Be Present, Listen and Refuse to be Silent
by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
As I struggle to process these unfolding events in our nation and how to best serve our youngest community members, I wrestle with a feeling of inadequacy. In this, I find a glimmer of hope in what I can do as an educator reflecting on a conversation I had with one of my administrators, who is a former student. We were chatting a bit after his post-evaluation conference of my teaching when he reminisced about being in my classroom after September 11th. He shared how he remembers how I came into class in the days that followed, shared what I knew to be true, listened, empathized with student concerns, and answered questions. He also said he could tell I was upset, but he reflected, “That was okay because it made me feel that it was okay to be upset and scared, too.”
We may be tempted to sidestep current events with our students for fears of being too political, but the events that are unfolding in our country right now are not right versus left, but racism versus liberty and justice for all. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
As educators, we have a responsibility to prioritize our students’ lived experiences in informing the essential questions we address in our curriculum. The proven practices mandated in the middle and high school civics requirement as well as the new Illinois social studies standards support such endeavors. We do not have all of the answers, but we can be present for our students, listen to their concerns, and refuse to be silent. And in these exchanges, we can model for our students that it is okay to be upset and scared while discussing what we can do in our communities to take informed action for systemic change.
Educators do not need to tread these waters alone. There are many civic learning partners that have created supports in these turbulent times.
- “Let’s Go There: Making a Case for Race, Ethnicity and a Lived Civics Approach to Civic Education” is a report in which the authors Cathy Cohen, Joe Kahne, and Jessica Marshall make the case that, “civic educators and advocates must ensure that attention to race, identity, and the lived experiences of youth are central elements of civic education efforts — what we call Lived Civics.”
- The Visions of Education podcast has an episode, "Teaching Racial Literacy and Controversial Issues with Genevieve Caffrey”, about her co-authored Social Education article, A Pathway to Racial Literacy: Using the LETS ACT Framework to Teach Controversial Issues.
- Scholastic published “Resources for Responding to Violence and Tragedy.”
- Teaching Tolerance has recently published a blog with resources called, “Affirming Black Lives Without Inducing Trauma.”
- Facing History and Ourselves has strategies and resources for Fostering a Reflective Classroom and has published a response to recent events.
- “Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race” resource round-up to support discussions around race at any age.
- NCTE published There Is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times.
- The National Museum of African American History and Culture just published their “Talking About Race” web portal.
- Subscribe to the News Literacy Project’s newsletter The Sift to get weekly updates to help you sort through rumors, hoaxes, and other misinformation about current events.
This Wednesday, IllinoisCivics.org will be hosting a one hour webinar on Understanding the Proven Practice of Current and Societal Issue Discussions in the Classroom. You can still register on our IllinoisCivics.org Professional Development calendar. You may participate live at 9:30 a.m. or receive a recording of the session.
What are you doing to support students during these turbulent times? Please comment below. Together we can prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life.