Election Reflection: Critical Thinking for Students Through Current Events

By: Allen Davidson, Assistant Superintendent, Foothill School Division

newspaper-teaA priority for me as a classroom Social Studies teacher for 17 years was to engage students in critical thinking around current events. Part of that engagement involved ensuring we (myself and students) all understood diverse perspectives, were cognizant of our own and others bias, and that we could safely engage in a civil discourse around current events and issues. Time was set aside every week for students to explore issues of interest to them and develop their own opinion on the issue. I loved the diverse opinions students brought to the discussion and the confidence with which they voiced differing perspectives.

As part of that ongoing inquiry into issues affecting our world in our classroom we often coordinated multi-candidate panels and debate opportunities when both provincial or local elections were being held. Frequently, MP’s or local MLA’s were invited to our classes to speak with students about their work. Always the discourse between candidates and with students was civil and focused on how government worked to solve issues. I was encouraged when students could see that, beyond the theatre of question period, our politicians did actually engage in civil all party committees and treated each other with the same mutual respect that we were trying to establish with students.

Our class would also get a publication called the World Press Review that would publish multiple perspectives on a topic like the War in Iraq for instance from newspapers around the world. The World Press Review would identify if the newspaper was privately or publicly owned and what the political bias of the publication was. It was great way for students to develop their critical thinking skills and consider why an event may be reported differently depending on the publisher.

Up until 3 years ago, in my own home, I would get 2 national daily newspapers delivered that would be identified as being more sympathetic to either one side of the political spectrum or the other. I loved the print news for many reasons one being that my young kids would jump on my lap while the weekend paper was on the dining room table and ask questions like Dad who is that? or Dad why are those people holding signs? or Dad where is that volcano? The serendipity of that moment where a child’s interest is peaked just because the story is there is lost now in our world where our particular perspectives or biases are reinforced and directed to our twitter accounts, our Facebook accounts or the other ways we organize for our digital news to be brought to us in the small bits and pieces we expect.

Indeed, since I cancelled my print based delivery ($300 – $400 per year, per subscription…. who does that anymore!)  I have relied on news feeds to my twitter account, the 10 free articles I get to read per month on the topics of my choosing, and other news pieces that I haves sought out deliberately. As a result, I have found my own perspective has narrowed, the serendipitous opportunity to have my kids ask me about what’s in the paper has been lost, and I have stopped learning about those things that I would just happen to come across on the next page of the newspaper that the algorithms of digital data bases don’t push to me based on my search history. I also miss the ink that gets all over my hands as I read the weekend edition from front page to back.

As I reflect on the recent election campaign in the United States (and Canada to a lesser extent) I am concerned about the lack of civil discourse and information sharing from different perspectives, that seemed to be present, in media sources I sought out or that were digitally fed to me. It was not consistent with the expectations I had for my classroom where multiple perspectives were sought to help us form thoughtful opinion and develop our own personal perspectives.

I encourage everyone in classrooms and homes to develop critical thinking opportunities, for kids, around current events where all voices and perspectives can be expressed.  I am going to renew my subscriptions to a couple of newspapers this weekend and although my kids are now too big to sit on my lap, I hope they leaf through it and ask me questions again when they see it on the dining room table….