How to Encourage Student Conversation Around the Election

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Election day was revealing to say the least. As a parent, educator, and American, it clarified what drives our nation’s aspirations, what inequities are very much out in the open (instead of simmering below the surface), and how important it is to have conversations around politics with our children.

We must teach our children not only to critically examine, but also to listen with understanding to one another’s point of view. They must weigh perspectives, reflect on their own assumptions, and deepen understanding of painful pasts to develop a hopeful future.

To that end, I worked in a school district in Connecticut yesterday crafting a new capacity on what it would take to create culturally-competent, globally-minded citizens. A capacity is a multi-disciplinary skill set that can be designed in curriculum, assessment, and instructional practices from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

This district has six other capacities: critical thinking, problem solving, creative and innovative thinking, collaboration, communication, and self-direction.

Here is a rough outline of the progression we came up with to lead students toward empathy.

Cultural Competence/Globally-Minded Citizen

  1. Examine how culture and conditions impact perspective, identity, and action.
  2. Identify and compare different views about culture and identity while continuing to view the world through their own perspectives.
  3. Articulate their own perspectives and identities while becoming more actively involved in listening to and reflecting on other perspectives and identities. This will help students to better understand what conditions and assumptions influence their perspectives.
  4. Examine perspectives and identities of others informed by historical knowledge of other cultures and contemporary events. Then reflect on how that new information impacts their own thinking.
  5. Develop a sense of empathy by listening with understanding and grappling with causes and assumptions that have led to different perspectives and identities in our culture. Compare those perspectives to their own thinking, and make a decision about integrating or shifting their own perspective.

We need to begin to listen to one another with empathy and understanding to determine what person’s frame of reference is when they form their own opinions and perspectives. We must learn how those opinions are rooted in a set of assumptions borne from experience, emotion, different information sources, and expectations of what they believe the role of government and community should be.

Assignment: Conversation Starter

Paul Wright offered this assignment to his students as a conversation starter to process the election:

“The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors … but always most in the common people.”

– Walt Whitman, American poet

“The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of god; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right …”

Alexander Hamilton, Founding father

Who is right? With this week’s Presidential election as the backdrop, please write your opinion below, referring to AT LEAST ONE OUTSIDE SOURCE as evidence to defend your opinion.

This is NOT simply writing about the election, or “I like Trump” or “I don’t like Trump”.

Think about what each man says above, and how it relates to our system of government.

Final Thoughts

What do you believe is critical to developing empathy in students from a cultural and global perspective?

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