As you know I blog about politics because my attitude is that you can ignore politics as a teacher, but that does not mean politics will ignore you. In the classroom, I try to use culturally relevant materials and to approach lessons from that point of view.
Normally, teaching fifth grade in an “open” presidential election year would be great. We learn about U.S. history, we’ve just finished the Revolutionary War period, and are into the founding of our nation. I haven’t even tried to talk about the current election with the kids yet. Instead, I’m trying to build a base in a couple of areas.
1. The fundamental ideas that the nation was built on, but;
Not turning that into a “worship” of the documents;
2. Things that didn’t work out, and didn’t get worked out until later and then MUCH later;
3. Spending some time with Franklin’s statements about the Constitution and it’s various imperfections.
This is one of the smarter classes I’ve had, and reasonably compassionate. One question that keeps coming up is about slavery, and how could they do that.
Today was especially interesting as we were studying the Declaration of Independence, and discussing it after learning about the Constitution. Before that, we had a lesson on character education called, “Disagreeing Respectfully”. While not talking about any candidates directly, I said this, “You might be seeing some things happening in the Presidential Election that are not respectful. Some of these things are not appropriate, and I need to tell you that for most people, if they did this, they would lose their job (and some have, as you’ll recall). Adults don’t always behave the way they should, that doesn’t mean you should behave that way.
The reading on the Declaration was interesting, because it talked about the difficulties that John Adams had, because he was not always temperate in making his point. He even knew this about himself, so I discussed this tying the character ed program and ideas to this real life situation. I also let them know that Adams knew this about himself and did his best to work with others on the Declaration, though let’s face it, he was never a Franklin or Washington who both worked on this from early in their lives.
I also talked about some of the words of Franklin on the Constitution, about it not being perfect, but as he said, ” as perfect as could be,” given the culture of the time, but it did have a means of change with the amendment process and ideals to work towards. I always talk frankly about the contradictions. Most of the texts talk about this as well, like Jefferson wanting to call out slavery in the Declaration, but being a slave holder himself. I try to get them to see the idea of what was being done as a process, and that it involves humans, who are not perfect. I think this is a good age for kids to begin to grapple with these ideas.
Image credit: Ballot Box for Alameda County