What’s the reason for political incivility?

2 angry stick figures in each other's face
More to the point, can it be toned down or prevented?

With the 2020 presidential election just four days away, English and social studies teachers probably have only one more chance to take advantage of the learning opportunities it affords before their students start thinking of it as history.

Today I’m going to give ELA and SS teachers a formal writing prompt to assign before the election to teens grades 11 and 12 and to adult students.

(If you missed last week’s blog post, it suggested having teens or adults in students in English classes and appropriate social studies classes attempt to outline each candidate’s position on one of the questions asked in the second 2020 presidential debate.)

Here’s how to prepare students

First, assign students to read or listen to comments by two prominent academics who are concerned about how of people’s ability to discuss politics civilly has almost disappeared in America. The two are Danielle Allen, an author and the director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and Pete Peterson, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, who writes and speaks about public engagement. They were interviewed on PBS NewsHour by Jeffrey Brown on Oct. 1, 2020.  The NewsHour provides both a transcript and an audio tape of the interview. Here are shortlinks you can give students:

Set up the writing prompt

Read or listen to these a short interview with two scholars about what they think are the reasons Americans can no longer discuss political issues without being rude or nasty to those with whom they disagree. As you read/listen keep alert to what the two commentators identify as the reasons for the breakdown of civil discourse. Here are links to the written transcript and the audio recording of the Oct. 1, 2020 interview.

Here is the writing prompt:

In an informative/expository text discuss what you think is the single most important cause of the breakdown in political civility. Please confine your analysis to no more than 750 words. Deadline for submission is [time, date].

Here are additional directions:

Write your analysis in the third person. Support each topic sentence with summaries or quotations from different sources. You may use your personal experience or observation only as one supporting point of one of your three body paragraphs.

Here’s a pattern students can use to plan their responses:

Thesis: X is the single most important factor in the breakdown of political civility.

  • X is the single most important factor in the breakdown of political civility because [reason 1].
  • X is the single most important factor in the breakdown of political civility because [reason 2].
  • X is the single most important factor in the breakdown of political civility because [reason 3].

A hint that might help uncover related ideas

Find out when whatever you think is the most important factor in the breakdown of civility began to be talked about in books and in the news media. If you can find the names of a couple people who wrote about that subject, you may be able to get related ideas from Wikipedia. Knowing the approximate time the factor you’ve identified became a topic for public discussion might also suggest people you know that you could interview about whether/how that factor affected them.

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

 

 

Realistic expectations aid growth mindset.

In my last blog post, I said talked about the need to believe that every one of your students, whether teens or adults, can and will learn to write competently in your class. 

One of the ways you can make it easier to get all your students writing competently before your course is over is to help them set realistic expectations at the very beginning of the course.

The first thing students need to know is what kind of writing you expect them to do. 

Teens’ first question is, "Why do we need to know this stuff?"

Adults have a different question. Their first question is, "Why do I need to know this stuff?"

You may be able to foist off 14-year-olds a line about college requirements and the creative thinking employers want today. Employed adults won’t fall for it. They expect to acquire skills to use right away on their jobs.

You’d better make sure your "here’s why" rings true to the bookkeeper who is studying to be a CPA and to the LPN studying to be a RN.

FYI: You’ll have far more credibility with adult students if you worked one summer in a human resources office than if your on-the-job writing experience is limited to writing lesson plans.

ABCs tell warm bodies how to teach nonfiction writing

Most people who end up teaching nonfiction writing get into it the way I did, by being the most convenient warm body the administration could find readily.Cover of The Writing Teacher's ABCs

The Writing Teacher’s ABCs: Help Teens and Adults to Competent Nonfiction Writing is for them.

The Writing Teacher’s ABCs  isn’t an “everything you need to know” book.

It’s more of a “the least you can get by with while you figure out what you’re doing” book.

I broke the big, frightening process  of teaching writing into 26 short, practical chapters, so

even if someone isn’t a great writer,
even if someone never taught nonfiction writing before, and
even if someone has  no clue where to begin,

The Writing Teacher’s ABCs will give them enough to get started and keep ahead of their students until they get the hang of teaching writing.

Get a free copy

I’m giving away copies of The Writing Teacher’s ABCs to the first 100 people who surf over to digital publisher LeanPub.com.

The book is available at LeanPub.com in pdf format for computer viewing, in EPUB for iPad and other ebook readers and phones, and in MOBI for Kindle.

Only 100 copies of the book have been set aside for this offer, so if you want a copy, don’t delay. The giveaway ends Feb. 28, 2015, if the quantity hasn’t already been exhausted.

Buyers who arrive too late to get a totally free copy,  can preview the front matter and two chapters, and then set their own price.

If that’s not good enough, there’s a 45-day, no questions asked, money-back guarantee.

You can Tweet about the book using the hashtag #abcwrite .

ABCs tell warm bodies how to teach nonfiction writing

Most people who end up teaching nonfiction writing get into it the way I did, by being the most convenient warm body the administration could find readily.Cover of The Writing Teacher's ABCs The Writing Teacher’s ABCs: Help Teens and Adults to Competent Nonfiction Writing is for them. The Writing Teacher’s ABCs  isn’t an "everything you need to know" book. It’s more of a "the least you can get by with while you figure out what you’re doing" book. I broke the big, frightening process  of teaching writing into 26 short, practical chapters, so

even if someone isn’t a great writer, even if someone never taught nonfiction writing before, and even if someone has  no clue where to begin,

The Writing Teacher’s ABCs will give them enough to get started and keep ahead of their students until they get the hang of teaching writing.

