On February 16, 2018, I tweeted that I was going to conduct a 12-day unit in my senior classes on the school shooting tragedy in Florida—and on mass shootings in general. Since then, many of my followers have asked me to share with them the specific lessons I am creating for this unit. After much consideration, I have decided to honor the request here in my blog, but will do so only after first sharing these three very real concerns of mine:
1. I created this unit on the fly. I believe that strong teaching and learning occur when the curriculum is responsive to the students sitting in my classroom right now. But this also means that the lessons in this unit are unproven which, of course, makes me reluctant to share them with a broader audience. I have never done this unit before, which means there will not be enough time to polish all of the rough edges. Thirty-three years of teaching have taught me to expect a splinter the first go-around.
2. The writing in this blog will be crappy. I will be adding posts daily over the course of this unit, which means I will have very little time to revise and/or edit what I share. Like many of you, I am in the classroom every day, and I have 10,000 things on my to-do list. Sharing crappy, first-draft writing with others feels risky to me.
3. I am biased, and so are you. Like most people, I have strong feelings on what could be done to help stem these horrific shootings. The topic is controversial, and “controversial” means that there is going to be intense, honest disagreements between reasonable people. Having said that, teaching a unit like this raises a thorny question: How does a biased teacher create a “balanced” unit? Or maybe the question is more along the lines of, “Can a biased teacher create a balanced unit of study?” I do know one thing: no matter how balanced I try to be in creating this unit, there may be times when I fail. There may be times when I may not even recognize my own bias in materials that I select for student study. Even when I do recognize my own bias, I am not confident that simply doing so is enough to safeguard against tilting the unit.
My instinct tells me that I should not admit or reveal my bias to my students, that doing so will influence their thinking right out of the gate. But I am not so sure about this. Part of me thinks that maybe I should expose my bias in the beginning—that doing so might demonstrate my intentions and efforts to deeply understand opinions different than mine, including those of the students in my room. Isn’t there value in making that struggle visible? Isn’t there value in modeling to students that I will consciously select materials for study from sources I do not generally read and, in doing so, that I will work hard to create a forum in which all voices are heard? Isn’t there value in having our students see an adult trying to get out of his/her own echo chamber as he/she attempts to consider the ideas of others (especially in an age where adults do not do a good job of modeling this)? I am not sure, but I do know there is something about pretending to be neutral that seems disingenuous to me.
With that said, I will at least start the unit by attempting to stay in “Switzerland” mode—though I am uneasy about it.
So these are my concerns, which I expect will generate controversy. But I also see beyond these concerns and recognize the greater good that could come from sharing this teaching experience. Therefore, I am choosing to write about this 12-day unit for these main reasons:
· I believe in responsive teaching, as I stated earlier. I launched the unit today (see my next post), and my kids were riveted. It was timely, and they strongly connected with it. This controversy is unfolding in real time, which appeals to them. It also appeals to me, in that I am creating this on the fly and that doing so brings an energy, an enthusiasm to my teaching.
· There is a real value in reading and writing about something over time. This is not “one-and-done” thinking—the kind of thinking that is often valued in a test-prep culture. I am hoping that my students will track their thinking through this unit, to pay attention to a story that has “legs.” I’m curious to see if our thinking grows, changes, evolves.
· When we collaborate, we all get better. I hope that many of you reading this will take some of my initial thinking, make it better and share your ideas in the comments section. And just as I encourage you to take what works for you, I have every intention of stealing your good ideas.
· I fear for the future of our democracy. This is not hyperbole. As I tweeted, only three of my 73 seniors know who represents them in Congress. None of them know how to properly contact their lawmakers. Some of you have suggested to me that this may be not be ignorance in play; rather, it might be a generation who has become disillusioned with government. That may be true for some of my students, but my gut feeling is that a majority of them are simply not at all dialed in to their civic responsibility and power. I will remind them of Orwell’s quote, and I may be paraphrasing here: “It’s okay if you don’t want to think; others will gladly do it for you.” And if Orwell, did not really say that, he should have.
This unit will end with my students producing three outcomes: (1) they will each write a letter to a lawmaker calling for action, (2) they will each place a call to their representative to express their concerns to a real human being, and (3) they will register to vote in the next election.
So let’s get to the unit. For each day's lesson, I will share what happened in the classroom, along with some brief reflections about the lesson. I will post each night, and I invite you to join the conversation. I ask that you keep your comments civil and respectful.