I’m at a different local caffeniation station today, reading for social studies and procrastinating by talking with my trusty provides-a-distraction-just-when-I-need-it TA friend. The book I am reading, in between gripes about school policies and busy schedules, is called Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades by Mary Cowhey.
This book. Is amazing.
Why? Because it reads so well. Because it gives practical examples of social studies in school. Because you feel like you’re talking with Cowhey. Because it integrates you into her classroom and makes you feel like you are talking with her students. But most of all, because Cowhey addresses real questions posed by her students. She doesn’t ignore the questions that might seem off topic; she answers them. And if she doesn’t know the answer, she says, “I’m not sure, how could we find out?”
Ok, enough promoting Black Ants and Buddhists. I want to share with you, my hopefully devoted readers, something that I believe both as a teacher and as a woman who grew up craving information about her parents’ divorce and never receiving satisfying answers. Here’s what I want you to know:
Kids are incredibly capable of understanding difficult, painful, and really uncomfortable social problems.
Topics that we tend to shy away from because they are uncomfortable/we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes: divorce; slavery; genocide; racism; LGBT rights; religion; feminism; social media; internet safety; etc. Yes, they’re uncomfortable, but kid’s will understand as long as we address these issues in a way that makes sense for them. What does that look like?
I have no idea. Yet.
I’m going to try to figure out how by letting my students ask “why” and follow through with answers. I’m going to avoid saying “we’re not talking about that” or “ask your parents” because I am uncomfortable with the subject.
Life example: I few weeks back I spoke with my father about my parent’s divorce. I reminded him that I never understood what “custody” meant as a kid, and my dad said something along these lines: You were young, you wouldn’t have understood all the stuff that was done by the court and what it meant for you. (I’m paraphrasing, and I asked my mom these questions too as a kid and received unsatisfying answers like “because that’s the way it happened”).
My response: Kids are incredibly capable of understanding difficult, painful, and really uncomfortable social problems. I also told him I had been frustrated to get the cold shoulder when it came to something so important to my life. Why did I have to visit a different home every other weekend and two weeks in the summer? Why was nobody listening when I said I don’t want to go?
These questions, and many others, were never answered when I asked them. And they were important.
So answer your students’ tough questions. Research the answers if you don’t know the TRUTH.
If you teach children lies, you condition them to passively accept and repeat lies. If you teach them nothing, or a superficial, sterilized version with gaping omissions, you turn children off to history, which in turn causes them to ignore current events, which are history in the making. – Cowhey (2006) p. 157