Saturday, September 10, 2016

Teaching Voting

I've found myself with a heavier responsibility than I ever could have imagined.

Last spring, I had an epiphany. After experimenting with how to teach history to seniors in a newly introduced class, I knew there had to be a better way.  After due diligence I proposed the "new way," to the curriculum board. The idea was enthusiastically embraced.

Traditionally (as I understand and may misunderstand--because how can I know how everyone teaches?),  history is taught sequentially as events: WWII, Civil Rights Movement, etc. My new approach would be to look at present day concerns and trace them back to their origins; in other words, ask the question for each issue: How did we get to where we are today? In this way, students would see the pertinence of modern day issues and would want to know how the United States drove to arrive at our current destination.

For instance, the New York Times headlines today includes three articles about nuclear weapons threats: North Korea's Nuclear Enabler, A Nuclear Threat to the United States by 2020, Experts Warn, and North Korean Tests Leave U.S. With A List of Bad Options. 

Three weeks ago, we started with students reporting on what they found about nuclear weapons, nuclear threats and nuclear annihilation. Many were surprised to learn about the erratic, silly leader of North Korea and his nuclear aspirations. With students' awakening to a modern day threat, they were excited to go back in time to the very beginnings of communism and its role in the Cold War and the consequent development of nuclear weaponry. The history becomes important, even critical in piecing together the apparent escalating nuclear threat in 2016.

The other critical modern day concerns are immigration, the environment, racism, nuclear threat, national debt, terrorism, and voting rights... it is the last subject, voting rights, that feels like a heavy responsibility.

When I listed the topics or themes which would be our lens for history, students' immediate and greatest interest was in the voting rights and more specifically, the election. The presidential election this year has incited curiosity, passion, disgust, and with my students, a desire to understand what's happening. It's soooo in their face and they want to know more.

I am left to prepare and present the ideas, the dogma, the controversies, in the most unbiased way possible. This approach has truly recreated the student in me, a true seeker of knowledge with a calm and open mind. I have sought the wisdom and opinions of die-hard Hillary devotees and devoted Republicans who will vote for Trump because they see the conservative appointment to the Supreme Court as the most important issue of 2017.

As I prepare, I think of the old adage: never discuss politics or religion because they are topics that cannot be discussed without emotion; but politics, and the upcoming election are two of the most important issues to study in a Socratic Seminar that lists Current Events, History, and Language Arts as its emphasis.

I had the fortunate opportunity to sit next to a woman, who is Jewish, who is an attorney, whom I assumed by demographics, was a democratic-Clinton supporter. I approached her because I wanted to hear something good about Clinton. She had worked for the Clinton administration and when I asked her how she felt about this year's presidential election, I assumed she would harangue Trump. Instead she responded, "I am deeply disturbed she is running for president."

I hear the same disenchantment when my own daughter tells me Trump is accused of rape in his ex-wife's book.

These are the taboo tidbits that won't be allowed in our classroom discussion. It is my implicit commitment to the fair and equal education of my students to teach the voting process without prejudice or favorability, without rumor and heresay. Instead we will focus on the real issues no matter how hard and far we have to look, because the core of the election should be determined by truth---what now seems to be clouded in the media and in the candidates themselves.

I've found myself with a heavier responsibility than I ever could have imagined.