Just a thought…
I remember when 9/11 occurred I was teaching a journalism class when another teacher came in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Centers. We had a TV in the room, and I immediately flipped it on and we started watching as Aaron Brown tried to make sense of what was happening. After a couple of seconds, I told my kids to take out their notebooks and begin jotting down key quotes, interview names, etc. as the pieces began to trickle in. It was a mistake on my part, I realized, as the gravity of the event began to grow and settle in. At some point, I told them to put their notebooks away, that this wasn’t a great time for an exercise, and we watched until the TV feed was cut by our superintendent. Still, for the next couple of weeks after the dust cleared a bit, I threw out the curriculum, and we divvied up the pieces of this complex story and followed them, reported to one another and the school about what was happening, and worked through our emotions in the process. We learned a lot about the world and the times as they presented themselves.
I’m not in a classroom any longer, but moments like the one we’re in right now I wish I was. We are watching a slow unfolding of history as opposed to that day seven years ago that came at us in such a rush. In the midst of all of this angst and uncertainty that we’re dealing with, there are a host of teachable moments that would serve to make all of our kids better, more able, more functional citizens. I’m sure there are more, but how about these topics, just for a start:
- How mortgages work
- What credit is
- What the tax code is
- The intricacies of borrowing money
- Investing in the stock market
- Balanced budgets
- What debt, both personal and national, is
- The political process (or lack thereof) of the two Houses of Congress
- The electoral college
- Truth in advertising
- Vetting of expertise (as in talking heads)
- The “Global Economy” and our effects on it
Please feel free to add your own in the comments if you like, but I wonder how many teachers are throwing out the curriculum at this point and focusing on real events that have real consequences. (Here is one example by a social studies supervisor who I used to teach with back in the day.) If we’re not doing it now, when?
One last point. This is a perfect time to teach our kids “editing” as well. I’m still struggling with this whole debacle in terms of what it means for the average person. This morning on the news, I heard one “expert” put it simply: if credit dries up, the economy stops. In other words, if banks don’t have money to lend, not only will we not get loans, our credit cards will be pretty much useless, and cash on hand will be king. If that’s true, inaction could be really, really costly, which is what many seem to be saying. But who do we trust at times like these? We have to teach ourselves and our kids how to answer that question.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a president who was a teacher as well? I think the times demand it.
With all due respect, I’m pretty sure neither candidate really understands what’s going on with the economy, let alone knows how to teach it. I’d rather not hear pithy, misleading soundbites from politicians; how about a little refreshing honesty: “This is a highly complex issue in which both political parties dropped the ball”
I having been thinking a lot about what this crisis teaches us about the media. I have been struck in Canada about how the media portrayed the failure of the deal in Congress as a bad thing – talking about dysfunction etc. This, it strikes me, is an editorial position and not a journalistic one (does anyone still think there is such a distinction?). This kind of media literacy is increasingly important.
Your comment about elected officials needing to be teachers reminds me of some comments that Thomas Friedman makes in “The World is Flat”, which I was able to download for free this summer as part of the publisher’s promotion of his new book. Do we hear any leaders teaching about the changes that are occurring in the world and what this means for public policy or do we only hear them saying what the majority wants to hear – what goes off best in the focus groups?
How about a quick lesson on Ethics, Character, Responsibility… what it means to be a good citizen? I know we don’t test those on a national level, but they seem to mean more to me right now in light of our current “situation” than just about anything else.
Last year I posted about a conversation I had with a teacher friend who used to regularly chuck the curriculum, but has now gone to a type of micro-assessment system his administrators adore. Why has he gone that way? The system rewards it. Now he’s getting flown around the country to tell other groups of teachers and administrators how great it is to teach to the test. Sigh.
When he used to chuck the curriculum, he was sticking his neck out — yes, the results were amazing, and his students loved it, but he was taking a risk. I sat in on some of his lessons, one of which we developed together, and it was incredible to see how engaged the kids were. They can see authenticity from a mile away, and sadly, most of school is not that.
Sorry, I just realized that your focus was on current events, and my example wasn’t really triggered by something explosive in the news. It was simply the “threw away the curriculum” idea that got me going. And here was Christian Long’s original post that got the conversation started.
Ian H. says
I was teaching a unit on the written press on September 11th, 2001 and the tragedy proved to be a major boost to my ability to do a comparative analysis of the newspaper coverage. I bought at least 8 different newspapers on Sept 12th so the students could analyse the different ways that the story was covered by different news organisations. Far from throwing out the curriculum, it proved to be one of the best learning experiences for my students within the guidelines of the course.
Here in Canada, we don’t have the standardised testing that seems to have been adopted across the US, so it’s easier for us to say that a particular item meets the requirements of the provincial curriculum, because we write our own tests. I’m certain that you can think of ways that your exercises in the weeks following the 9/11 tragedy fulfilled rather than overrode the requirements of your curriculum, if only tangentially.
In addition to “The political process (or lack thereof) of the two Houses of Congress” I think actual lessons on the importance of working together toward a common goal do much for students. Not that any kids I know would use the Republicans and Democrats in Congress as an excuse for not wanting to work with “her” again… I guess I’m just more frustrated than ever about the talk of “reaching across the aisle” followed by actions that show the opposite.
I am in the fortunate position of teaching in a parochial school where I am actually encouraged to use teachable moments when appropriate and NOT teach to the test… and our kids actually score better than area public school kids on those tests.
