Saturday, April 08, 2006

Teaching Children about the Events that Shape Our Lives

During dinner with an old high school buddy today, the topic moved, as it so often does, to the dangers that face our society today. We were noting that many of these dangers will have more impact on our children, and yet our children seem someone apathetic to the events of the world. These children will benefit from our successes and will suffer the consequences of our mistakes, and yet they seem not to care about the moves that we, as a society, make.

Now on one hand, it’s important for children to experience the care-free life of youth, to not have the weight of the world upon their shoulders. But on the flip side, if children do not find their voice today on some issues, their voices may not make a difference when they’re older and looking at the world around them. If we are responsible for providing our children with a better tomorrow, than are we shirking our duties by not helping them understand these issues while they can make a difference?

Is the responsible thing to protect children’s innocence, to make sure they can experience the childhood everyone deserves? Or is it more responsible to protect the children’s future, to help them understand the pertinent current issues and find their own voice? I believe the answer lies between the two alternatives, balancing a fine line that allows the children to understand issues better and examine them on their own terms, determining what issues are important to them.

Now, I should mention first that I have no children of my own yet, that I’m not even married. I do teach religious school, though, 7th grade, and part of the curriculum is current events. I find myself continually challenged to avoid pushing my own opinions or negativity on the children, but I still feel that the current events section of the class is the most important thing I do, helping to teach children how to analyze the world around them.

When I lived in Israel, I was always struck by how aware the children were of the events that could affect their lives. But it never dampened their moods, even when it came time to speak out about a particular issue. And thus it is apparent to me that children can handle these issues, and that they can do so without losing the genuine happiness required for proper development. The key is getting children in the West to care as much as children, who face these issues on a more imperative basis, like the children in Israel.

It starts by getting the children to question issues. I’m a big believer in the reward strategy; find the appropriate reward, and offer it for each article that your child can report on to you and the family. In some ways, it’s better if you know nothing about the issue before hand, because then the child can’t be influenced by your opinions. And ask many questions, forcing your children not only to read or watch the news, but to understand it more thoroughly.

Also make sure to ask questions not only about the present implications of a news story, but about the future implications of a news story. For example, it’s fantastic that your child knows that global warming is melting the polar ice caps. But understanding that the melting of the polar ice caps can cause storms to be more intense and destructive helps them understand the implications of global warming to them (of course there are far more implications, but this is post on education, not global warming).

I have a small class, and when we first started doing current events, I would tell them what was going on in the news and we would discuss these topics. They got excited to hear about events, but never absorbed them. When I moved to a new program, where each week one student finds an article to report on, and we all discuss it (as well as any other topics the kids know about), the students really began to understand the issues, how they play into the makeup of the world and how these issues affect them personally.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen another change too: now instead of the one child bringing in an article to report on and discuss with the class, more and more other children have been bringing in articles on their own. The last two classes everyone has had some news story to report on. The kids are excited to discuss the issues, and everyone has opinions, making it easier for me not to push my views on the children; frankly, I rarely get a word in edgewise, save to make sure everyone is able to get their opinions heard.

And now the children are starting to look for ways to let their own voices be heard, which is more than fantastic. They’ve learned on their own how to critically analyze the articles they are reading, and to come to their own conclusions. These new skills will help them create the world and the lives that they want for themselves. What greater gift could I give these children?

I’m a big believer in pushing children to think about current events. I believe that, only by forcing children to question the events that shape their lives will they be able to create a future that they will want to live in, and that it is possible to provide these skills without stealing away the bliss and happiness that should accompany childhood. It does not require a wealth of knowledge from parents or educators to get children to question current events. It only requires a supportive voice and a bit of incentive to help children seize their own destiny.

Quickly, I do want to add that, again, I am not a parent, and while I try to be a good educator I am, and always will be, learning. Still, I do believe that teaching children to analyze current events is one of the most important things I’ll ever do. If you have any good techniques for educating children on the issues that face the world today without scaring them and while forcing them to come to their own conclusions, I would love to hear. Please provide any suggestions you have in the comments section. Thanks for your opinions.

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Posted by Scottage at 3:43 AM / | |