Monday, January 02, 2017

Ed. Resource Publishers, We're Navigating This Election Minefield Too

It was interesting finding an email waiting for me this morning from a curricular resource I love to use, addressing how they provide age-appropriate election information to my kindergarten students. I have never before received this type of explanatory communication either via email or included with the materials utilized at school. "We think long and hard about what is appropriate for young learners" was part of the sender's message, which also included the resource's learning goal that students be able to understand, identify and express: "1) that in our country, we elect a President, 2) the name of the current President, and 3) the many jobs of the President."  Definitely age appropriate, and illustrative of why I've been a long-term subscriber.

The content of the message was vaguely interesting in that it verified my assumption that two inauguration issues are prepped each election cycle, with only the correct issue printed and distributed once election results are finalized. The possible reason behind the email is what I find notable: curricularly, much about our President-Elect isn't appropriate content for inclusion in resources marketed to elementary schools and young children. The publisher, trying to ensure that teachers don't worry about the inauguration issue, or consider not renewing their subscription in the spring, is telling.

Veteran teachers are likely experienced enough to know how to teach kindergartners about the job and histories of the presidents of our country. Quite a bit of readily available age-appropriate presidential curriculum includes character traits of presidents such as Washington and Lincoln (honest and caring, fair and brave), stories to enjoy, and crafts we often do in February or in January of election years. My students have many opportunities to express their likes and dislikes, and vote for preferred learning activities, validating their right to feel the way they do and to express their tastes and opinions. They've been learning what fairness means, and are encouraged to be safe, kind, and helpful. Young children face and survive disappointments both big and small, building the resilience of which many adults often forget we're capable.

The President of the United States when I was in kindergarten was Richard Nixon of whom I knew nothing about, thanks to my age, my mother's discretion, a notable lack of media saturation, and the distinction between adults and children in society: kids were protected from and generally uninvolved (and uninterested, to be honest) with the political world. As I grew, I wondered why President Ford tripped and fell so often, and liked President Carter because he was a peanut farmer: I loved peanuts on my tin roof sundae from Farrell's Ice Cream Store. I was living in Barrow, Alaska when a man tried to kill President Reagan, and I remember how my sixth grade teacher cancelled our learning activities for the afternoon, having me and my classmates rest our heads on our desks while he listened to my mini-radio.

In my youth, I was allowed to be a kid and build the necessary social, behavioral and academic schema that made it possible for me to become at the very least, a contributing member to our society.  As a teacher of young children, I purposely design my classroom to be a respite from the information overload, sensationalized, entertainment-as-news environment to which many of them are exposed, in an attempt to separate the curricular wheat from the chaff and meet their needs.  I did not/will not show my students news footage of 9-11.  I encouraged families to wait to listen to news reports after bedtime or when my students were at school with me after 9-11 and Sandy Hook.  After this blog post in 2009, I never thought I'd have to consider whether it would be appropriate to watch a presidential inauguration in real time with my students, but... here we are.  Unlike my own kindergarten experience all those years ago, it's quite possible that many of my five and six year old students already have a significant opinion of our President-Elect because of their exposure to content experienced away from school.  Much of that content is shared and delivered widely without regard to an audience that now includes a large proportion of children, and many students unnecessarily parrot and worry about both political facts and propaganda.

Education content publishers, we're navigating this election minefield too.

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