Let’s get real and teach about Syria

If you walk into a school today, and you go over to any student, and you say, “is the work you are doing real or fake?” they can give you an answer just like that [snaps fingers].

That’s the first line from the trailer of the documentary Is School Enough?

If a middle or high school today is NOT teaching its students about Syria, then it’s cheating students of a rare opportunity to be engaged global citizens.

What could be more important of a civics lesson in our representative democracy than watching Congress debate and vote this week, President Obama defend his case, and journalist Charlie Rose interview the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad (airing in full tonight on PBS).

rose

Here’s another quote from the trailer of Is School Enough?

We probably in schools too often hold off on making connections to the real world and use school as preparation for life and not a part of life.

If ever there was a time to take a break from our pre-scripted curriculum and make the most of a unique and compelling “teachable moment,” this is it.

Let’s make those connections.

What an amazing opportunity to think with students about what might happen — will Congress approve the President’s resolution? Will other nations get involved? Will the US strike Syria even without Congressional approval? — and then get to test our hypotheses in a few days. What did happen?  Why?  What will happen next?

The world is focused on Syria right now:

news

By ignoring Syria in our schools, we send the message that school is not relevant. Again, some apt words from the documentary:

Every time a school says to a kid that “what you value outside of school doesn’t belong in the classroom,” they also deliver the opposite message, that “what we do in this classroom has no value outside of the school.”

What could be more important than having citizens think about what’s going on in Syria right now? And there are multiple ways that students could choose to engage with Syria — the growing refugee problem, the threat of chemical weapons, the efficacy of the United Nations, the ethics of the use of force, or Presidential/Congressional politics.

Whatever teachers have planned — a quiz on Shakespeare, a test on the Battle of 1812, or even the science lab that took several days to set up — those things can all wait a few days. This “teachable moment” won’t last forever.

If our schools are not helping students take at least an hour a day for the next week or so to grapple with events as they unfold in Syria, then there’s an easy answer to that compelling question at the start of the documentary:

“Is the work you are doing real or fake?”

P.S.  — I know of a few bold 6th and 7th grade teachers in Chapel Hill who *are* teaching Syria to their students (see my prior blog post, Teaching Syria to 6th Graders, for details of our collaboration). Those teachers have received phenomenal feedback from their students; one teacher even got supportive emails from parents — here’s an excerpt from one parent email:

I commented to [my daughter] just moments ago about how impressed I was by the fact that they were learning about the developments as they unfolded, how much she understood, and how well she “paraphrased” the (complex) state of affairs. In fact, I told her that many adults would not know as much as she did today about what was going on in the world.

I commend, applaud and thank you for being such a teacher in the truest sense of the word, and for holding our children to such a high standard, and helping us parents encourage, and INSPIRE them, to be true citizens of the world. Perhaps with more teachers like you and more children like them, issues like Syria will be only history someday. You are redefining “renaissance” for our kids. Thank you. THIS is the kind of education I want for my child.

Students want to learn about Syria — (most) parents want students to learn about Syria — and it’s great that a few teachers are finding ways to take time to work with students on Syria.

But there’s something wrong with a system where most schools carrying on as though nothing unusual is happening.

We need a new, flexible, model for education of our global citizens.

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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