When students fail on an assessment, you may be disappointed, but then what do you do?  That’s the entire driving philosophy of competency education and standards-based grading:  1. What do we want students to know? 2. How will we know if they know it?  3. What will we do if they don’t ?

I’ve been trying to apply this same principle of reengagement** to civility in my life.  My observations suggest this civility has been in short supply this past week. Reengagement skills are desperately needed as people navigate social media and work to stand up for their ideas of equality and justice for all.  That’s why I’m working to give others tools for conceptual understanding in the areas of reason, response, and information.

Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning

Today many of my students are cynical of the press–even my 6th graders, at their advanced age of ten or eleven years old.   As a result, I continually circle along, asking for evidence to support their viewpoints. Social media streams are especially vulnerable to misinformation, so conversations .  Wacky youtube authors, conspiracy theories, and short memes do not make the cut.  Melissa Zimdars (@mishmz) has put together a fabulous list of non-trustworthy websites, and I’ve been sharing it widely with students and colleagues, as well as the accompanying text.  Paul Fleischmann talks about this in his book Eyes Wide Open as well, which applies critical thinking to environmental issues.

  • You must use multiple sources to fact check.  Today students asked if CNN and Fox were different enough.  No, I said. Check others, such as BBC.com, Reuters, etc.
  • Avoid cherry-picking one quote or statement out-of-context.  Evidence is not a soundbyte, but a series of actions.  That cannot be stressed enough.
  •  Depersonalize the rhetoric. Ideas, then, are powerful, but they are not only an opinion.  If evidence on either side is avoided, poor conclusions become expressed as a bowlful of ugly.

Dealing with Ugliness and Cognitive Dissonance

People do not like having beliefs challenged, because it is uncomfortable to hold opposing ideas in our memory.  Our personal bias appeals to the myth of common sense without realizing its limitations and pitfalls.  As a result, a very valid claim, even when met with reasonable evidence and reasoning, may be met with ridicule or hostility.  That’s tough for all of us to understand.

Do not assume students know how to stand up to ugly statements and namecalling, even if they are speaking the truth.  To be honest, that’s a skill that I needed to retrieve from my mental attic after eight years of mistaken assumption that we had started to heal bitter wounds of racial, ethnic, and gender division.  Some valuable statements that convey your response without namecalling:

  • I’m sorry you feel that way.
  • I’d appreciate it if you could fact-check that.  It doesn’t match my sources.
  • How does that statement help further our conversation?
  • Good claims are supported by reputable evidence.

Speaking your truth is not easy.  However, realizing that what you thought was truth was based on poor information must also be considered. People will make mistakes in dialogue, because that is what human beings do.  Be gracious, and allow your point to evolve over time; however, for your own emotional health, you need not consider a conversation with a troll to be worth continuing.  Civil conversations are about listening to understand one another, not about winning.

Educate Your Students About America

My first hour class usually says the Pledge of Allegiance, but that’s a rote act for these students.  As a result of the shocking Constitutional misunderstandings that surfaced during the election, I’m revisiting the document with my students over the next two months. Yesterday we read the Preamble, and then talked about it for five minutes. We’ll finish our conversation sometime in January when we go through the Articles, one by one.Today we started on the 1st Amendment, and the five freedoms it contains. Student questions and reactions were immediate:

Are there limits to free speech?  Is atheism a religion worthy of protection?  Can the Illuminati assemble as a group? 

Those are good questions, and ones worth having with others.  I’m not looking to provide all the answers, but to give students permission to think about the document we have used to create our American world.  From there they can reach out to other people they trust, and work towards making this framework part of the conversations we need to figure things out together.  In the case of my 6th graders, they extended the conversation without my input, focused in on Colin Kaepernick and the differences between freedom of speech and criticism of another’s actions or speech.  One student summed it up,  “He has the right to do things that I don’t like up until the point he is promoting violence or the loss of another person’s right, but I still have the right to criticize.”  Wow.  I’m pretty impressed.

How are you reengaging with civility this month?  I’d love to hear more.


**reengagement vs. reteaching via @betamiller

reteach vs. reengage

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