McHenry High School social science teachers adopt new statement to keep class discussions civil

  • Sean Sterner, left, chair of the McHenry High School social science division, and social science Instructor Adam Malenius, say they hope the department's new Civil Discourse Statement will help keep discussions respectful when classes debate controversial issues.

    Sean Sterner, left, chair of the McHenry High School social science division, and social science Instructor Adam Malenius, say they hope the department's new Civil Discourse Statement will help keep discussions respectful when classes debate controversial issues. Courtesy of McHenry High School District 156

 
Submitted by Amy Maciaszek, McHenry High School District 156
Updated 10/14/2020 10:23 AM

As current events across the country spark heated debates, McHenry High School social science teachers are hoping a new Civil Discourse Statement keeps their classroom discussions cool.

The 15-member social science division recently adopted the new statement to set out a framework for how MCHS students in social science classes learn and talk about history and society. Sean Sterner, social science instructor and chair of the division, said several teachers started talking doing something like this during the summer of 2020.

 

It will become even more important as the Nov. 3 presidential election draws near, he said. The statement encourages students to gather evidence, look at other perspectives, and speak respectfully.

"We don't want to shy away from these issues, but we want to do it in a way that's productive," Sterner said. "We're here to make sure their minds are open to different points of view."

Adam Malenius, who teaches AP Government, is sharing the statement with students as his class starts delving into things like historical symbols and current events.

"For social science to be important, it has to be relevant," Malenius said. "I'm glad we have this policy."

To encourage respectful debates, Malenius said he has his students use each others names during discussions, and repeat the other person's argument.

Social science educators are also planning to host Lunch-and-Learn sessions for other educators, and inviting guest speakers to talk about presenting different issues and perspectives.

Teaching students how to productively talk about current events is an issue schools nationwide are trying to address. In Education Week magazine's Citizen Z project, an article highlights the efforts at several high schools to encourage students to use civil-discourse skills while discussing controversial historical and current events.

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