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Opinion: Civility begins in the classroom, affects next generation's elections

Jackie Bremer

Our country is facing challenges. 2020 has been a whirlwind. We need to realize we have more in common than what the news often portrays.

With a pandemic, continued fights for equality, and a divisive presidential election upon us, we need discourse that is productive and unifying. We turn to our leaders for examples, but in many cases, they are failing to act in a respectful, responsible manner. 

It is time to expect more.

But how do we change a system that seems stagnant and fractured? I believe it starts with education. Many of us want to see changes brought forward to address the issues being discussed at our dinner tables. To do so, we must make sure the next generation is prepared to take on the challenges we are grappling with today.

We must make sure the next generation is prepared to take on the challenges we are grappling with today, Bremer writes.

As a social studies teacher at Highpoint Virtual Academy of Michigan, it is my job to make students well-informed citizens. By preparing them with the knowledge and historic context they need, they will be ready to lead our country to a more perfect union.

Teaching social studies provides ample opportunity to relate our past to the present. Many discussions do not even need to be planned. Rather, they occur naturally in a class discussion if a teacher allows for it. This is especially true as we are seeing history play out before our eyes.

Being a teacher in an online environment full-time, I serve students from areas all across the state. From the Upper Peninsula to Detroit, and everywhere in between, my students bring a unique perspective to the classroom based on location alone.

With such a diverse student population, many perspectives are lived and shared. In addition, I have found that the online setting encourages more students to participate. Those who are hesitant to raise their hand and speak in a face-to-face environment actively contribute to discussions with their thoughts and opinions.

From the first day, setting the tone for students is important. They need to know that they are in a caring, supportive environment that respects them as an individual and respects their ideas. Setting this tone is an important aspect for any child’s education.

When students are encouraged and welcomed into a classroom, whether this is virtual or in-person, they really flourish. Teachers should also show a demonstrated interest in learning about the students they lead and get to know their life story. Knowing each student sheds light on the lens through which they view the world.

In addition to getting to know your students, set the stage for how class interactions and discussions take place. A primary goal in education is to have students involved and working together. When students know boundaries for respectful discussion, interactions are less threatening.

Many topics studied in world and U.S. history evoke emotional responses from students. To encourage productive discussion and learning, and to keep from straying too far off topic, students should be reminded to talk about facts and solutions. Make sure they are fact-checking as well. Challenge students to consider the sources where they receive their news so they can actively navigate a world flooded with information.

There is plenty of uncertainty in the world today, as there has been in generations before. It is important that this next generation is prepared for the challenges they will face by becoming well-informed, involved, and respectful of each other.

I urge all educators to elevate their students with the knowledge and tools they need to successfully lead our country. Only then can we transform America to a better society for all.

Jackie Bremer has more than 29 years of experience as an educator leading the next generation of students. She currently serves as a social studies teacher at the online Highpoint Virtual Academy of Michigan.