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‘Classroom Toolkit’ designed to help kids talk about proposed amendments

Materials for discussions range from basic information about the amendment process to how to create a safe learning climate amid the din.

A new toolkit aims to help students discuss Minnesota's proposed constitutional amendments in a constructive, respectful manner.

Our best schools work like crazy to teach kids not to bully, not to be silent bystanders and to speak up when they are bullied. We tell our littlest to “use their words,” not their hands, and teach older students about values and character. We’re on the lookout for “relational bullying,” the hands-free kind where kids are pointedly excluded from a game.

And then, during election season, we send our darlings off to school armed with a steady supply of fresh vitriol — and the impression that politics has some special carve-out from rules about playing nicely.  

Fueling the playground feuds this year are two proposed amendments to Minnesota’s constitution, each of which has probably sparked impassioned dinner-table talk kids can be counted on to bring to school.

There is research, most notably from the American Psychological Association, that the negative words and images that typically accompany anti-same-sex marriage ballot questions is traumatic to LGBT parents and their kids. Doubtless some pupils whose parents are voting no — twice — will have heard their classmates described as bigots, or worse, and will sling their share of mud. Likewise, kids whose parents favor the amendment undoubtedly are bringing angry emotions to the schoolyard.

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Parents, educators: the Minnesota School OUTreach Coalition has you covered. An effort by several dozen organizations, the group’s mission is “to create healthy learning environments that are inclusive, supportive and safe, and where dual orientation and gender identity/expressions are respected.”

Age-appropriate materials

To that end, it has put together an “Amendments Classroom Toolkit” for K-12 teachers and school administrators replete with age-appropriate materials for discussions ranging from the constitutional-amendment process to basic information about the proposals to how to create a safe learning climate amid the din.

There’s advice for adults who aren’t sure they understand the proposed amendments or where they stand on them, too. And there are links to materials prepared by the gay-rights group Marriage Equality USA about the psychological effects California’s Prop 8 campaign had on gays, lesbians and their allies — particularly on children in same-sex families.

“Election time is always a great time for teaching about how our system of democracy works and exploring important issues of our times,” the group’s website explains. “Many students have questions about the amendment messages they’re hearing in the media, from peers and political leaders. You can help them by providing age-appropriate opportunities to make sense of the issues, work past stereotypes and misconceptions, think about diversity and fairness, develop their personal ethics and practice civil dialogue.”

Outside of election season, the coalition works to provide schools with information about LBGT topics, creating supportive climates, legal information, help with student gay-straight alliances and events. Some of the resources gathered at its site start from a particular view, while others are more general.