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  Workshop 8: Rights and Responsibilities of Students  
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Workshop 7

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Teacher Perspectives: Modeling democratic principles

Matt Johnson: I think I model civics education by being neutral, by trying to get all the sides out on an issue, by exposing the kids to--for lack of a better word--some of the negatives about our Constitution and our history. I'm not afraid to tackle controversial issues. I'm hoping that by being honest and up front with the kids, nothing's beyond approach, and everything's up to being questioned. I don't think we just dwell on the negative, but especially with a population of minority students, you can't just focus on positives; there are a lot of negatives. If you're going to be honest, you have to talk about some of the negative chapters in our history. If you don't, the kids are not going to believe you and they're not going to want to listen to you. You've got to tell the truth, but it seems as though these kids have taken that knowledge, and because they now know more, they no longer feel like they're victims. I think if you show the negatives, then as the teacher you may have to introduce some positives and there are a lot of positives. Then you can cover the subject fairly.

In the law class, when you start talking about students’ rights, everybody sort of leaps on the Tinker v. DesMoines case--a great decision--and the kids understand what the logic of the Court was in that particular case. Then you fast-forward to the Hazlewood v. Kuhlmeier case, and that'll generate a lot of discussion. I think a lot of kids understand the logic of the Court in giving an administration, a principal, some power to control what's done in their school. The kids know they're here to learn and that's where the restrictions can come in, if you disrupt the process. That's positive and negative, but it's being truthful, it's being honest. It doesn't mean that every decision an administration makes is the correct one, but you've at least shown the kids the logic behind the thinking of the Court, and they can then apply that to current issues that come up.

I try to be non-partisan. I trust the kids. For example, in one class we had to pick a fifth country to study. I didn't have a vested interest in any, so I threw it out to the class and they voted. I'll give the kids an opportunity to select their own groups. I do try and work with the kids. I've got to be with them for 10 months. I don't need an overthrow early in the school year, so I try to be democratic.


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