We typically processed the news of the day in conversation at the dinner table. It was expected that my brother and I be engaged in the world around us. Our father is a professor of political science and our mother earned her Masters in urban studies and served as a Health Administrator focusing primarily on homelessness. We were raised to be active members in our society, not passive observers.
To be corrected and even sometimes humiliated because of a lack of vision or misuse of a word in the relative safety of our living room, prepared my brother and me for the challenges of a classroom and the world at large. Our dinnertime debates were opportunities for our parents to really get in there and teach--not just the moral stuff, but basics like how not to interrupt and how to phrase things in ways that would evoke thoughtful responses not angry retorts.
Most importantly, being and feeling heard and having our thoughts valued even if they weren't agreed with gave us confidence in our communication skills. It meant that what we had to say mattered and that we should endeavor to say what we meant well. I wouldn't admit it then, but I loved having current event discussions with my family. The pace at which news was delivered was slower though.
Our youth are inundated with breaking news and a million opinions surrounding such news.
I like how social media permits today's youth to make their own news--especially when it is geared at creating positive social change. Historically, it has always been young people who have led the way to social change. But where are they getting the space to process the change they want or need to make?
We are privileged to see youthful political movements on social media take shape, but I fear that their positions aren't being fully communicated because they've been forced into taking reactionary stands on issues such as racial mistreatment and gun violence. The need to say something and be heard quickly is deeply understandable yet troublesome because once an opinion is posted on the web, it's suspended there, or in some screenshot, forever. It's so easy to react in the moment using social media, to respond on a screen to an imaginary audience without considering the reach of the response. I worry that those being reached are often those who wish to discredit or cause disillusionment in young people who are so earnestly seeking change.
Certainly, this week's headlines involving Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and her accusations against Supreme Court Justice Nominee, Judge Kavanaugh have to be seeping into our youth's consciousness. After reading some horrific opinions in response to Dr. Ford's accusations, I was moved to have a discussion with my son, 19, and daughter, 17.
They replied at first in a detached way, but I was annoyingly persistent in hearing their thoughts and soon they began to ask serious questions as well as to offer their ideas about the expectations of men and women in our society. It was interesting to listen to their perspectives--and a relief to know they had the same take regarding the responses of those who are eager to excuse drunken violence as a 'boys will be boys' rite of passage. "Um, no."
I'm hopeful that classroom teachers are creating space for discussion too. It's imperative that educators provide the skills for effective and productive discourse, especially to students who don't have the luxury of dinner table talk because of schedules, family dynamics and general responsibilities.
I keep thinking about how we as a nation are simultaneously steeped in communication and also sorely lacking in appropriate communication skills.
We should hope for better for our children, but we must provide the space for growth as well as model how to be less reactionary to the headlines arriving at the speed of light. Otherwise, I fear a prolonged darkness is ahead.
I'd love to know how you create space for your children and/or students to shine a light on their ideas--please share!