Civility starts in our classrooms

I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes curiosity gets the better of me.  After reading a news story online, I scroll down into the comments and begin to scan through.  If the issue being discussed is controversial at all, I am almost always sorry I did.  The internet “trolls” who often post in these forums write the most hateful, mean, and vile garbage you can imagine.  I really can’t understand what motivates these people, but sadly their type of behavior isn’t restricted to just a few.  A prime example of this is the recent debate happening in social media circles about the same sex marriage issues currently in front of the Supreme Court.  A quick scan of facebook or twitter will reveal a ton of “troll like” behavior that serves no purpose other than to push people farther apart.  A recent posting of a rainbow colored oreo sent off a firestorm of controversy with many promising boycotts and others posting comments such as this one…

ummmm… so do i get aids if i eat oreos now?

I don’t know if it is the feeling of anonymity, the perverse joy in pushing someone else’s buttons, or just plain meanness, but it is the kind of thing that is so despicable, it defies any response.

On the other side of the debate, I came across this posting…

As a person of faith, I find it deeply offensive, hurtful, and unfair.  I would be happy to have a conversation about the message of the bible or why I choose to live a Christian life in communion with the Catholic church with people who post this or similar things, but most of the time, I simply hit “hide” and move on with life.  There is obviously no intent to understand me or where I am coming from.  Even in our so called leaders we don’t get much better.  All you had to do was watch a presidential debate in the lead up to last November’s election to know respectful debate is dead in today’s society.  Most conversations about controversial issues seem to begin and end with the notion that if you hold a position contrary to mine, you are ignorant, blind, a bigot, or just plain stupid.   As I reflect on this sad lack of civility so present in our society today, one thought keeps popping back into my head…  You know that Internet troll who posted that ugly thing you stumbled across the other day?

Not long ago, they were sitting in your classroom.

As is the case with so many issues, the answer to the problem of the lack civility in our dialogue in our world today starts in our classrooms.

One aspect of the Common Core Standards that seems to get very little attention is the Speaking and Listening Standards.  I believe they are key to not only making our classrooms engaging places where deep learning will take place, but also to learning the skills needed to succeed in the workplace or function in a diverse, democratic society.  Here is a quick example of a portion of what you’ll find in Kindergarten.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.1a Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others and taking turns speaking about the topics and texts under discussion).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.1b Continue a conversation through multiple exchanges.

For a kindergartner, it is pretty simple.  Listen, take turns and stay on topic.  Not an easy task as any Kindergarten teacher could tell you… 🙂

By the time they are getting ready to transition out of elementary school, it may look like this (taken from 4th grade CC standards)…

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.1c Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.3 Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker provides to support particular points.

Notice the emphasis on understanding and evaluating the evidence used within an argument and then thoughtfully responding to that argument while building the understanding of all.  Very stark contrast to the “troll like” behavior in use on social media or in politics where the only intention is to twist, injure, or confuse.

By the time a student leaves high school, the goal is a lofty one indeed…

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1d Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Wow.  If we could get from our leaders and our peers on social media what we expect from high school seniors, the world would be a different place indeed.

Although the skill of respectful debate and disagreement will never lend itself to being easily measured on a standardized test, it is absolutely vital for students going out into the world today.  Classrooms can no longer be places where students sit passively in desks, empty receptacles to be filled with knowledge.  They must have the opportunity to critically assess many different competing voices while finding their own.  Teachers must build classroom communities where different ideas are encouraged, respected, challenged, and celebrated.  How do you teach respectful debate?  Would love to hear from you… unless you are a “troll.” 🙂

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One thought on “Civility starts in our classrooms

  1. Julie Merdian

    My good friend and I taught Biology together my first two years of teaching. The students often debated about topics like evolution vs creation, cloning, global warming…you name it, high school students will volunteer to argue (respectfully) about it. We were amazed at the participation of those students who were normally withdrawn from class discussion!

    Reply

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