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My Turn: Current events and teachable moments



For the Monitor
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fake News? Russia using our own internet to incite hatred amongst polarized groups? These issues would go away if our schools could teach students to objectively research topics and think for themselves.

If you can’t clearly explain the position of people you disagree with in a way they would understand your own position, how do you know that your position is good? I like to read different articles from different sources about different topics, and with all these puzzle pieces try to create an image of what’s really going on. The internet makes this easier than ever. So I encourage readers to study websites of news agencies that are aligned with, opposite and neutral to their personal beliefs, if nothing else than to decide for themselves what others believe and are thinking and not be told by people who have their own personal bias.

This will tie in well to the focus of this opinion: specialization can lead to fragmentation, isolation, and the death of empathy and compromise.

Sadly, after that the next phase is likely dissolution of our nation as we polarize a heavily armed population. What better way for a foreign power to defeat us than to ignite a civil war? Cannot happen? Look at our past Civil War or countless other civil wars in other countries.

Not possible in the United States? Just look at what happens during blackouts or after natural disasters. Imagine what will happen if North Korea detonates a high-altitude nuke and wipes out the power grid for months.

An approach to help rapidly address this crisis is what New England farmers have been doing since Colonial times: waste not, want not.

My wife and I have chickens and sheep. What we do not eat, the chickens do, and they truly free range so they eat the ticks and bugs so we do not have to spray (and thus not spend money to poison ourselves and the environment). The dogs protect the chickens and the sheep. The sheep poo is used to fertilize the fruit trees. When the sheep are sent to freezer camp, the parts we do not eat go to the dogs or to form the base for a new tree to be planted. Nothing is wasted and many things have are multipurpose.

This same idea can apply to voting, education, government and news (fake, real, maybe).

We spend vast amounts educating and testing students in an attempt to create good citizens. Meanwhile government debates and passes laws that are then litigated. How about a substantial part of all courses taught in our schools contain classroom and homework content linked to current topics in the Legislature?

Math can be linked to budgets at all levels so students see how budgets are made (including cost/benefit analysis, tradeoffs and financial implications of interest rates), and thus students learn real life skills of math and also compromise and negotiation.

History plays a big role in crafting laws and policy. Science should play an even bigger role. Social studies perhaps plays the biggest role. Students can ask parents for help with the homework and thus educate them, too.

In parallel the Legislature will need to be truthful and frugal with rhetoric because the high school students will study and debate their words and soon be registered voters.

Our entire population of government employees are real people with families and kids of all ages. We should ask them to work with our real teachers in our real schools to create assignments in the context of the classes they teach that help students (and parents) learn and help better laws and policies to be created.

We must work together with the systems we have to teach the next generation to work together the way our nation’s founders intended.

(Alexander Slocum lives in Bow.)