Talking to Students About Current Events
- Initiate the conversation. Asking students what they know, how they feel, and what they are thinking about can assure them that there is space to discuss current events openly. It’s also important to try to figure out what they need; some students may want nothing more than an escape from the news for an hour, while others might feel an intense need to understand exactly what is happening. Try to be flexible and responsive as best you can.
- Find out what students know, and correct misconceptions or misinformation that they may have. We know that our students gain a lot of their information through social media, where truth and falsehood can mingle freely. Invite them to share what they already know and what they are curious about or wondering; answer questions that you can, and be honest about what we don’t yet know.
- Encourage students to share their feelings, and share your feelings if you feel comfortable doing so. As appropriate, discussing your own thoughts and reactions can communicate to students that what they’re feeling is natural and normal, and empower them to speak more freely about what’s on their mind.
Discussing issues with students without inappropriately "taking a side"
Civics teachers can and should defend civic dispositions and values and help students distinguish truth, opinion, and misinformation. In their book The Political Classroom, scholars Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy argue that "the political classroom is undergirded by values that promote a particular view of democratic life"; in particular, they identify the values of political equality, tolerance, autonomy, fairness, civic engagement, and political literacy as ones that are foundational to this work. They urge teachers to make instructional choices when facilitating discussion in ways that further these six aims—and they note that these values transcend partisanship and are fundamental to our democratic life.
As history teachers, we have skills that can help students understand how and why these events are happening by putting them in context. Using tools like Facing History's current events "explainers" can help us give students additional context about the history of things like political polarization, the transfer of power, and electoral unrest in this country. We have the ability to help students both understand the here and now as well as take the long view to see how it fits into the arc of our nation's history.
Talking to Children About Violence (Infographic)