‘Tis the season to disagree. It is, after all, election season.
And what an election season! What a mosh pit of disagreement! (I will say no more other than to direct you to an example.) What an opportunity to learn more about your students and their parents than you could ever want to know!
Let’s say you’re a teacher who supports Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Let’s say one of your students supports Donald Trump. Let’s say your student expresses his support in this way: “Trump will make America great again.” Let’s say you’ve been waiting for a chance to crush any Trump supporter you can get your hands on. Let’s say steam starts coming out of your ears and your bile begins to rise.
What do you do to avoid turning your classroom into a mosh pit?
Suggestion: Separate the student’s beliefs from his person and treat his beliefs as text. Use that text to create a Teaching Moment.
You: Really? Donald Trump will make America great again? Now there’s a good argumentative claim. Can you support it?
You: How will Donald Trump make America great again?
Student: I don’t know.
You: Wait a minute. In this classroom, you can’t make a claim without knowing something about it. If you don’t know, you probably shouldn’t make the claim. Or you should do some research.
Student: I don’t need to do any research. He’s just better than Hillary Clinton.
You: OK. Another claim! How is he better than Hillary Clinton?
Student: I don’t know. He’s stronger.
You: OK. Supporting an opinion with an opinion. Not a good start, but we can work with it. Especially if you can define “stronger” and come up with some good facts to show that Trump is “stronger” (as you define it) than Clinton.
And so forth. The point is that students’ (or, more likely, their parents’) opinions can be fodder for teaching. By being taken seriously, students can experience the essential discipline of thinking in order to support their opinions. The key to supporting this type of learning experience — and to avoiding the mosh pit — is to do aikido with the student, or work with him rather than against him. He is, after all, entitled to his opinions.
And isn’t it great that he has an opinion at all?
It can be so hard to pull back from the cliff of self-righteousness! especially when our students make no attempt to do it themselves! But teachers, as the adults in the room, as the developmental partners to students who are growing intellectually and emotionally, must resist the urge to crush opinions they hate. Rather, they must help students develop those opinions responsibly and logically.
It is possible that fundamentally insupportable opinions will dissolve under the hard light of reason. It is also possible that teacher and students will learn things they hadn’t thought of before. Neither of these scenarios has a chance of happening if teachers disagree so vehemently that they crush the Third.