After a long and contentious election cycle in which education was mostly on the backburner, two incidents, the Newtown tragedy and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s support for a longer school year, illustrate how quickly the issues surrounding protecting and educating our children ignite our passions.
How do we find common cause when the proposed solutions to these problems are so disparate?
The horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary has galvanized the nation. As societal outrage grows, the debate about the best way to protect our children has reached a flash point — do we enact more stringent gun control laws or put armed guards in every school? What are the social and emotional ramifications for children living in increasingly militarized conditions? And how do we balance that with our constitutional right to “bear arms”?
In a pilot project occurring in five states — Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee — about 20,000 students in 40 schools will have a longer school year than the rest of their peers. The 300 hours of additional instruction time is designed to combat what some experts believe is an erosion of students’ knowledge during their summer break. But many opponents of year-round school such as the Save Our Summers coalition believe that the data touting the benefits of an extended school year are inconclusive at best.
When the issues are this important, and this divisive, what’s the best way to move forward?
First, we must move past the disinformation and misinformation that has hampered honest discourse. In order to have a dialogue that produces results, it’s essential to move past the talking points and rhetoric and get to the facts.
Second, we must be willing to move past our own biases in order to engage with those who disagree with us. The power of the echo chamber often serves to reinforce beliefs we already hold. We must escape that bubble and be willing to listen actively to other ideas and give them due consideration.
While these two issues will be tough to resolve, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Addressing the myriad needs of our educational system requires listening and collaboration. It requires a dialogue that engages all stakeholders, ensuring they have a voice in the discussion.
There will be no kumbaya moments. But if we dedicate ourselves to stepping outside of our comfort zone, absorbing facts and being willing to engage our “opponents,” we can find compromise and common cause. We have to.