Many teachers completely avoid the subject of politics in the classroom while others feel it is their responsibility to share their political agendas with their students. I imagine most teachers fall somewhere in between. I believe that discussing politics and current events in the classroom is a vital component of a liberal arts education.
My approach is to always express both sides of an issue, sometimes three or four sides. An educator’s role is not to indoctrinate but to enlighten. Our goal should be to teach young people how to research the facts so they can draw their own conclusions.
In my 12th grade Personal Finance class I include a unit called Taxpayer Responsibility. I begin by explaining the general agendas of today’s political parties. I explain that the basic mindset of the Democratic Party is that that government is responsible for taking care of people. Restrictions on business are necessary to protect people and the environment from negative business practices and any negative impact of business on society and the environment.
Our Republican legislators generally support laws that limit restrictions on business. Their mindset is that businesses create jobs and wealth and government-imposed restrictions limit jobs and wealth. Republicans try to reduce taxes on business and individuals and do not believe that it is the government’s responsibility to provide financial support for citizens. They also advocate for a strong military.
Libertarians strive for smaller government. They want to reduce business and individual taxes and social programs. Many Libertarians believe that large countries, like the United States of America, should not be heavily involved in world politics and should limit military and humanitarian aid. They also want to eliminate government restrictions on businesses and also on individuals.
There are a number of other political parties, such as the Green Party, which has an agenda related to caring for the planet. All of these parties have good intentions, they just see the world differently.
I explain to my students that they should understand the motivations of political parties so that when it is time to vote they can choose a candidate that represents their personal beliefs and agendas. I also teach how to locate resources to learn more about candidates. I demonstrate how to use https://www.govtrack.us to see what elected officials are doing. I encourage students to get involved by contacting elected officials and expressing their concerns. I also explain the impact of political contributions on the actions of elected officials and how to research the source of political contributions candidates receive.
Finally, I try to teach all of this without revealing my personal politics so that I do not influence their decision making. I am not here to indoctrinate but to educate and to help prepare the young people I have the privilege of teaching to become the productive citizens of tomorrow.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
ISTE Standards for Educators: The Facilitator (source: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators)
Educators facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement of the ISTE Standards for Students. Educators:
- 6a Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
- 6b Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.
- 6c Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
- 6d Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.
Educators as facilitators is a newer concept. When I attended public school in the 1970's and 80's, all instruction was teacher-centered and teacher-led. There was very little concern about the needs of individual learners. My higher education experience was similar.
Today's classroom has a different structure. In a student-centered learning environment, students have autonomy, and the teacher offers support which may increase student motivation and interest in learning. There is abundant research on the benefits of the teacher as the facilitator of student learning rather than the orchestrator. "Autonomy support revolves around finding ways to enhance students’ freedom to coordinate their inner motivational resources with how they spend their time in the classroom" (Reeve, 2005, p. 7).
6a Foster a culture where students take ownership
When one reflects on what areas of life are important, the results generally produce of list of areas where the one reflecting has some control, or ownership. This list may include general health and fitness, family relationships, work and home life, and so on. As adults assign a greater importance to those areas of our lives that are self-controlled, it is a natural assumption that the same is true of students in our classrooms.
ISTE paints a very clear picture of what this looks like in the 6a standard:
Creating shared values, social norms and goals around the purpose and approach to learning by, for example, bringing students into the process of establishing and maintaining culture; setting up space and time for students to fail and try again; establishing space and time for student reflection and goal setting; allowing students voice and choice in demonstration and evaluation of competency.
This picture does not look like a traditional teacher-centered classroom with desks in a row and the teacher separate at the front of the room. This looks like a classroom where the teacher truly listens to the individual learner and considers their input. This definitely does not look like a classroom where standardized testing is the highest priority. If this is a concern, know that student-centered learning has been shown to improve standardized test scores and graduation rates (McKenna, 2014; Richmond, 2014).
This change in classroom culture will not be a comfortable transaction for many educators. However, the potential benefits to the learner make a solid attempt at a student-centered lesson worth the effort.
6b Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies
Those already familiar with ISTE standards for teachers and learners will have no trouble with this objective. For those who are new to using technology in the classroom, particularly in a student-centered environment, there are many resources to help one get started.
Start small. There are many free online tools designed to engage students and let them take the lead in their own learning. Consider online chats or forums, web quests, or even a digital field trip. A quick Web search should help you find something that relates to the curriculum you teach. Google Classroom is free and has a number of wonderful resources. Talk to other teachers, or read their blogs, and see what they are doing.
6c Create learning opportunities that challenge students
During the past 17 years, public schools have been lowering the bar for students in order to keep graduation rates up. The result is that graduates are finding they are not prepared for college or the work force. Employers are frustrated when employees lack necessary soft skills, such as communication and problem solving skills (Junior Achievement, 2013). According to https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/, the majority of U.S. high school graduates are not proficient across the board.
It is time to try something different. Raising expectations placed on students is a good place to start. Students need to be actively engaged in the learning process in order to raise their motivation. When they take ownership of their learning the results are positive. Fletcher (2008) demonstrated that when provided the opportunity, students became an active and positive influence on the community,
6d Model and nurture creativity and creative expression
Teachers teach because of a passion for seeing minds opened. Following the Facilitator Standard puts educators in the position to guide and encourage as students taken ownership of their learning and realize that what they do matters. Students can become givers rather than receivers. The opportunity to fail in a safe environment may lead students to take more changes and explore alternatives that are discouraged in the standardized-testing environment.
Switching to a role of facilitator can be very challenging. Use available resources and remember to keep the focus on achieving learning objectives while keeping students involved and engaged. A good place to start is with Howton (2017), "Turn your classroom into a personalized learning environment." From there, continue to explore ISTE resources and many others. When you see the enthusiasm in your classroom start to grow, you will be glad you did.
Fletcher, A. (2008). The Architecture of Ownership. Educational Leadership, 66(3). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/The-Architecture-of-Ownership.aspx
Howton, R. (2017). Turn your classroom into a personalized learning environment. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=416
Junior Achievement (2013). Are students prepared for the workplace? New tools for a new generation. Retrieved from https://www.juniorachievement.org/documents/20009/20652/Are+Students+Prepared+for+the+Workplace.pdf/c1b75524-016d-4bd1-b8aa-74395f51021a
McKenna, B. (2014). New research shows effectiveness of student-centered learning in closing the opportunity gap. Stanford Graduate School of Education New Center. Retrieved from https://ed.stanford.edu/news/new-research-shows-effectiveness-student-centered-learning-closing-opportunity-gap.
Reeve, J. (2006). Teachers as facilitators: What autonomy‐supportive teachers do and why their students benefit. The Elementary School Journal, 106(3), 225-236. doi:10.1086/501484.
Richmond, E. (2014). What happens when students control their own education? The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/10/what-happens-when-students-control-their-own-education/381828/