Facilitating the Journey to Informed Citizenry
By Christy Martin Ed.D.
Our country and our schools appear to be in the news a lot these days. Many of our citizens might even say we are in crisis. To an educator, these are opportunities for cognitive growth for their students and to assist them on their journey to being informed citizens.
Everything we see in the news in the last days and weeks has been emotional. It brings about strong reactions in the brain of those with empathy for others. Everything from the COVID variant numbers, vaccination issues, Afghanistan withdrawal, migrants on our borders, and the death of servicemen rescuing citizens and United States loyalists has been on display for us to see as the media pounds away at our sensitivities. It could even be called a sensory overload. Students will remember our reaction to these moments and how we utilize them.
For teachers, it is time to talk about the events. As things unfold quickly in some of these issues, a daily talk about issues, integration of some things into curriculum and a peek at some of the news either in print or on audio or video would be appropriate. Teachers can carefully lead students into the history behind some of these events and pose questions for students to think about.
Students must be on overload as they attempt to traverse another year of education COVID restrictions as well as rapidly unfolding world and national events. Discussion of the serious issues that surround us today is one way to defuse the stress on young minds and hearts. Putting things into historical and linear perspectives can add hope and knowledge to young people struggling with the chaos around them.
Most of these issues are grounded in our nation’s split politics. As teachers, we must not take sides but recognize that our job is facilitating students through the maze of ideas that surround each issue. It is our job to give students the tools to find their own answers to difficult questions and use their own background, cognitive skills, and thought processes to come to their own conclusions about what is happening in our world. We must also reinforce to them that to be confused and neutral on some of these issues is normal. What is important on the road to maturity is that we help them in the thought process, the research for answers, the clear expression of ideas and opinions and the respect for those whose thoughts might not coincide with their own.
As educators, many of us fear the politics that has reared its head on the teaching profession this year. Difficult as it is, we must stay neutral on the volatility of issues and stick instead to the facilitation of student exploration of ideas. While the teaching of critical race theory is banned in my state, the exploration of what it is, how it came to exist, and the controversy around it might be explorable. The wearing of masks, vaccination requirements and other COVID related issues are also things that are affecting students’ lives and families. Events on our southern border, incoming immigrants from Afghanistan and the long and deadly wars there and in the Middle East are all things that need to be studied within their historical perspectives. In addition, there is much relevant and interesting literature and art to be used in effective ways to bring personal perspective to studies about issues. Certainly, our military and its sacrifice in the protection of and respect for human life is a proud part of our culture and is integral to any study about our nation’s role in world affairs.
As teachers, it is and cannot be an easy task. We are in one of the most divisive times in our nation’s history and that division has caused upheaval that is a growing rift. Teaching respect for diverse people and ideas, healthy debate, and the pursuit of knowledge to make informed decisions is one of our most difficult tasks. It requires us to think through our own delivery of information, pursue factual information, look closely at our sources and our own neutrality. It also requires a great deal of introspection and reflection. This may require working with our fellow educators to develop ideas and share strategies. This process will strengthen any curriculum and is an example of what we are trying to facilitate with our young people.
As educators we are charged with being the guide on the journey to the maturity of young, developing minds and hearts. It is not always an easy job, but it is one we cannot shirk, and it is one that is an honor to undertake. Use these teaching moments as opportunity to guide them on the way to becoming informed future citizens of our great country.
About the author
Christy Martin recently retired after more than 35 years as an educator K-12 and post-secondary as well as several years as a coordinator of programs for youth aging out of foster care. She writes about what she knows from experiences in education and social services. Christy welcomes comments on her articles. Communicate with her via email at email@example.com. She can also be found on Christy Martin | Facebook, Christy S. Martin (@ChristySMartin1) / Twitter, and (4) Christy Martin, Ed.D. | LinkedIn.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.