Teaching the 2016 Election
How are you teaching about the 2016 Presidential Election in a responsible way? Are you using the NCSS C3 inquiry design model? If so, what is the compelling question on which your lessons are based? How are you encouraging differing perspectives into a classroom discussion without limiting a free exchange of thoughts? Have you been hesitant to teach about the election, even though it is included in your standards?
In speaking with social studies educators from various US districts, I have learned that some parents have registered complaints about this election being discussed in school. Even more concerning, some educators have noted that their administrators have totally prohibited any discussion regarding the election.
So, where do you find yourself this year? With only weeks remaining before Election Day, share how you are teaching about the 2016 Presidential Election.
NSSSA Board Member
My school district here in Omaha, NE recently hired a new superintendent. I’ve had limited interactions with him since he started here but I do remember one of the first. Well, at least one of the first that wasn’t merely an acknowledgment of existence in the same building or a “What’s good for lunch?” while passing in the cafeteria here at work. Early on in his tenure, I was charged with explaining to him and our school board why we wanted to change our current Economics and Financial Literacy course into two separate courses. As I helped our new superintendent and our board get a grasp on the historical context for the course I made mention to how it was developed in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007 in response to a call from the public to teach more personal finance in the schools.
My superintendent said something that struck with me after my presentation. He jumped in before any of the other board members could respond or ask questions and he said he agreed with the idea of splitting the course for practical reasons but he wanted to make sure that everyone understood that the education system is not responsible for solving all of the ills facing society. He mentioned how he had to remind people in his previous school district that childhood obesity was not the fault of, nor would it be fixed by, a physical education program. So though our nation was still recovering from the stock market crash from a few years prior, it was not on the schools responsibility to keep another crash from happening.
That statement has stuck with me over the last few years because I cannot decide whether I agree or disagree with it. I mean there is plenty of truth to it. I taught economics for years before becoming an administrator and one of the first lessons we teach in econ is people make choices, their choices are responses to incentives, and our choices are manufactured through the systems that we operate within. The first statement about incentives favors what my superintendent spoke to. We can teach this stuff all day but people are going to do what they want with this information. Though the latter kind of stands in opposition because if we teach people about the systems that limit their choices the hope is that we will find answers that redefine or exceed those limits. So I wrestle with a resolution. Can education fix societies issues? If not, than how can we? If so, should it also be accountable for them?
The reason why I ask this question today is because I am looking at a society where political, or simply argumentative, discourse seems to be reaching new lows. Tolerance of ideas and opinions outside of your own isn’t even a consideration. In a time where it seems that everyone has a platform to share their thoughts, ideas, emotion, questions and philosophies we are faced with a world that is listening less and less. The irony of it all. I think back to the time where my mother would explain to me as a young man who was always a bit too talkative in class, “Boy, you keep running your mouth and ain’t nobody going to care what you have to say.” The early lessons of supply and demand. Here we rest today with all of these groups of people screaming and nobody listening. And whether you feel the Bern, want to build a wall, are a part of the 99%, refuse to give up your guns, or are with her, the real question for our society shouldn’t be if you agree or disagree with the person sitting across from you. The question should be do you understand them? And furthermore as Social Studies educators, is it our responsibility to teach students how to understand others.
You see, I read the article “Teaching in the Time of Trump” in the winter edition of Social Education and understand the difficult situation we are now in as educators with everything being so polarizing but we are charged with speaking to both poles. Or are we supposed to be teaching in the middle? Regardless of perspectives, our job is to teach tough issues and have hard discussions and to do so in a climate where students can find their own thoughts and actions while learning from their neighbors. They should also not be ridiculed or conversely made into a hero by doing so.
The difficult thing is we try to do that within a school system with our own school culture filled with rules and educational accountability about respect, classroom expectation about language, and systemic norms about responsibility. Our society does not reflect our education system’s values. Our society is full of choices that are incentivized by persona, individualism and bravado. It’s less personal in the sense that one can hide themselves in a digital reality. It is also more personal because you can build your own world that reflects your own interest within this digital reality. Our system isn’t like that. We push collaboration and force them to work with others that aren’t like them. Everything is standard even though we say we are trying to meet all of our student’s needs. Our system is not relevant to the society that our students enter when they leave our walls. It doesn’t translate.
So how do we get our focus of civic virtues, critical thinking, argumentative discourse, and my God, INFORMED action to translate from our classrooms to our society? Better yet, should that be our responsibility? Is our society’s ever increasing lack of tolerance a byproduct of or a resistance to our own system? These are questions that leaders should be considering. If you have some good ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Greetings NSSSA Members! As you may know by now, your Executive Board has undertaken an initiative to communicate more regularly with the membership and to encourage more intellectual and collegial traffic on our NCSS webpage (i.e. this blog). To this end, over the next several months, board members will post discussion prompts, queries, or news stories of general interest to social studies leaders and teachers. This is my contribution to this collective effort. I hope you will enjoy it. Please feel free to participate. All comments are welcome.
Americans have embarked upon the interminable process of electing our next president, and as is common during each presidential election year, history lessons everywhere are being contextualized with current events. Of course, generally speaking this is a good thing because such consciousness serves to heighten students' historical and political awareness and enrich their attention to making real-world connections with the past. Similarly, we see candidates making these connections during the endless cavalcade of debates, town hall meetings, and 24-hour news network sound bites. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, for instance, regularly reference the positions and policies of predecessors who have, for many, become timeless faces of the Democratic Party. This list includes Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and of course Barack Obama; each of whom provides a measure of legitimacy and a connection to longstanding Democrat ideals.
Of course, Republicans engage in similar practices. Interestingly, regardless of where the major GOP candidates positions themselves on the conservative spectrum, each one... from Cruz to Katich to Trump... has gone to great lengths to align himself, both politically and personally, with former president and party hero Ronald Reagan. Each of these candidates, perhaps more than at any previous time, seems determined to validate himself and legitimize his own nomination-worthiness by recalling Reagan’s grandeur. As the bastion of conservatism and face of the "Party of Lincoln," Ronald Reagan has, for many, become an iconic representation of better times, better leadership, and a "greater America." His overlapping personifications of all-American boy, actor, cowboy, defender of faith and family, and of course, vanquisher of 20th century communism all seem to make him the quintessential American; a life worthy of our heroification.
I am currently writing a book chapter on this evolving political and nostalgic image of Ronald Reagan, and as I discuss this topic with friends and colleagues, I sense that there is great public interest in this conversation. So, I am sharing part of it here with NSSSA members in an effort to generate a timely discussion among experts in the field. In your observation, how has President Reagan's image or legacy changed over the past quarter century? Is he worthy of this exalted status? Why or why not? Some have suggested his face should join Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt on Mt. Rushmore. What are your thoughts on this sentiment? And finally, are there other American political or historical figures who have enjoyed similar posthumous exhalation in contemporary political or social arenas?
First Blog Coming Soon
NSSSA Board Members