Preventing Polarization: 50 Strategies for Teaching Kids About Empathy, Politics, and Civic Responsibilty by Michelle Blanchet & Brian Deters

4.Consume Information Mindfully

  • Students need to understand that they need to make an effort to access the credibility of a source. One develops expertise on a subject via employment, life experiences, and education. We have biases as do our news sources. It’s important to know the bias of a source if you can.
  • Thanks to social media and even traditional sources, misinformation is widely available. You need to teach students to differentiate facts, or at least information presented as facts, from opinions. When students write they need to give their sources and evaluate them. Ad Fontes Media lists the bias of various media sources, but you don’t get much before you have to pay. From what I saw they have most of the main sources on the right side of the left/right bias line, but to me they seem to have a bit of a left bias. For example, they have the Washington Post listed with no bias.

5. Avoid Censorship

  • We start with a story about how some parents objected to having their students watch President O’Bama’s first State of the Union speech in 2009. The authors see this as censorship. (They did not say if they would also show the Republican rebuttal.) The main thesis here is that polarization increases when we allow censorship of information. They feel that we need to expose children to tough issues and current events before they become adults.
  • They feel that censoring stifles questioning, critical thought, creativity, reflections, self-examination, and communication. They feel that it is important to discuss topics from multiple perspectives. When conversations do take off, you need to be ready to change your lesson plans. Use various electronic resources to extend conversations beyond the classroom. Challenge students to be journalists. This requires research, interviews, observations, and analysis. They can then write a newspaper article or do a news broadcast.

6. Embrace Complexity

  • The thesis here is that simplifying things promotes polarization while digging deeper into a subject does the opposite. Embracing complexity, therefore, can help unite us. It can also make us better critical thinkers and help us uncover our biases. It’s important for students to understand that most issues are more complex than they seem. Unfortunately, political leaders (Doug: and many journalists) oversimplify issues for advantage. The rest of the chapter contains activities you can use in class to make this point.

7. Promote Collective Leadership

  • The big idea here is that we are undeniably better off when we look out for others. A goal is to have the class feel like a team working together towards shared goals and solving common problems. While individual actions may not seem like much they add up. Ask them to find examples from history that prove this. The United Nations Shared Development Goals offer ideas for class engagement.
  • It is important that each student have self-worth and understand that everyone has value and power. Be sure to praise students when they do something for others. Assure that some assignments and assessments require teamwork. Focus on the characteristics of effective teamwork listed here. In addition to other activities suggested here, the authors recommend that you do interdisciplinary activities when possible.
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