Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Taking the Conversation To the Students

As a government and US History teacher, I predominantly work with students who are among the next generation of voters, a generation often maligned because of their lack of participation in the civic process.  To be fair, it's hard to ignore decades of statistics on voting turnout which show that the young voter tends to be the least likely to vote.  But instead of lamenting on our youth, calling them lazy, or just hoping that they will vote more when they "grow up", we have a responsibility as teachers to, at least, make the attempt to inspire citizenship in the students.  I assure you:  the issue is not that these students don't want to care, it's just that they need to know why they should.

Teaching in an election year is always fun, and this election cycle is no different.  Okay, maybe it is radically different, but at least it has been a little easier to cultivate interest.  I've been pushing my students to keep up with the candidates, largely through current event portfolios and in-class discussions.  In-class discussion is great, and easy to accomplish, assuming that one is prepared to handle it appropriately.  When talking about our responsibility to try and inspire "good" citizenship, we have to remember that it is NOT  our job to mold these kids into what WE think they should be, or how they should think.  Our responsibility is to equip each student with the ability to think for themselves, to make their own decisions on issues; we show them doors, not force them to open one over the others.  To that end, while I tell my students that I have very passionate views on most issues, I am going to largely keep those to myself so that I can assume a position as unbiased mediator, and argue the silent point if needed.

Once again, if prepared, in-class discussion is great.  But what about the teachable moments that happen outside of class?  What about moments like last night's debate?  Without a doubt there was a time when the only choice a teacher had was to hope that students would watch, maybe give an assignment to force them, and then hope to be able to discuss it the next day.  That time has come and it has gone.  Like many schools we are 1:1, and so I know my students have access to a computer.  And if they have access to a computer, then we can talk in real-time.  I set up a chat forum through Today's Meet (https://todaysmeet.com), emailed the link to the students in our government class, and we met online and stayed in the room through the duration of the debate.  And it was great.  The students made insights that I missed, and it was great to see the reactions in real-time.  The students were able to ask questions regarding points made, and I could answer them (or most of them) in the moment.  Without a doubt these kids care; we just have to be willing to take the conversation to them.

"But Mr. Cline, what about those of us who aren't 1:1, or who are but are concerned about wi-fi?" Why, Mr. Invisible Question Asker, you pose a great query!  There are always the "Debate Bingo" cards, and activities like it, that are great resources to encourage the kids to watch.  I was also enthused to see so many colleagues post on Twitter pics from their "Debate Watch" Parties; great stuff!

In the end, we have to realize that our responsibility to our students reaches well beyond content, and into actually getting them ready for the "real world." We are sending our students into an environment which is severely lacking in an ability to have a legitimate conversation, unable to compromise for the common good.  What can we do to help our students emerge ready to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem?


  1. Awesome idea Kevin--doing this in realtime rather than the next day makes it all the more real. There could be an entire curriculum--EVERY topic-- built from what happened there last night! #sunchatbloggers

  2. What a great way to leverage technology and engage your students in the presidential race. Many of my students were talking about the debates today in my school. Thanks for posting

  3. What a great way to get kids involved in the debate, Kevin. I'll be sharing this idea with our SS teachers so that they can do the same. Excellent idea - thanks for posting!

  4. This is an awesome example of bringing education to life for your students! It seems that honest conversations about controversial topics are getting more and more rare in schools - it's easier to shy away from them. I love how you are encouraging this dialogue among your students!