Staying up on the news can be exhausting and even painful these days. The headlines are full of allegations of fake news and ad hominem attacks. And on the flipside, many studies are now showing the dangerous effects of confirmation bias – our psychological tendency to embrace new information that affirms our pre-existing beliefs and to ignore evidence that doesn’t. This is played out on Facebook, in particular, as there is an increasing tendency to mute or unfriend people who think differently than we do. While I am definitely not advocating for any of us to go on Facebook to troll those with whom we might disagree, there is danger if we simply lean into our confirmation bias or are too afraid to engage in genuine, respectful debate and discourse. While it is concerning that our children are entering a world that can be fraught with disrespect and vitriol, I believe this actually creates a special opportunity (and moral imperative) that we equip our children differently.
So what can one school in the San Fernando Valley do? We may not be able to make an immediate impact on what’s being said and done in the public domain, but we can certainly teach our children that it is possible to cheerfully disagree, question, or only partially agree with others, but still respect and get along with them. The Center for Responsive Schools, which developed our school’s social-emotional curriculum, shared a wonderful article last month about using Interactive Modeling to expose children to what respectful disagreement might look and sound like. This approach gives children a chance to notice for themselves the exact words and tone to use when respectfully disagreeing. Then children actually get to practice wondering, disagreeing, and questioning and get immediate feedback from their peers and teachers about how they were doing with this social skill.
There is no better time than the holiday season when you spend time with family and friends to help children with this skill at home (and maybe even practice it ourselves). It doesn’t have to be a contest between right and wrong, but rather an opportunity to listen with an open mind and heart.
In our school, when we teach children sentence starters or special ways to talk about their thinking, we call this Accountable Talk. Here are a few examples of Accountable Talk sentence starters you can model and practice with children (or even other adults):
- “I see what you’re saying, but I wonder if __________.”
- “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with that because __________.”
- “Could you give me a few examples of what you mean?”
- “That makes me wonder if/about __________.”
- Paraphrase what you heard and ask, “Could you explain a bit more, please?”
- “I haven’t thought about it in that way before. Where could I find more information about that?”
- “So that I can be sure I understand you, could you say that in a different way?"