Creating Civility


The fall leaves are changing and it’s near the end of election season. But let’s dial back to 1998 – I was a 37 year old middle school Social Studies teacher navigating how to teach about the embarrassing actions of President Bill Clinton and his White House intern. Steering the classroom conversation so that the political implications were understood while honoring community values was a difficult dance. Nearly 20 years later, the same problem exists today across this country as we face the disintegration of civility within our presidential race.

Like a couple of decades ago, new vocabulary is radiating out to young ears. It’s impossible to completely shield them from both the specific language and the larger concepts that they may not be developmentally ready for. How do educators/parents maintain civility and teach the democratic values that we hold dear as Americans?

We should limit their intake of news. As a former Poli Sci major, it’s hard for me to suggest less exposure to the news media, but in reality, it’s the nightly news on TV that is one of the greatest sources of inappropriate information for youngsters. Common Sense Media has solid advice in this area for parents and their children.

We can turn lemons into lemonade. However you feel about the unorthodox comments of our candidates, recent comments have highlighted the issue of respect toward our fellow human beings, especially women. This is not a bad lesson for our children, obviously formulated for their age.

There have been other tough campaigns in US History. While it’s hard to match the divisiveness of this campaign, there have been periods of great angst between candidates. The election of 1800 is one such example between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. While both were close friends before and long after this election, each engaged in dirty politics.

Check out this resource. The New York Times has some excellent ideas for teachers and parents alike in the article Talking Across Divides: 10 Ways to Encourage Civil Classroom Conversation On Difficult Issues written by Katherine Schulten.

It’s perhaps most important that we listen to our children as they become influenced by media and what they hear. We also have to be careful about what we say in their presence and to maintain some civility as we talk about the candidates.

It’ll be over on November 8…after you vote of course.

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