Grawemeyer winners at Central High School
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Grawemeyer winners at Central High School


“…and we’re going to engage you in a discussion
of a politically controversial issue.” -What’s happening in this class at Louisville
Central High School might be a no-no to some of you. It’s a discussion about politics; more specifically,
a discussion about voting in the US organized by the winners of UofL’s prestigious Grawemeyer
Award in Education, Dianna Hess and Paula McAvoy. Hess and McAvoy are University of Wisconsin
Madison researchers whose award-winning book is called “The Political Classroom”
“So the argument of the book is that schools are a great place to have students discuss
political issues in the classroom, that it’s an important part of schooling in a democratic
society.” -The exercise with students at Central was
designed to have them take a stand on whether all US citizens should be required by law
to vote, creating a dynamic discussion and debate. “I feel like people should be more educated,
more informed, but I do not feel like it should be mandatory for people to vote.” “Some people don’t care about the political
environment, so when voting comes around they’re like, I like that name [checks imaginary box]
and do it. And that is something that need to be changed
before any type of mandatory voting is installed.” “So you could be voting for the wrong person
and put the wrong person in office. And look at our world, we’re in a detrimental
state right now just with our president.” -The Grawemeyer winners’ findings from their
studies of high school social studies classrooms in three states was similar to what they found
at Central: Teachers and administrators should be talking politics in school, as long as
they don’t push their own political views. “We’ve heard that some teachers do advocate
for certain political positions; that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about engaging students in talking
about political issues so that they’re learning about political issues and they’re learning
about different points of view, but it’s not with a partisan end in mind. We don’t want students to believe this way
or that way on these controversial issues.” “You know, a lot of teachers worry it’ll get
out of hand, I don’t know enough, I should be covering the material in the text book,
but what we’ve found is that they learn more, they’re really engaged, and everyone’s having
a good time when a discussion goes well.” -Hess and McAvoy found students are smart,
will listen to others’ views, and aren’t nearly as politically polarized as their parents
and government leaders. “So in our book “The Political Classroom,”
what we were interested in is just what happened here: That people would recognize that you
can disagree about something, and now you’re going to leave and go into the hallway and
you’re still going to like one another (we hope).” “Having them learn that they can hear the
opposing sides, and still be friends, still be respected, still go out and share with
their families, that that’s going to make the difference and be the change that I think
we need.”

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