Yesterday I found myself in a lively debate with one of my coworkers. I can’t recall exactly how it started, but in a quarter hour we’d covered critical thinking, individual choice, social conservatism, sex education mandates, STDs, and…unicorns.
From an ideological standpoint, he and I differ on most points. One of us falls in an unequivocally liberal category; the other tends considerably towards the right. Of the above list of topics covered, we agreed on just one thing: critical thinking. We didn’t even fully agree on the topic of unicorns (more on that later).
What we lack in ideological commonality we make up for in one very important area of agreement. We agree to fully respect one another’s opinions as long as they are based on research and/or thoughtful reflection. We enjoy conversing about or debating any subject because we do so respectfully and mutually. Despite hardy disagreement, nothing is ever a personal attack – even when we challenge the other person’s opinion with a question or counterpoint.
As my coworker walked out of my office afterwards, I looked at him defiantly and said “I still don’t agree with you!”
He shrugged and smiled.
“Good talk,” I said.
We high-fived, and he walked out.
This seems simple. It seems adult. But too often I observe that most people do not communicate so respectfully when opinions differ. And in a time when our country seems to be facing many hotly debated changes, we need to be exceptionally conscientious of the communication styles we model for younger generations.
In the past year, our country has been faced with racial violence in Ferguson, Baltimore, and South Carolina. In the last month, the transition of Caitlyn Jenner brought much moral and bioethical debate. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obamacare (again) and the next day ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, nationwide. That’s a lot of controversy in a short period of time.
How have we handled discussions of these extremely important topics with our peers? With our children? With our students? Have we addressed these hard conversations head on? Have we sheltered our students from these topical minefields? Have we sheltered ourselves from having to articulate our not-so-thoughtfully-considered opinions on these topics? Have we even taken time to reflect on our own opinions and attitudes on all of them?
As educators, there is a great responsibility to model thoughtful, respectful conversation about difficult or controversial ideas. This is important not only for teachers of diverse classrooms, but of more homogenous ones as well. I believe it is the responsibility of educators to introduce diversity to students who do not have ready access to it, because some day they will be faced with “foreign” situations for which they ought to be at least somewhat equipped.
How do you handle hard topics in your classroom? Share your success stories in the comment section below.