Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading Today in Ten Minutes or Less: Unfair Comparison?

I'm posting late today, once again, but this time it's due only in part to my schedule. I found the article I wanted to use early this morning -- well, relatively early anyway -- but I hesitated to use it. Strange, because I'm not usually shy about expressing my opinion, but there was something about the outrage surrounding this particular article that made me hesitate.

But after mulling it over, I decided that it was indeed, the article I wanted to use: One in this morning's Huffington Post about a middle school teacher in Washington, DC who gave an assignment that inspired anger, apologies and allegations of incompetence.

The assignment? A Venn diagram. The comparison? Former president George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler.

For those of you unfamiliar with a Venn diagram, it's a graphic organizer that provides a visual of the similarities and differences between two ideas, objects, or, in this case, people. It looks something like this:

In other words, the very concept of a Venn diagram is predicated on the idea that the things being compared are not exactly alike. It encourages the person completing it to look at the whole picture. 

Regardless of your opinion (or mine) of either of the men in question, we have to concede that there are similarities. Both are men. Both were leaders. Both held positions of power.

And the differences? Well, let's just say there are plenty of those as well. More, in fact, than could possibly fill the allotted space.

I understand how this exercise could be construed as disrespectful, perhaps even insulting. And if the comparison being made were between Hitler and someone I love, I'm sure it would give me pause. 

But the comparison is being made between two political figures who wielded great power. And as far as I can tell, no one is equating the two men. What this exercise asked the students to do is to find the similarities and differences. To explore, in conjunction with a reading assignment, how two men in similar positions in different times handled the power they had and how that impacted not only their nations, but the world.

To think critically. To express opinions and substantiate them. To begin to understand how power can corrupt and lead to horrific consequences.

And forgive me if I'm being naive, but isn't that what we want our kids to be able to do? 

I understand how this exercise could be misconstrued, but it saddens me that rather than asking the teacher about the motivation behind it, parents and administrators alike demanded apologies. Assumed facts not in evidence, including malicious intent.

I'm not sure how I'd have felt if my daughter brought home an assignment like this when she was in middle school. I'm not sure that middle school kids necessarily have the maturity to have the conversations this could lead to, but I think that perhaps with the proper guidance and appropriate guidelines, this activity could lead to the development of critical thinking skills that help kids to go beyond personalities and countries and political parties to issues like right and wrong and the duties and obligations that accompany great power.

I'd like to think I'd have asked the teacher what he was thinking, and that I'd have talked about the assignment with my daughter, guiding her away from the people and into the deeper issues.

And I know for sure what we're going to be discussing over dinner tonight.

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