Over the past several months there have been numerous conversations at the local, state, and national levels regarding whether or not certain parameters should be placed on what curriculum materials may or may not not be used to teach certain topics. There have also been discussions on what may or may not be addressed when providing professional learning to staff members, especially as it relates to training related to topics of diversity and equity. Governor Reynolds recently signed into law a bill that places parameters on diversity training in certain settings, including in school districts. The bill especially focuses on the concepts on whether systemic racism exists in the state and the nation, and whether any training can be offered that claims that such systemic racism exists in the state of Iowa. The purpose of this blog piece is not to discuss the merits of this bill, and rest assured the Mount Vernon Community School District will comply with any laws and guidelines that are in place that provide guidance on what may or may not be addressed in professional learning and in the classroom setting. The real purpose of this blog is to reiterate the power of teaching and learning, and the magic that happens in the classroom when together, the students and teachers take on challenging content and challenging societal issues.
When I was a teacher a million years ago, my best classes were those where we discussed current issues and allowed all viewpoints to be shared and heard. We were not looking for perfect answers to difficult situations, but we were building the capacity for students to engage in dialogue and research on pertinent issues that ultimately would assist them in becoming responsible adults who were capable of making big life decisions when faced with challenging issues. The goal of engaging in dialogue was not to blame others for why something was the way it was, or to try to prove that one person’s position was the right one and the other person was wrong. Regrettably, our current discourse in society on big issues has seemingly fallen into a pattern where blame is often assigned, and people on each side of a big issue are more interested in proving a point and winning an argument than finding a solution. That is not a recipe for growth and problem solving. Fortunately, the classroom is the space where skilled teachers can lead eager students in discussing the big issues of our day in search of solutions to our biggest challenges.
Several years ago when I was a middle school principal, I told parents that I hoped their children would leave my school with two things. I hoped they left Wildwood Middle School (Go Timberwolves) with good hearts and open minds. That is still my hope today for our Mount Vernon students. Our classrooms need to be spaces where it is okay to tackle difficult issues with open minds, and need to be places where all voices are equally welcome. The goal isn’t to win an argument or place blame on others for the problems of our day. The goal is to produce young people who can become the next great generation of leaders and problem solvers. That is the power of teaching and learning.