Trying To Create Some Sanity When None Can be Found

This past week we witnessed the shocking hate crime of the murder of nine African American people in a church in Charleston. The best that we can hope for is that horrific event will lead to some long needed national discourse about race and racism and about the ubiquity of guns in our culture. My intentions for this blog are to keep if focused primarily on education, as it would not be a pretty site to witness me holding forth on politics on a weekly basis.

Nonetheless some of the political pronouncements made in the aftermath of the hate crimes this week led me to think about what we can do in our classrooms to create a society less likely to have future such events. As you may have read some politicians have suggested that the murders were “ an attack on religious liberty.” Others have suggested it was the result of a drug problem, or that the incident couldn’t have happened if the members of the bible study group had been armed themselves. All of this is patent nonsense but it does suggest the need for something that is often crucially missing in our classrooms.

It’s really a simple process. First, we must take the time back from the Common Core and test prep to regularly spend time with students talking about what is going in in the real world (I’ve read, listened to, and discussed newspapers and news broadcasts with students as young as third grade on an ongoing basis.) Then, as we discuss stories and issues, and students begin to share their interpretations we should be asking;

What evidence do you have? and

So does your conclusion make sense?

 The question “does your conclusion make sense” is important for two reasons. First it causes students to think about how and why things fit together and how cause and effect work. Beyond that, while still insuring that multiple opinions are honored, it also insists what students are suggesting has some basis in data and could move what we do beyond the constraints of “right and wrong” answers. If we are to move forward as a democratic society we need to move beyond the excuse of ”I don’t have any data to back that up, it’s just my opinion.” (Of course within such a model students would have to learn to judge the quality of their evidence as well)

Citizens practiced in thinking in these ways would be far less likely to make the ridiculous statements referenced at the beginning of this post, It would also make citizens less likely to be swayed the rantings of hate groups or charlatans like Alex Jones. In addition making such discourse a habit could change the nature of our national discourse about race, guns, climate change and other political issues. At the day-to-day school level questions such as these also drive deeper understandings of mathematics and any other texts students are reading. Such a stance might even help to combat some of the lunacies of the school “rephorm” movement.

So what if we could make the questions “What evidence do you have?” and “Does your conclusion make sense?” the sine qua non of work in schools? Could it really make a difference? It may well be my oversimplified pipe dream in the face of an unspeakable tragedy. But today I am searching for a grain of sanity wherever I can find it.

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