What is talking about a problem without offering possible solutions? Complaining.
Sometimes, it’s okay to complain. It can be cathartic, and it’s okay to talk through our disappointments, but if complaining is all we are in the habit of doing when faced with a problem, then nothing ever gets solved.
I’ve been hearing a lot of complaining lately about riots, violence, terrorism, natural disasters–all things we should be complaining about.
But my contention is that we need to guide our students to kick complaining up a notch and learn to offer solutions for their complaints. This is called problem-solving, a vital skill that can help transform feelings of helplessness into something more productive. I have a free lesson below for you that I’d really like your help with. What would you add, keep, and how did it work in your classroom? We had AMAZING discussions in my class, but that’s a small piece of the puzzle.
In order to become adept problem-solvers, our students need to be willing to listen to opinions that conflict with their own. But this seems to be very difficult for everyone, adults and young people alike.
The students of today have come of age along with social media. Social media offers us a chance to be heard and to connect with others on a scale unimagined by previous generations. Social media has rendered C. Wright Mills’s “Power Elite” virtually obsolete (the government officials and corporations who had the loudest voice in the past).
Revolutions have begun as a result of social media–think the Arab Spring (withholding comments about its outcome). Citizen reporting has become a thing because of social media–think Periscope and Facebook Live.
But there is a dark side to social media–a tendency to be exposed only to opinions that perpetuate our own. We don’t get the whole picture that way. We begin to see individuals as the sum of their views. That is, if somebody holds an opinion contrary to our own, they are the “other”–untrustworthy, evil.
It’s no mistake that this has happened. It’s not a vast Orwellian conspiracy leading us all down these blissfully narrow paths. It’s simple economics.
Social media outlets are not charitable organizations, but corporations whose primary concern is the bottom line. That bottom line is met through advertisements. Advertisements are targeted at social media users. If we don’t visit their platforms, advertisers stop giving them business. If advertisers stop giving them business, they lose money (the new power elite?).
So, in order for any social media outlet to make money, we have to keep coming back to see their ads. We are more likely to return if what we see reinforces our existing views. They know what our existing views are because of our posts, likes, shares, and those very un-delicious browser cookies. Therefore, they have developed algorithms to ensure that our existing opinions pop out at us the most when we visit their sites.
Whenever conflicting opinions pop up, they have typically already been harangued and vilified by others of our mindset. And so confirmation bias sets in. And so we keep going back to Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram, whatever.
That is great for social media corporations, but disasterous for our democratic-republic.
Students need to be aware of this issue. They need to understand that conflict is a vital part of life–it introduces us to new perspectives. It allows us to grow. If we shield ourselves from conflict, we are also shielding ourselves from knowledge, from relationships, and from citizenship.
Opening ourselves up to conflict is important but so is our response to it. We must truly listen to opposing sides. Then we must counter (if we choose to do so) with logic, reason, and civility. Vitriol doesn’t change minds, it leads to defensiveness.
Do I advocate moral relativism? Not remotely. Do I advocate standing up for your beliefs in the face of obvious injustice? Absolutely.
|GET THE LESSON
But there is a civil way to do it. A way that employs logic rather than name-calling. A way that acknowledges the dignity we all possess as humans and is founded on the principle that we are more than our political views.
The lesson I use to introduce these ideas is simple. It takes two traditional periods or one block class. I used it as a unit challenge for my gamified classroom, but it makes a good mini lesson for any social studies or ELA class (change the unit topics to ones from, say, a novel).
You can grab an example of it HERE (feel free to customize for your classroom), but it basically goes like this:
***NEVER show film clips without previewing them first to make sure they are appropriate for your class.***
1. Bellringer: What rights are we guaranteed under the First Amendment? Explain which right you
believe is the most important.
-Discuss, and then project THIS summary of the First Amendment on the board. Show Clip 1 and Clip 2. Discuss whether or not either of those instances are examples of an expression of or a violation of the First Amendment.
2. Read the handout as a class and go over the rubric. Make sure the students understand that there is no right or wrong answer here. They are problem-solving and being creative. So that they feel free to explore, I don’t make this a major grade, nor is there a product attached to it. They are simply discussing, writing their thoughts in an organized fashion on notebook paper, and then sharing with the class.
|GET THE LESSON
1. Bellringer: What is the biggest problem facing our society? Explain why you think so.
-Discuss, and then listen to THIS interview. After it’s over, ask students what they thought about it, what stood out to them the most, and how it’s an example of bravery and civil conflict in action.
2. Give each group a few minutes to share and discuss their answers from the previous day with the class.
3. Closing: Have students complete the exit ticket about civil conflict and problem-solving.
This isn’t a glitzy lesson–there are no bells and whistles. But it is a lesson that asks students to think about problems, offer solutions, and to also consider that individuals are more than their political opinions.
What do you think? How do you get your students to problem-solve, interact, and express compassion? Please let me know in the comments below–I’d love some new ideas!