Teaching current events is risky

It’s good that students want to talk about the relationship between current events and what they’ve learned in history classes (“The Need to Teach the History Behind Current Events Has Rarely Been Clearer. Here’s How Some Teachers Are Getting Ready,” Time, July 14). But this sudden interest comes with certain caveats that teachers need to be aware of.

Most important, teachers need to present a balanced view. But anything they say that does not reinforce the pre-existing views of students is bound to get them into trouble.  Today’s current events are by their very nature highly controversial.  As a result, teachers have to walk a tightrope.  I doubt that principals will back teachers up if enough parents complain.

I remember vividly what happened in history classes during the Vietnam War.  Students were eager to discuss our involvement.  But teachers who expressed opinions that ran counter to what most students felt soon were the subject of criticism.  I submit that the same thing will happen now when the subject is racism.

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2 Replies to “Teaching current events is risky”

  1. To start, current events probably are irrelevant to most classes — science, math, foreign language, phys ed, music, industrial arts, most of regular art. Teachers in these subjects should resist the temptation — posed by the students or the teachers’ own enthusiasm — to abandon the regular curriculum in favor of “relevant” issues posed by today’s headlines.

    Current events are likewise irrelevant to much of an English/Language Arts curriculum. A student or teacher can obviously refer to current events in discussing/analyzing literature or in creative writing, but the focus of any such discussion should remain the literature or the creative writing issues rather than the current event issues.

    Where current events are most relevant, obviously, is history/civics/social studies. Ideally, the curriculum in these courses would already include issues relevant to today’s current events + a diligent teacher presumably already has a balanced presentation planned re those issues so including references to today’s current events would require only a minor tweaking. My preference would be for the teacher to stick to the order of the established curriculum rather than ditching the established curriculum in favor of jumping immediately to those parts of the established curriculum that relate to today’s current events.

    Agree that teachers are always skating on thin ice when they teach anything regarding a controversial issue. Seems that the danger of falling through that ice is greater if the teacher is attempting to teach an issue that has suddenly flamed up currently and that is either not in the curriculum at all or that would not be addressed at this time but for the current flame up.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: When I was teaching in the LAUSD. there was a class called Contemporary American Problems, which was designed specifically to address issues in the news. But even then, it was controversial because of the Vietnam War. So yes, teachers have to be careful that they don’t use the class for indoctrination.

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