As I watch this election season unfold, I have one, over-riding thought:
And by "We," I mean Social Studies teachers.
And by "Failed," I mean we have not taught our citizens how to talk about politics. As a result, our citizens can't talk to each other about the important issues of the day in anything other than a fact-avoidant, hyperbolic, simultaneous, shouting match where volume overrules logic, stupid is celebrated, and hyperbole is evidence. This election season shows the failure of the public high school system
to prepare generations of responsible, thoughtful citizens.
Concurrent with our society losing the ability to have reasoned discourse in our civic life, we, the teachers, have lost our willingness to tackle these issues in our classrooms. It seems to me that we, the teachers, are scared to even try to do so for fear of parent, administrative and media backlash.
We have failed.
No more. I'm bringing politics back to my high school. I will leave my personal ideological biases at the door of the school. I will teach my students have to have a reasoned discourse about the issues that plague our society.
I will be the difference in my students' civic lives that will help to mold them into a generation that doesn't blindly drink the intellectually thin soup the media currently feeds us. I will lead my students away from the painted harlot that is demagoguery. I will bring them back to the idea that there is a larger cause than just individual satisfaction, and that being an informed citizen is the best kind of community service.
I will have my students address the controversial issues of our country. We will talk about abortion, gun control, and the death penalty. We will talk about states' rights and federal rights. We will talk about the deficit, the budget, and spending priorities. We will talk about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, "the general welfare" and the obligations inherent in a social contract between the government and the governed. We will address the concerns of the day in a way that will cause my students not to argue with anger but rather to argue with intellect and facts. We will invite parents and the community to have this discussion with us, and I will teach my students how to lead those discussions.
There is no one else who can arrest the decline in civil, civic discourse in this country but Social Studies teachers. No other group of people has the ability to reach each and every future citizen; no other group has the chance to make this change before it is too late. Not the media, not the parties, not the elected officials, not the parents. It's just we, the teachers, who can do this.
So I throw down this gauntlet all of you, my colleagues in high schools across the nation. Leave your ideological biases at the schoolhouse door along with your fears that reason can't trump emotion and help to get this country back on track with reasoned discourse on issues of continental importance.
Pick it up.