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Classroom Law Project offers guidance on creating good citizens

By CONNIE POTTER

  marilyn cover 
   Marilyn Cover
As teachers ponder how to help students have thoughtful, respectful dialogues around controversial election issues, Marilyn Cover has a suggestion: Frame the discussion around the Greek definition of the word politics.

In other words, think about all the campaign rhetoric in terms of "how we live together."

"If we would frame our discussions from that definition, I think it takes some of the vitriol out of what students are hearing from the news," said Cover, executive director of the Classroom Law Project.

The Classroom Law Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is to prepare students to be informed and involved citizens. A current project is to provide lessons for middle school and high school social studies teachers to help engage students in the presidential election.

Free workshops for teachers (grades 8-12) are scheduled Sept. 24 in La Grande, Bend and Medford; and Sept. 28 at the Oregon State Bar office in Tigard. The workshops are hands-on and will include lessons on the major party candidates for president and governor, the electoral college, voter ID and more. The lessons are all well-researched, non-partisan and classroom ready, said Cover.

For more information, or to sign up, contact the Classroom Law Project at office@classroomlaw.org.

Cover said the framework for the lessons came from the book The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education. Authors Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy spent four years studying how teachers teach about political controversies. They concluded that teachers should aim toward creating safe, nonpartisan classroom environments that engage students in deliberating questions that ask, "How should we live together?"

Among their guidance for teachers:
  • Conversations around controversial issues need to be structured. Don't start the day saying, "What do you think?" Instead, find articles that students will read carefully, look at multiple viewpoints, and review the positions others have taken.
  • Teachers need to teach critical thinking skills and hold everyone to a process of examination. Look at multiple viewpoints, ask questions, think things through and then start thinking about what rings most true.
  • Adults should not make jokes about political candidates. Students expect more from teachers in a classroom setting, Cover said.
"It's getting so hot out there," Cover said. "Teachers need ways to frame conversations for the classroom in words that are appropriate for the classroom, not for CNN or the campaign trail."