When the real world collides with standardized curriculum

Sometimes we are forced to teach curriculum by decision-makers that are never in our classrooms. Most of the time these decision-makers mean well. And most of the time, we (since teachers are awesome) do our best to make this prescribed curriculum fit our students’ needs.

So, every Tuesday and Wednesday during my homeroom, I sit with a script and some handouts and a DVD to teach my 8th graders a social/emotional curriculum. Now, I have no doubt that they need this information. I also have no doubt that the school board meant well when they mandated that this is taught. Like I said, I do my best to make it engaging and relevant for my students, even when holding a script. However, sometimes even my best efforts fall flat.

However, today reality outside our classroom walls collided easily with this curriculum. Today the text was about stereotypes and how they lead to bullying. Besides pointing this fact out, the lesson was focusing on how important it is a bystander to speak up when someone is stereotyping others.

This immediately hit me to my core. The political climate in the United States and much of Europe is absolutely toxic. Political candidates, not only in our country, but in other countries like France and Sweden are seizing on people’s fears of extremism and the unknown to quite literally bully children, orphans, and the elderly; those running in fear from persecution themselves. Just this past weekend in my town, this happened. This is not to mention all the hateful and inflammatory comments of political candidates, least of all Donald Trump.

This immediately came to my mind when teaching this lesson. I immediately deviated from the prescribed lesson a bit and pulled up the poem “First They Came” by Martin Niemoller. Here is the text:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me. 

(Courtesy Holocaust Memorial Day Trust)

It is our job as teachers to teach our students so many many things. Sometimes we are prescribed what to teach them. Hopefully, the real world is connected to our lessons as much as possible.

I must also emphasize as much as possible that it is also our jobs to make sure our students are good people. Just as Niemoller states, we cannot stand by why nothing happens and we must teach our students this as well. Yes, we aren’t in charge of our students political beliefs, but we are in charge of teaching them critical thinking and empathy. We MUST do so at any and every chance–even when given a script.

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Author: karinhogen

I teach middle school language arts and run an Edtech company, DocentEDU, on the side. Every day is an adventure in my classroom with technology!

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