Teachers address modern-day issues


Jake Brodsky

In light of recent events and developments such as the presidential election, teachers have taken it upon themselves to discuss contemporary issues in their classes.

Bertina Xue, Layout/social media news media

Do you ever wish your classes talked about real world events more, or do you wish they talked about it less? Have you ever wondered how teachers choose whether or not to include current events in their lessons?

Some teachers incorporate current events into their social studies classes because they want their students to connect and analyze present day events with other topics from history.

School Within a School social studies teacher Jennifer Martin said that many connections that her students make from the past to the present are often not what she would have expected.

“It’s more like they see themes reappearing; they find parallels. It’s a cool way to think critically,” Martin said. “Frankly, I also think it’s a reminder of the point that learning all of this [history] is to actually relate things to today.”

Social studies teacher Ben Kahrl tries to incorporate global events involving a variety of factors into his class activities so that his students can try to understand how intricate those events are.

“The big takeaway is that it is more complex than you think. That’s been the theme for this year and the past two years,” Kahrl said. “It’s so that students understand, when they hear basic solutions in sound bites, they understand it’s much more complicated. I want them to appreciate the complexity of that.”

Martin teaches a senior SWS elective class called Contemporary History, which is a student driven course focusing on current events.

“I give them an assignment called the round table pitch, which is where they go find a topic to pitch to the class on why we should take that topic on,” Martin said. “Then, there’s a voting round. You’ll kind of see themes that are happening or themes within themes.”

Kahrl said that his underclassmen often know less about current events compared to the upperclassmen, which he would expect based on the difference in age.

“Seniors at least have the ability to sort of appreciate that there’s much more of a history to an event,” Kahrl said. “I think [upperclassmen] have seen more history throughout their courses whereas freshman and sophomores don’t have that same depth yet.”

According to junior Eva Blashkevich, the amount of time dedicated to talking about current events depends on the class. Blashkevich also mentioned that some teachers she had in the past made their own political views very clear.

“I know that for AP the whole nation is going on this kind of path, so kind of diverging from it would be a problem because by the end of the day we’re not going to be learning what the entire country has learned,” Blashkevich said. “Then, it’s a disadvantage for us on the test. We have a strict agenda in AP. There’s very little room for digressing, going on tangents and stuff. While I would love for [Murphy] to do that I could see why she is put in that position where she needs to question her every move to make sure we have everything down.”

Social studies teacher Malcolm Cawthorne takes time to address current events that his students are interested in, and every election year he makes sure to discuss the election in his U.S. history classes.

“Every election might be historic,” Cawthorne said. “There definitely are elections we had that people might not have thought of as really historic in that moment, but now we think of them as really powerful and influential.”

According to Kahrl, despite the fact that he covers many current events, he does not plan to initiate many thorough conversations about the 2016 election due to the number of discussions already occurring and how controversial this election has been.

“I also think because of the fact the rhetoric is so heated and really unfortunate compared to even eight or 12 years ago, that it’s harder to cover it in a civil way,” Kahrl said. “Whereas, I would much rather have the students look at some of the other current issues they’re less likely to be exposed to.”

Blashkevich said the 2016 election has revolved a lot around the candidates’ personal matters, like Hillary Clinton’s emails or  Donald Trump’s cases of sexual assault, and she would prefer to talk about other aspects of the election.

“While I totally see how [personal matters] have a huge impact on the election, I think it’s also important to talk about actual political actions,” Blashkevich said. “I would love to talk about that in class if it weren’t for the other personal issues that are constantly being brought up and constantly being fed to us through social media.”

According to Cawthorne, talking about current events in the seminar for African-American studies is not as easy compared to his other history classes because first they must build a foundation of their vocabulary and protocols, specifically regarding race.

“I think when you teach a class that’s really targeted towards race like that, sometimes it’s actually hard [to talk about current events]…You don’t want to jump in too early and lose all the building,” Cawthorne said. “It’s a delicate balance that Ms. Leslie and I have to walk, and so I think what we have done a good job with is really sort of finding when we can introduce some current, racially sensitive things to what they’re actually learning.”  

Blashkevich said there is no mistake why teachers would raise questions relating events that occurred hundreds of years ago to the present.

“History does tend to repeat itself and I think that’s important to recognize because we’re living proof of it right now, so I think that’s how we should talk about it,” Blashkevich said. “A lot of the things that have happened in the past do impact our future and present. Talking about [current events] is definitely something worthwhile.”