supporters on both sides of the aisle are SHOUTING at one another day after day will do little to help us to heal and to move forward together.

But I’m not JUST a voter anymore.  I’m not JUST a citizen and a teacher and a guy who is passionate about the environment and the economy.  I’ve got bigger concerns — even IF Russia and Iran and ISIS and North Korea and drought and famine and refugees and 400 pound hackers are tearing the world apart.

I’m the dad of a daughter.  THAT is what defines me.  THAT is who I am and what I care the most about.  And last night was a huge win for me.

Here’s why:  My daughter — and tens of thousands of girls just like her — had the chance to see a strong, confident, successful, experienced woman standing on the stage making the case that SHE should be the President.  My daughter — and tens of thousands of girls just like her — got to see a strong, confident, successful, experienced woman stand up to a bully who has repeatedly insulted and belittled and degraded and judged women based on nothing more than their looks.

My daughter — and tens of thousands of girls just like her — got to see a strong, confident, successful, experienced woman talking about policy and detailing her meetings with world leaders and proving time and again that she COULD hang “with the big boys.”

In one evening, Hillary — who loudmouthed, loathsome men have been trying to tear down for the better part of 20 years — redefined what’s possible for girls.  No, you DON’T have to sit quietly and smile as the men in your life decide what is important and what’s not.  No, you DON’T have to back down to assertive bosses who try to push you around; and no, you DON’T have to let your looks or your gender define who you are or what you are capable of.  It’s NOT a “man’s world” anymore, thank you very much.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I know that Hillary’s not the perfect candidate.  Anyone who has spent 30 years in politics has undoubtedly made embarrassing choices along the way.  It’s the nature of the beast.

But whether you like her or not doesn’t matter.  

She’s done our nation — and my daughter — a great service because the kids sitting in our classrooms are going to grow up in a world where being a woman CAN mean being a strong, confident, successful, experienced candidate for President of the United States.

Thank you, Hillary.  I owe you one.

From a Dad.  Not a Voter.