Two Educators sat in a bar, one Republican, one Democrat. As the conversation unfolded, they talked about parenting, agreeing on some things, disagreeing on others. They talked food, liking some of the same things one minute, expressing disdain for other dishes the next. They talked politics, agreeing on some things, disagreeing on others and of course, they talked education. They agreed on one important thing; the problem isn’t divisive opinions or divisive politics, the problem is us.
We don’t need to lay blame for one more thing in society at the feet of teachers. But as these two educators listened and learned about how the other would solve the world’s problems, the smoke cleared. Respect and civility, when given amply and freely, make THE difference in how we are able to move forward.
While this sounds more like a segue into a sermon or preachy piece filled with kindness platitudes, it’s not. There are actually steps you can take to ensure civil discussions in your classrooms and even at your holiday tables.
First, we could all be wrong. Let that settle a bit. We used to believe that bouncing was good when we stretched. We believed that Pluto was a planet. We believed that it was OK to call “Indians” ‘savages’. We believed that No Child Left Behind would have sweeping impact across populations. We’ve been wrong before and we will be again, personally and collectively. By embracing that possibility, we acknowledge that we are fallible and that there could be some validity to opinions that we don’t espouse. In my Edutopia article, Productive Classroom Debates, the focus of the article is on being the teacher you need to be in order to hold civil, learning-rich respectful conversations in your class. Embracing our own fallibility begins with asking yourself these 5 questions:
- What would be the worst case scenario if I am wrong and I concede this point to “the other side”?
- When someone disagrees with me, do I feel ‘triggered’?
- How can I research topics I feel strongly about, gathering diverse perspectives?
- How often do I fact check what I read?
- How often do I read stories from international perspectives?
The worst case scenario rarely comes to pass. Our fears about what might happen if the winds of change don’t blow our way are usually exaggerated or even unfounded. Managing those fears is one tool we have to feel less emotionally dysregulated when we hear or read perspectives we disagree with. Noticing what hot button topics ‘trigger’ us is also helpful. Examining why we find ourselves disturbed by certain perspectives can help us to heal old wounds and become more accepting of diverse opinions.
Diversity of Sources
Research might be a big word, but it can also be quite simple. Sites like AllSidesMedia allow you to compare headlines from various media outlets. Headline word choice often gives clues about the heft of the slant in an article. For example: “President and Secretary Part Ways” is neutral. “President Fires Secretary in Angry Tirade” could be seen as pro-secretary or anti president. “Secretary Leaves Presidential Post” is again, neutral. “Secretary Walks Off Job” subtly lays blame at the secretary’s feet. When reading headlines, be aware of the connotative meanings that subtly bias the reader for or against something. Researching topics can also be as simple as reading stories from more than one outlet, and fact checking the stories we read to corroborate stories and ensure that the perspectives we read are indeed factual. Finally, the UK, Canada, Germany, France and Switzerland, for example, all have online publications in English. Hearing about our nation’s news through the eyes of others is enlightening. Much like hearing about your child from a teacher or peers, hearing about the country we know from those with different values and perspectives gives us the opportunity to learn things we think we already know.
Asking yourself the above 5 questions and reflecting over your answers will give you clues to behaviors that you need to adapt to show up as your best self each day, especially on your campus. If you want to delve deeper and you’re not sure how to start, pick up a copy of the award winning title, Finding Your Blind Spots. Better yet, join a fall SmallBites coaching cohort to learn more about the connection between media literacy and belonging. As the two educators in the bar determined, the problem isn’t divisive opinions or divisive politics, the problem is us. As educators we have a responsibility to bring our best, most neutral selves in the classroom daily so that our rooms and campuses are safe spaces for people holding all kinds of beliefs and ideologies.
Purchase Finding Your Blind Spots on Amazon
Guest Post by Hedreich Nichols
Author, educator, consultant, mom. Speaker and host of the YouTube series on equity strategies, #SmallBites. Auch auf Deutsch.