Teaching tough times at DHS
by Madeline D.
In the midst of a pandemic, election aftermath, and unprecedented polarization in the United States, students are increasingly expected to be active consumers of the news. This has prompted Duxbury High School, as well as high schools around the country, to think more thoroughly about how students learn current events in class. Should limited class time be taken up with studying the news? Is it acceptable for teachers to offer their own opinions? Are current events reaching students equally? This all depends on who you ask.
Students at DHS tend to learn current events differently depending on their grade level and intellectual abilities. Mr. Aukerman, who teaches freshman World History and senior AP Psychology explained that “in terms of drastic perspective differences, it really is 14 and 18 years olds that are in cognitively different places. For me, especially working with seniors, it’s important that we’re honest and as unbiased as possible. These aren’t children that we’re working with.”
He went on to explain that, on the day of 9/11, he allowed a group of seniors to listen to the radio in his classroom, while the rest of the school’s televisions were turned off, out of sensitivity to DHS’s youngest students. “I eventually had people ask some pretty big questions, but I’m not going to hide the news from 18-year-olds,” he said.
Ms. Levine, who teaches AP Government and freshman World History, explained that she does not incorporate current events equally into her classes. She noted that current events are a major element of the AP Government class, but when it comes to World History she said, “It’s not that current events don’t relate, but it is more difficult to balance [with] the core curriculum.”
Both Mr. Aukerman and Ms. Levine agree that their main objective whenever they do teach current events, is to allow their students to practice skills such as research, debate, attentive listening, and analysis of sources.
“One of the main things that I feel has increasingly become a responsibility in teaching is this idea of media literacy,” said Ms. Levine, “Getting students to critically analyze a source and think about bias and perspective, whether it is a current event or from history.”
According to Mr. Aukerman, social studies teachers, more so than others, are equipped with the tools to facilitate conversations that develop this skill. This year, however, Mr. Aukerman also said that he has noticed a new set of obstacles to free discussion, arising from both discomfort with polarizing topics as well as simply speaking up over Zoom.
Students have noticed the same. Eleanor N, a senior at DHS said, “For the most part, I’ve noticed people are a little more hesitant to share their opinion. If they do say it, nine out of ten times, they will always follow it up with, ‘but that’s just my opinion.’ Politics have been so crazy and no one wants to start a fight.”
McKenna M also a senior at DHS, feels that although having tough conversations might feel especially uncomfortable this year, it has also never been important.
“There would be more constructive conversations outside school,” she said, “if students first learned about controversial topics in a comfortable and safe environment such as a classroom.”
And yet, for all the educational value DHS teachers and students find in teaching current events, unless students seek out Social Studies and English courses that specifically incorporate them, it is impossible to say whether they will study the news in class at all. Norberg, along with dozens of other high school seniors voted for the first time this year.
“Never was I in a class where we discussed voting or who’s running,” she said.
Students including herself, she added, want to have thought-provoking discussions and inquire about tough issues in class: they just don’t know how to get the conversation started.