As educators, we interact on a daily basis with students who are influenced by what goes on around them in the world. While students vary in the extent to which they are aware of community, national, or global news stories, they bring to their classroom a variety of perspectives, beliefs, understandings, and questions related to these events. In the past year alone, many high-profile, controversial issues have dominated the national and world news. In many places, local events have also affected school communities. Current events can serve as tremendous learning opportunities for our students; schools have the opportunity to help students understand difficult issues and how to go about reasonable debate. With this in mind, John began our discussion by posing the following questions to the panelists.
As Christian educators, we seek to equip our students to understand both God’s world and God’s call on our lives. In an effort to do this, we often have the opportunity to talk about current events with our students. While this is usually quite interesting to students and can lead to fruitful learning experiences, it can also be challenging for teachers to decide which events are appropriate to deal with in class and how to respond to the many questions that are raised. So here is my question: Which current events (feel free to give examples) do you think should be discussed with students in your classroom and/or school? Furthermore, what tips do you have for helping make these learning experiences beneficial?
Gayle Monsma was the first to begin our online dialogue:
What a timely question! Our junior high social studies teacher and I were just talking about this last week. This fall’s abundance of “big” new stories, with accompanying graphic violence, has initiated interesting discussions. We talked about how (almost) any news story can be discussed with students, provided the level of detail is managed for the maturity of the students. That being said, the important task for the teacher is to put these events in a context that allows for meaning and understanding. Looking at them within the “creation, fall, redemption, restoration” rhythm is helpful, illustrating the brokenness of living in these “in-between” times. Also, using one of our school’s “through-lines” (i.e., community-building, justice-seeking, idolatry-discerning, image-reflecting), and contrasting what we see with God’s intent are also ways we give the students a path to making sense of the world in which they live.
Christian Altena continued the conversation:
Discussions about current events are a frequent feature of the history classroom. It’s natural and important to find analogues of today’s thoughts and actions in the past. Gayle, I think your interpretive structure is very important. We need to help our students connect the stories they hear about in the news to The Story of the ages. I would like to think that no current events story is necessarily inappropriate to bring into the classroom. Scripture has graphically recorded all the “greatest hits” of human depravity, and it’s rather routine to teach Sunday school children many of these stories. Some stories, of course, are more uncomfortable to tell than others; so when it comes to PG-13 discussions, we might find violence easier to discuss than sex. The problems that I’ve experienced when discussing the news with students at the high school level ironically comes from our goal to present them through a Christian lens. The challenge becomes which “Christian” response does one present to topics like global warming, the health care debate, responding to terrorism, the use of medicinal marijuana, and so on? Even a discussion of gay rights is not without nuance. Clearly for a great many topics, there is no single Christian response. How can we best create an environment for respectful debate among believers?
Rebecca De Smith responded:
You ask a good question, Christian. Creating a respectful environment can be tricky in Christian school classrooms where several churches, faiths, and political views are represented.
The panel consists of:
- Christian Altena, who teaches at Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, Illinois.
- Justin Cook, who serves as the director of learning at the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools in Ancaster, Ontario.
- Rebecca De Smith, who is the Discovery Room coordinator and the curriculum coordinator at Sioux Center Christian School in Sioux Center, Iowa.
- Tim Leugs, who teaches at Legacy Christian School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- Gayle Monsma, who serves as principal at Covenant Christian School in Leduc, Alberta.
- John Walcott, who is assistant professor in the education department at Calvin College.