July 22, 2024
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Are Our Children Current With Current Events?

“Much has been said and written on the utility of newspapers; but one principal advantage which might be derived from these publications has been neglected; we mean that of reading them in schools.” [The Portland Eastern Herald, June 8, 1795]

A large body of research supports the use of newspapers and current events as teaching tools.

Studies indicate that elementary and high school students are not intrinsically interested in current events, least of all in foreign news and U.S. politics. But evidence suggests that including current events in the school curriculum can increase interest.

“Teaching about world, national, state and local happenings needs to involve active, participative learning rather than passive learning,” says Thomas N. Turner, professor of education at the University of Tennessee. “This means a lot of hands-on, multisensory activities rather than activities in which the teacher or one student reports while everyone else pretends to listen.”

We live in an Information Age where we are constantly bombarded with information. Yet, are today’s students informed about what’s going on around the world, in the U.S. and in Israel? Do the online sites they visit daily include news and current events? Do they ever read newspapers or watch TV news shows? Are they armed with the tools to be able to distinguish between opinion and fact, between evidence-based statements and empty rhetoric, between sensationalism and solid journalism? Do they have a grasp of how government functions? Do they know ISIS from ISIL, the U.N. from NATO, Namibia from Narnia, Iraq from Iran, one-state solution from One China policy, Bridgegate from Watergate? The list goes on. Do our schools foster an interest in current events?

Here are some ideas for home and for school. Some ideas work best as regular routine, others are one-shot activities. They can be implemented with any news source.

Read the paper and find something of interest: Invite your students/children to pick one article each week and write about why they chose it. Then, set aside time for discussion. Share opinions about a news story, read about children in the news or find “news you can use” like movie or video game reviews, recipes, sports scores, health information and how-to’s on many subjects that can help improve life. Each day choose an important or interesting story and pose the basic news questions—Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Write an editorial: Have students pick an issue that matters to them, and then write an evidence-based persuasive essay.

Compare news sources: Different papers, magazines and websites treat the news differently. Have students compare lead stories or just pick one article about a divisive topic (politics, war, social issues) and see how different news sources handle the subject. Tell them, “Be a journalist. Perhaps the most powerful way to engage with current events is to document them yourself, as a student journalist.” Students can write articles or opinion pieces about a national or global issue. They can contribute comments online or letters to the editor reacting to news stories they’ve read or they can use social media to document what they witness when news happens nearby. Take a video of local events and interview participants.

Hold a debate. Students can develop arguments and support a point of view on current issues. Brainstorm solutions to the world’s problems. Put students in the role of policymakers. They can look closely at an issue covered in the media and brainstorm possible solutions together, then they can work together to draft a policy proposal, perhaps one that suggests a local solution to a problem, and present it to the class.

Create a news-inspired theatrical performance, like a simple monologue, skit, song, poem, slam, rap or a full theatrical event to spur discussion and thinking about current events. Organize a teach-in, gallery walk or social action on a topic. Our country and world face complex issues—war, drug abuse, climate change, poverty—to name a few. Students working in groups can follow a topic, and then organize a classroom or whole school “teach-in” to inform their peers about topics in the news and decide how to take action. Alternatively, they can create a classroom gallery of photographs, maps, infographics, articles, editorial cartoons, essays, videos and whatever else they can find to immerse others in the topic.

Our children need to learn how to determine the reliability of sources: How do we distinguish good journalism from propaganda or just shoddy reporting? Preparation for the world of a 24/7 information glut requires building skills to distinguish fact from opinion. Whether students are writing their own persuasive arguments, or reading those written by other people, they need to understand how authors support opinions with facts.

Why bother teaching current events? The research indicates that a regular dose of current events has a multitude of benefits. Raising student awareness of global issues is increasingly important as the countries of the world become more interdependent. At the same time, consuming domestic news with a critical eye is vital to enhancing democracy and defeating narrow-mindedness. Students also need an understanding of the world’s economy, politics, social structures and environment in order to make the best decisions about how to live their own lives. More than ever, an appreciation for news and our civic institutions is a key step toward self-empowerment and advancement.

By Wallace Greene

 Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene, a distinguished educator, wants children to be able to express opinions based on facts and analysis, and not just parrot what they hear from adults.

 

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