The last few months have brought us the early days of presidential debates. And this year seems to be the most diverse candidate pool in the history of debates. The field is wide. The issues multiple. And the perspectives diverse. As a country, we are nationally engaging in a process of sorting in both parties. Who will capture the ideas and the hearts of the voters? Inevitably in this process, the national debate will focus and sharpen.
So how do we both on campus and in our family conversations and with our neighbors frame a dialogue that creates open spaces rather than corners?
Inevitably high school students who are in the process of developing their own points of view about the world will find themselves ascribing to their parents views, rejecting or trying to make sense of a world in which they genuinely think differently from others. As educators, we try to model critical and compassionate thinking. So how do we as adults maintain our authentic voice in the very same moment that we are encouraging students to think for themselves. We have to accept the fundamental truth that whether our children agree or disagree with us, that we loom powerful in their imaginations.
When I was a full-time teacher, my students often referred to, affectionately, my banker’s face. And when I asked them about my banker’s face, they would say it’s when we don’t know your opinion. And I would say, then I’ve done a good job teaching today. The greatest gift that I believe teachers in schools can give students is the freedom to explore and turn over every rock, adopt every perspective and point of view they can in order to figure out who they are and what their values are. It’s a complicated process when you factor in the role of friendships, teachers, family, religious or cultural leaders, and pop culture. Our students have to wade through a lot of noise that is dissonant and consonant in trying to figuring out who they are.
So how do you engage with kids in a way that’s authentic to you and your relationship and keep central the growth that students are engaged in? It is one of those moments when our opinions don’t matter, and it’s the questions that we ask in helping them tease out their own understanding. Which is not to say we should’t share our opinions, but we need to share them, understanding to what end we are sharing them.
These high investment moments take a double awareness as an adult. We need to understand both how we share our insights and the impact those opinions may have. We must be conscious of and intentional with our words. And we must always be looking for ways to create open spaces for students to think and learn and grow.