As a kid, my father scolded me for getting too emotional about topics of discussion. He'd say, "This is a question of logic," or "Your emotions are getting in the way." I now know that he wasn't quite right. Emotions can and should be channeled into the right language in order to make an impact. To stifle emotion is to risk deadening one's language.
The topics that deserve the most discussion are emotional. They are tied to our core and tangled in our experience. Lately, though, our country feels like a giant knot of tension and misunderstanding or worse--ignorance.
What is a teacher's role? I've written about my thoughts regarding dissent in the classroom here.
When I was about 6 years old, I was obsessed with yarn--not for knitting--rather, I would create these elaborate webs in my bedroom. It would take hours to weave the yarn from my doorknob, to my top bunk rail, to the window ledge locks, through the slots of my wicker chair, etc. Usually it was quiet in my room as I spun my webs--and as always, I would eventually be instructed to take the yarn down. My mom would challenge me to unwind my webs without having to cut the yarn. Again, hours--entertainment in the 1970s, I guess.
Only, I am thinking about this today because I realize that those webs were in fact a physical manifestation of thoughts. Really, that yarn might have been named "dendrites" or "synapses". So, as I begin to outline a unit involving debate, a unit that will surely include emotional topics and reactions--I find myself imagining my students as young children.
I picture them in shadowy rooms webbing and tangling their ideas. And now, I see them with all different colors of yarn in our classroom--carefully tying their thoughts together in a web of agreement or dissent. It looks messy. It looks a little rough. But, on the clean-up, the students are coiling their ideas which have webbed around another's ideas and another's and so on.
Their yarn will be weathered but usable. Sure, some may have been snipped or snagged. Hopefully, with effective facilitation, they will weave more informed webs of thought the next time they need to express an opinion about something that is meaningful.
Their emotion and reason will be bound, unwound and regathered in new varieties of language--together. And, it is my greatest hope, that this process of working it out together will in fact provide a launching pad of sorts. A home base woven of risk and safety.