After a spring of online learning followed by a summer of protests in the nation’s major cities over racial inequality, social justice and police reform, students are returning to classes across the country ready to talk about it.
Part of the reason many of these young folks are ready to talk about what they saw is because they missed the human interaction with other students and teachers after in-school learning collapsed due to the pandemic in March and April. But sociologists and psychologists that we spoke with say that social and community distancing is not entirely attributed. They say that part of it is because the younger generation of Americans are living through a pandemic, an election year, a spate of natural disasters and growing calls for reform.
Maria Ainsworth, a social studies and government teacher here in Texas says that she feels that the conversation should be embraced and not avoided.
“Far too many teachers are under the impression that you should talk about outside of the classroom at home,” Ainsworth said. “That is such a ‘small-world’ mentality.”
I believe that older kids are thinking about this stuff and they’re talking about it, and they’re seeing it everywhere on social and mass media. We really should give them a safe space to talk about it,” Ainsworth said.
She said she believes that youth could be provided context and critical thinking skills in classrooms to discuss these very important changes that are bordering on revolutionary. Ainsworth says this is where the role of educators really comes into play.
Experts say that the pandemic, economic downturn, the social justice movement, a presidential election, the women’s suffrage centennial, and social reform provides the perfect teaching moment.
Mary Hudson, a child psychologist says that she feels as if this moment should not be taken for granted.
“People have this narrative that educators cannot be fair and in-biased in their viewpoint,” she says. “That is such a pathetic excuse, honestly.”
Hudson says that she feels as if that in itself is a political narrative that is being controlled by extremist viewpoints.
“Part of the problem here is that so many Americans believe that so firmly that their point of view is the only one that is right,” Hudson says. “That is a big problem.”
Historians, sociologists and economists will be studying today for many years ahead to learn from them.
“Who knows if we are on the cusp of a revolution or not, but we sure could be and throughout history we have seen this happen in governments and civilizations,” Hudson says. “Children are thinking differently about things and the thoughts of their parents are not always their thoughts.”
“All too often at home when children try and express their viewpoint about something and it differs from their parent they hear ‘yeah but that is not the way you should look at it’ and that can’t always be the conversation,” says Hudson. “Why not let them decide for themselves which is right and wrong in their eyes?”
Hudson says that she feels as if societies will continue to struggle in vain to develop what she calls the “common good.”
“There must be constant teaching, mostly by example and less by argumentative words,” Hudson says. “What constructive behavior are we showing children if all we ever do is complain about things that we do not agree with? We can always choose to educate by example and less by opinion.”
Hudson and other psychologists say that youth are capable of figuring these things out on their own if adults let them.
“Instead of telling your opinion about Black Lives Matter or police and social injustice, maybe we all should try and just explain the viewpoint of others and not just insist that only our point of view is correct,” Hudson says. “The classroom can provide a safe place for that if we make it a safe place to have constructive conversations.”
She says that the home can be the perfect place for that, too.
“At home is a great place to let these youth practice critical thinking skills,” Hudson says. “But just like I’d also say to the educators, you cannot approach it with the mindset that you have to convince them that only your side is right.”
Art Metzinger filed this report for the Southside Light News in Corpus Christi, Texas