Everything in Moderation

November 13, 2013

Today’s post was written by Jenna Fournel, Inspired Teaching’s Director of Teaching and Learning.

How does an Inspired Teacher teach students about politics, government, democracy, or civic engagement? In these polarized, caustic times I do not envy those tasked with this challenge. But I cannot escape the idea that teaching about these issues, particularly now, is one of the most important things an Inspired Teacher can do.

As a parent, I often find myself navigating the slippery slope between endowing my children with my political ideals and teaching them to be critical consumers of the drivel that comes from both sides. They hear the shouting in the media. They see the scary ads thrown in our mailbox. They think politics is about winning and losing and that government boils down to money and who gets to go to work.

The morning after last week’s election, my 5-year old son bounced down the stairs and asked, “did we win?!”

And while the simple answer was yes, our candidate won, the map of Virginia’s electoral districts that stared at me from the computer screen told a more complicated story. As we drove to school that morning,  we listened as radio pundits tried to read the tea leaves of the various elections across the country. “Are the Democrats winning, Mama?” my son asked me. “Are the Republicans gone?” I tried to answer him while wondering what I had done to elicit such stark “blue and red” questions. When did we lose the discourse about what the parties might do working together?

Inspired Teachers are artists who craft questions and who empower their students to do the same. In the social studies classrooms of Inspired Teachers, inquiry is being done to explore why we’re so focused on red and blue states to begin with. These teachers are talking to students about how to find a place in this false dichotomy. They’re having students puzzle through how you solve big social problems when everyone’s interests cannot possibly be met. They’re looking at the Constitution and having real debates about how it makes the most sense to apply this 226-year-old document to our 2013 concerns.

If I am to apply this approach with my own children, I need to figure out how to get them to ask different questions. I want my son to ask me “What does moderate mean?” and “What is compromise?” and “What has to happen in order for the government to work?” I won’t know the answers all the time because I also depend too often on a stark red and blue explanation for everything. But perhaps hearing his inquiries will prompt me to start questioning and learning again.

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