As a SS teacher of middle school students, I provide lots of opportunity for open forum. We use current events to teach journalism skills as well as enticing discussion (my hope is to turn some of these archaic handwritten current events into blogs!!! But in my classroom, there is little conversation that is off limits. Certainly I teach the curriculum, but at times like this, we can have great conversations about the world we live in and STILL tie it in. One of the problems with history classrooms, is that we are so used to doing things linearly, but so what if we teach a little electoral college now, even though the map says we aren’t supposed to get there until January.
A quick story. I encouraged my students to watch the debate on Friday evening be prepared to come into class on Monday and discuss what they noticed about the debate itself. Almost 90% of my students were more concerned with Jim Lehrer’s attempts to get the candidates to talk to each other, than they were with the substance of the debate. While I thought we would get into some of the substance, in several of my classes we began discussions about the types of questions we ask and body language and to remember those things when we debate later in the year. Teaching is messy (just like using technology) but that’s what makes it fun!
Another former SS teacher here.
Another point to discuss/debate is the role to which the Federal government should intervene in this crisis. It has become quite clear that this is not a partisan issue as both sides of the aisle have voted both ways.
It also is a great opportunity to have a discussion on leadership, what is is, how it works, who has is and who doesn’t. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it is a great opportunity to watch and study the process, especially in an election year. What would be really interesting would be to discuss the ramifications on House elections, not just the Presidential election.
Discussing House elections is a great idea, but why stop there? Elections occur throughout the US every year on a state and local level. I have a feeling that the majority of young Americans feel that their responsibility to be politically active only rolls around every four years. What are schools teaching about local government? Many teachable moments are just down the street at the local town hall, not just on Pennsylvania Ave.
Craig Nansen says
First a quick quote that I have used when presenting to teachers – “It’s too bad that the people who really know how to run this country are too busy teaching.”
Teachable moments – I remember how upset I was when my daughter (in 5th grade at the time) came home in January, 1990 with homework about earthquakes. That was what they were studying then, cause that was where it came in the science book.
But this was the school year when San Francisco had a major earthquake in October of 1989, and it happened right before the start of the ’89 World Series, live on TV. The news media was filled with information about that earthquake and earthquakes in general – live TV coverage, newspapers,and magazines. No WWW at that time 🙂
Talk about a teachable moment!
And this teacher chose to ignore it, even though he had been teaching about earthquakes for 20+ years, cause that wasn’t when it came up in his textbook.
Let’s applaud the teachers that do change their lessons to take advantage of the teachable moments and encourage others to do the same. But realize not all teachers are willing to do so.
Thanks for posting this – definitely an inspiration. I had a bit of a hole in my 9th Grade English curriculum because our district didn’t order the book we were going to teach. Rather than pulling out a trusty old book that we taught last year (gag), I decided to put together a short unit on the economic situation. I’m still planning it out, but we’ll be starting next week on some research (partly using your topics as a guide), writing summaries and sharing research, and putting together informed opinion pieces in the form of letters to congressmen (or presidential candidates – not sure which, yet). I’m really excited about this. Thanks for providing the spark!
Susanne Nobles says
I am reworking much of my year anyway due to my choice to integrate essential questions, so maybe I am in a more fortunate place because I am creating as the opportunities open up. I have added an editorial assignment at the end of my utopias study with my students where they get to write their opinion of their world. They will then have the chance to be chosen for publication by our local paper’s teen section. We have been looking at our world through the lens of Huxley and Voltaire, and I know they are doing great stuff in their government classes right now (see this blog for one class’s work: http://www.citizenblash.blogspot.com/) with the current crises and election, so I hope to encourage an interdisciplinary approach here.
Lerrin Currie says
I would say that all of the topics that have been suggested through this blog would be good to discuss with all students, however, I think they should be discussed at the right time. Just as the original post stated, the teacher had his students reflect on what was happening on September 11th, and found that as they continued watching the news, it may have been a bad idea. So by saying that there is a time and place for all of these things to be discussed, I think that most are worthy topics, and all should know about them before they come into contact with them, because if they don’t they are going to run into troubles later on.
Sorry I did not mention another topic for thought, but I thought I would reflect on everything that was being said.
Janice Smith says
My frustration is that to teach these things we’re required to ‘throw out the curriculum’. Why aren’t they in our curriculums to begin with? Maybe if they were we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in.
Jeff Cerar says
I just started a mock stock market project for my senior class. Might have been a rough time to give $20,000 to a kid (good thing it’s not real money). The students witnessed first hand the risk that is involved with the stock market as every student’s portfolio was crushed. We then looked into why the stock market has been so mercurial and what to do in the future. Should we buy more, or get out? It began a debate and even 17 year olds had some intelligent things to say.
I really enjoyed reading about your experiences at The Adrenaline Forrest. I also enjoyed the video that was on youtube. As I was reading I couldnâ€™t help but recall my college experience when I took a course that was required for my major in health and physical education. The course title was adventure based education. West Chester University who offers a program which I believe is second to none in PE came up with the course about 10 years ago and they have added things each year. You start off the semester with team building activity and eventually move into the high ropes course which is the final exam. I learned more about myself and my classmates during that semester than any other course or class I have ever been a part of. I am sure you experienced a lot of the same feelings whether good or bad, proud or scared that I experienced. The sense of accomplishment after something like that can only be done first hand; I donâ€™t think there are any words that can describe it. I plan to look more into The Adrenaline Forrest and I hope some day I have the opportunity to do something like this again.