on teaching civics, and controversy, and citizenship

i will admit to getting really frustrated by my program at times. it is not organized very well, and it can feel like pulling teeth to get an answer on what should be a simple question. but one thing this program does very well is tie common threads across the curricula. one of those threads is how we will, as teachers, use language to shape children into, among other roles, citizens.

this week our course on how to teach social studies focused on teaching civics. we made a list of democratic values that we would bring into our classroom so that we can help little children understand the bigger mechanics that make our country move.

one of those tenets is “fairness” (and really, that is to say “justice”, but “fairness” is how a little kid understands that concept)

our professor wrote “fair” on the chalkboard, and paused.

“except you also know that life is not fair. and you’ll find yourself telling a child that at some point.”

then we moved on.

and it stuck with me.

how do i, as the Person Who Knows Many Things, expect my children to be fair inside the walls of the classroom, and at the same time, expect them to accept that life is not fair?

reading more about the life and death of troy davis, this rings hollow to me. i know that every parent says “life isn’t fair” at some point, but i don’t think my dad ever really explained how that balances out – that i have to be fair, but also accept that not everyone else is. as a teacher, though, i think i am expected to help my students understand. and that scares me a lot. how do i tell them to be fair because that is what makes a society like ours strong, and in the same breath, think to myself, “but it isn’t always fair?”

anyhow. i don’t think there is an answer. the program refers to teaching about things that are so solidly in a grey area as “teaching controversy” – i think they really mean controversy in ourselves. i don’t know if there is a good way to teach those things and not feel a bit strange about the very real and very jarring discrepancy. and as much as i love my courses, i don’t think any course will really be able to help us know what we do when a child asks us to explain why they have to be fair when the rest of the world has yet to abide by that. i know when i was little i found it offensive that we had to resolve playground conflict with words when the adults in charge went to war over their own conflicts.

so. thoughts? wisdom? am i alone in  being terrified about this part of being a teacher?

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