Readers: If you need a quick scan and get, I’ve highlighted questions pertinent to exploring multiple perspectives and supporting student communication per the CCSS.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said a first-rate mind is identified in its ability to simultaneously hold opposing viewpoints. When we collect perspectives we can better understand our own and those of any opposition. Only then are we best poised to choose our next words and actions with care. The Common Core outlines that in matters of communication, students need the ability to identify, evaluate, and balance multiple perspectives when considering a topic. This ability to seek out commonalities is a highly valued, cross-curricular skill.
I had a privileged weekend. On Friday, I attended one of the many inaugural balls and Saturday I participated in the Women’s March on Washington. Talk about night and day experiences! Throughout the weekend the Capitol was awash in red trucker hats and pink, knitted, kitty ears; division was visible, palpable, and yes, audible. That said, I ended my trip with a greater sense of unity with my countrymen, despite and in some cases because of our differences.
The Veterans’ Inaugural Ball is held to honor living Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and I was blessed to sit next to one of these guests. Mike Sprayberry fought in the Vietnam War and as a 20 year-old Captain, displayed exceptional gallantry and fearlessness in a combat situation. In our conversation, he surprised me when talking about his frequent visits Vietnam with his wife Julie, a Gold Star Sister, who lost her brother in a helicopter crash in the same war. The trips largely consist of exploring and celebrating the culture while seeking any remaining vestiges of soldiers who lost their lives there. They spend significant time in the country that at one time housed their most hated enemies, a place that caused some of their greatest heartache. Noting that the Vietnamese have every right to despise Americans after the war, they instead proclaim the warmth, beauty, and welcoming of the culture country. Further, they encourage everyone to visit places of former hurt in order to heal residual animosity and replace it with respect and awareness.
How might people miss out on understanding of, let alone falling in love with, a pocket of humanity if they don’t give “the opposition” another look?
Throughout the ball, several speakers alluded to partisan opinions yet each noted the freedom to have a political divide is only possible because of the dedication and sacrifice of veterans. Drew Carey, the host, at times visibly shaking in his pride of the medal winners, said, “I don’t care what your politics are, we’re all Americans.” At these conclusions, the cheers were the loudest.
At the March, an event with a position of relative clarity, I was again surprised in conversation. Throughout our walk from Virginia, past the Pentagon, alongside the expansive cemetery, across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, past the Lincoln and Washington Memorials on our way to Independence Avenue and the beginning of the march, I spoke with a dozen individuals with little other than uniting on their minds. Most cited prior situations, national and personal, in which coming together was the key to overcoming obstacles. These marchers sought to use their activism as motivation to reach out to the opposition. They had faith that an educated populace is more likely to find balance and act accordingly.
Some quotes from those conversations could serve as possible sentence starters for students attempting to unite disparate sides:
“When I learned their reasons, I realized I could connect that to their experience of…”
“I wanted to say mad about it, but then I learned …”
“If I take myself out of the equation, I realize the next most important stakeholders are …”
“[My opinion] only matters if I share it effectively by …”
“I knew I needed to make a sign [the opposition] would actually read, so it says …”
What happens when we frame our thoughts to include those of the side we connect with least? How will that buttress academic arguments?
At both the Ball and the March, the rule bank was the same as provided by security personnel. These published guidelines essentially boiled down to, act in a civilized manner, don’t bring anything that could be used as a weapon, and make your safety easier for others to facilitate.
How are these general statements similar to collective discussions when the topic has multiple perspectives? Would your students, viewing the same list, find similar categorical purpose?
Our school is experimenting with sharing circles in our quest toward an environment of restorative justice, Socratic seminars are a timeless favorite, and most of us can Think-Pair-Share as a two-person practice in sharing perspectives. Each of these involve a time for participants to only listen, often before it is their turn to speak.
How can we extend our practice of listening before speaking? What happens if the instructional framework highlights seeking to understand as your assessment?
This weekend I found myself within arm’s reach, and in some cases, in direct contact with, the likes of Cecile Richards, Mike Pence, Kamala Harris, Paul Ryan, Madonna, and a host of other venerable celebrities. This proximity to those who sometimes seem larger than life in media reminded me that we are all just people, so closely related in DNA as to find little difference. How might our questioning, judgement, rhetoric, etc., change were we face-to-face with our perceived opposition?
When I find myself worrying over the state of humanity, I watch the introduction to Love Actually, a 2004 film from Universal Pictures and Studio Canal. This clip, just over a minute in length, never fails to uplift myself and everyone else in the classroom. I invariably follow with questioning how I share messages of love, then challenge myself to make at least one moment of my workday worthy of inclusion in this montage. Teachers my can serve as an “anchor example” of a critical thinker, consumer, and communicator in the classroom, and with luck, it is a positive example of positive intentions toward other people in our community.
What is one cinema-worthy move you could make toward understanding others?
On the flight home, I listened to episode 608 of This American Life, entitled “The Revolution Starts at Noon.” The podcast includes stories from those excited by and those dreading, our recent transition of power. Ira Glass, the host, notes that the stories were chosen with the intention of being accessible, and perhaps compelling, to the perceived opposition. I listened as a Border Patrol agents shared interest in the new administration’s intention to include their perspectives in planning as well as to the story of two siblings who question what it would be like to be deported to their country of birth. In these stories what stood out to me was not the position so much as the heart of the individuals sharing their innermost hopes over air waves. As intended by the show’s producers, I listened closely to these stories and put myself in the place of the speakers, whether or not I agreed with their platform, and considered my own opinions in a different light.
How might intentional identification of oppositional texts positively prepare an audience? How might it be counterproductive?
As I exited the plane, a shuffle of my audio library played Eminem’s “Toy Soldiers” as I made my way out of the airport. This song, which contains strong adult language in case you search for it, involves someone who attempts to remain neutral in a situation yet becomes compelled to engage in argument. Eminem raps, “I’m supposed to set an example, I need to be the leader. My crew looks for me to guide [them].” As a teacher of impressionable young minds, these lyrics struck a chord with me. Educators have a responsibility to model research and use of multiple perspectives while continuously questioning the efficacy of chosen instructional strategies.
How can teachers conscientiously share personal experiences, and more importantly, encourage students to share theirs? What responsibilities do we have in that sharing?
Near the end of the ball, I chanced to meet James McEachin, actor, author and recipient of a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his action in the Korean War, who gave a reading of “In Flanders Fields,” by John McCrae. As I shook his hand and thanked him for his service to our country, I shared that his performance of the poem moved me to tears. Without missing a beat, he deadpanned, “Why? Is this old voice that bad?”
See, it’s all about perspective.
In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
For more of my adventures, stay tuned next month and follow me on Twitter @larkscience.