In the News
Prep’s Dean of Studies and 8th grade history teacher Sarah Cooper has just published a book on teaching current events. Though aimed at middle school teachers, it has great advice for parents coping with how to talk to their kids about challenging topics. It might even help your holiday gatherings go more smoothly.
History teachers have a mandate to relate history to current events, Cooper says in her book, Creating Citizens: Teaching Civics and Current Events in the History Classroom, Grades 6-9 (Routledge, 2017) (see more here).
Cooper has spent years figuring out how to present and discuss the news in a neutral, respectful and deeply analytical way, because she believes that discussing the news creates kids who will be engaged, empowered and thoughtful citizens.
She starts by asking her students to see how reputable sources have handled the news, suggesting they look up the same subject in The Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, The NY Times and The Washington Post, comparing the write-ups.
Then she might ask her students, “What are the bigger implications of this single event? How have we handled news like this in the past? How might we view it in 200 years?” These analytical exercises provide perspective: a chance to see widely, step back and dig deep.
When the news is hard, difficult or sad, she directs her students to “look for the helpers,” as Fred Rogers often said on the TV show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. “When I bring in a photo of a memorial created by a community after a tragedy, we are all happy to talk about something small and spontaneous and beautiful, instead of something frightening or horrific.”
Young kids’ ability to process big or tragic events might need stewarding, Cooper says, but “Do not underestimate middle schoolers. They want to belong to a group, so build on that. Include them as adults in discussion, because their ability to understand complex issues is often formidable and surprising.”
And if things get heated: debate is healthy, according to Cooper. She reminds her students, when hashing things out in small groups or as a class, to step back, to look for things they can agree on and to remember that compromise is hard. Nobody always gets exactly what they want (whether it’s the turkey leg or world peace).
In sum, Cooper advocates speaking with thoughtfulness, balance and openness. “How we teach is as important as what we teach. Often, I’m teaching not just current events but also curiosity and conversation.”
The same thing goes for dinner table conversation about the news, during the holidays or any time. Welcome the conversation, strive for perspective and enjoy the day.