Get a free copy

I’m giving away copies of The Writing Teacher’s ABCs to the first 100 people who surf over to digital publisher LeanPub.com. The book is available at LeanPub.com in pdf format for computer viewing, in EPUB for iPad and other ebook readers and phones, and in MOBI for Kindle. Only 100 copies of the book have been set aside for this offer, so if you want a copy, don’t delay. The giveaway ends Feb. 28, 2015, if the quantity hasn’t already been exhausted. Buyers who arrive too late to get a totally free copy,  can preview the front matter and two chapters, and then set their own price. If that’s not good enough, there’s a 45-day, no questions asked, money-back guarantee. You can Tweet about the book using the hashtag #abcwrite .

Teen after-school programs that do more than distract

As its brightest young people go off to college never to return and the remaining population dwindles, my Bainbridge, NY, community is wrestling with how to salvage the teens who remain. An ad hoc group has been investigating programs offered in nearby communities.

Male youth with hands in pockets
Small town. Not much to do.

Types of teen programs

Programs for teens fall into three main types: distractors, skill builders, treatment programs.

  • Programs to distract give youth something to do that keeps them out of trouble for as long as they are doing it.  Such things as a computer lab, crafts and games,  movies, fall into this category.
  • Programs to build skills include a wide range of education, training and employment programs from homework help to nutrition to conflict resolution training.  They also include mentoring programs in which a teen is mentored by an adult or a younger child is mentored by a teen.
  • Programs to treat problems include youth courts and programs for alcohol and drug abusers.

Programs for teens in our area appear to aim primarily to distract — “While they’re with us, they aren’t doing drugs” — and to give homework help.

What funding sources want to see

Community groups typically think they can fund programs for teens using grants. That might have been true last century, but funds are not as readily available now.

The federal government speaks for many funding organizations when it says:  ‘More and more, funding sources for youth programs require the implementation of evidence-based programs.”

The federal FindYouthInfo.gov site gives this advice:

Clearly identifying what you are hoping to address and analyzing the potential causes and effects are essential before selecting and implementing an evidence-based program. You want to define

  • the problem you are trying to address or the behavior you want to promote,
  • potential causes or gaps that might be creating the problem, and
  • where you are hoping to intervene.

The implication seems to be that funding agencies are passing over applications from programs aimed at distracting youth from inappropriate behaviors.

Programs with rural potential

female artist stoops to work on floor
Artist at Work

In looking for ideas from other communities, I ran across some that struck me as having real potential for rural communities with limited resources.  Readers of this blog will probably not be surprised to see the programs are biased toward those that involve teens in their communities in ways that build the teens’ skills and return a benefit to the community.

Here are three program ideas that I found attractive for rural areas for varying reasons.

Teen continuing ed classes

The Friendly House offers teen programs on model of adult continuing education courses. Classes of 60-90 minutes are offered once or twice a week for a set number of weeks in things like physical fitness and art.

Classes offered by other teen programs that might fit easily into the continuing ed model are readers’ theater, creative writing, science discovery, financial literacy, entrepreneurship. Teens get a chance to try something that interests them that the school may not offer. Neither the instructor nor the sponsoring agency has a long-term commitment.

chef observes youger chef

Teen apprenticeships and internships

After School Matters has a scholarship program for apprentices and interns. The organization selects uses a request-for-proposal process to select providers. Providers have to detail how they will make the apprenticeship or internship a learning experience.  Participants can develop portfolios and earn digital badges that can help them get their first real job.

Teens have to apply for apprenticeships and internships at nonprofit organizations (only for those who completed apprenticeships) just as they would for a job.  Apprenticeships the program offers that could be replicated in a rural area include:

  • cooking with local chef
  • growing a community garden and selling products at a farmers’ market
  • developing sports skills and mentoring youth in preparation for a recreation leader job

It wouldn’t be hard to come up with other possibilities that fit a specific rural community.

Manor Ink logo
A local newspaper

Livingston Manor, NY, a hamlet with a 2010 population of 1,221,  has a monthly newspaper coordinated by the local public library  and produced by teens and some kids as young as 8 years old. Manor Ink is available globally online and in a local print edition. Through the newspaper, youth can pursue interests  in writing, sports reporting, selling, photography, art, graphic design, and videography.

The Manor Ink project is supported by the local news preservation nonprofit  Community Reporting Alliance and receives funding from the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation, which also supports the Watershed Post.

Start-up funds for a project such as this are less of a problem than adult supervision.  A project like Manor Ink requires a cadre of adults with relevant skills, ability to mentor teens, and a willingness to shoulder a long-term commitment.

Assistance with start-up costs are available from newspaper foundations such as the Knight Foundation and the Patterson Foundation, educational organizations, and government sources have funds are available to assist with start-up costs. As a newspaper gets out of the incubator stage, it has the potential to develop into a LION that supports itself by delivering news and which creates jobs for the community.

Teen programs that work

After hours of reading about after school programs for teens, I concluded what I could have guessed: Programs that work are developed in communities, by communities, for communities.

In rural areas being hollowed out by the brain drain, the need is not only to provide distractions but to provide skills and community connections that turn the kids who remain into productive, contributing citizens. I believe that starts by finding where needs of all residents in the community (not just their desires) intersect with the needs (not just the desires) of the teens in the community.

We’ll see soon if mine is a minority opinion.


Some other teen after-school programs:

Related posts on this blog:

Photo and graphics credits:

[removed non-working link 2016-01-31]