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

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.

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.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/10/2012 - 11:17 am.

    I confidently predict

    That few, if any, in favor of either amendment will believe the “Amendments Classroom Toolkit” provides “objective” information to students, or to adults who’ve not yet made up their minds. Why am I confident about this? Because providing “…healthy learning environments that are inclusive, supportive and save, and where dual orientation and gender identity/expressions are respected” is never going to qualify as the creation of an “objective” classroom atmosphere.

    Most of those in favor of the marriage amendment do so on religious grounds, or their own personal negative feelings about same-sex unions, typically tied to homosexual behavior, or some combination of the two. Creating an “inclusive” environment doesn’t at all fit the mind set of someone who regards the behavior in question as an abomination. Sweet reason only rarely has much of an effect on prejudice. A classroom teacher who uses this material as provided, and without some judicious editing, will find herself/himself under fire from right-wing social conservative parents and taxpayers, who would much prefer a less-inclusive environment right from the beginning.

  2. Submitted by Chris Commers on 10/10/2012 - 04:59 pm.

    Politics in the classroom

    Kudos to the folks creating curriculum emphasizing respect and rational discourse in the classroom!

    Let us remember that government’s main function is to help us decide the issues we can’t work out ourselves. If we approach issues without pre-existing norms and standards we’ll be off to the races just as our larger society currently finds itself. In a classroom and school where students and staff respect each other and enjoy a healthy learning culture the current debates can be examined and discussed with an extraordinary opportunity for learning (yes, this type of thinking even helps test scores!).

    Though we aren’t perfect, I’m fortunate to teach in a school where my students do show up for class ready to listen, attempt to understand, and engage (notice I’m not saying agree!) with their peers. I’m also fortunate that in my classes we have agreed to discuss these issues as political scientists. We aren’t trying to persuade each other of our strongly held views, we are working together to understand why these issues (marriage amendment and voter id) are so contentious and what the implications are for stakeholders on either side. We will hold strongly to our convictions and respect them whether we agree or not. And rather than resorting to bullying and intimidation, we will vote and campaign like hell! Because we agreed to respect each other.

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