Review: The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education

The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic EducationThe Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education by Diana E. Hess
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a refreshing and valuable addition to current educational research—a must-read for 6-12 social studies and history teachers. The authors tackle important questions that all competent social studies teachers consider regularly: How do you select issues to open up for student discussion? Are some issues too “hot” or too divisive to be fruitfully discussed by students? How should a teacher balance the need to maintain a safe space for all students with the educational goal of fostering authentic political conversations about relevant controversies? Should a teacher ever share their own beliefs, or is that tantamount to proselytizing?

To answer these questions, the authors conducted years of empirical research at a wide range of schools around the country. Along the way they describe three case studies in detail, each of which is a fascinating look at how different teachers and departments grapple with these issues. The case studies alone are worth the price of the book, but the real gems here are in the final chapters where the authors analyze the data and attempt to answer the questions posed above. These chapters stand as a perfect example of how to use relevant theory and research to guide classroom practice.

Make no mistake: this is not a book aimed at a popular audience. It is written primarily for education schools rather than regular classroom teachers. With that said, however, I found plenty here of immediate, practical value. (I primarily teach 8th grade social studies.) The research cited in the book focuses on grades 9-12, but the issues raised are certainly relevant in middle school and possibly even in the younger grades.

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Little Free Libraries

Little Free Library
Little Free Library

Recently, I walked with the kids to some of our neighborhood Little Free Libraries. While walking, we started talking about whether we would someday put one in front of our house, even though there is one directly across the street from us.

Andrew's library would be dedicated to science fiction.
Andrew’s library would be dedicated to science fiction.

I suggested that I might make one that was all for science fiction stories, and I would decorate it with space ships and alien planets. Griffin and Maggie loved this idea, and quickly came up with their own versions.

Griffin's library would be all about science.
Griffin’s library would be all about science.

Griffin’s would be all about science and would have pictures of microscopes and tiny (microscopic?) creatures on it. He asked a few questions about the difference between science and science fiction, but once he understood the distinction, he was firmly committed to real science.

Maggie, of course, shouted, “FROZEN!” When I asked her how it should be decorated, she looked at me like I was hopelessly ignorant, and said, “ELSA!” followed by a whooshing sound which I took to be the sound of Elsa’s ice magic.

Maggie's library would be dedicated to Frozen, decorated with pictures of Elsa.
Maggie’s library would contain anything related to Frozen.

Badass Wife

Sarah went went to her dawn workout outdoors this morning, despite our latest wave of arctic air. The weatherbug reading below was shortly after her workout, as the air started warming up.

Temperature during Sarah's workout.
Temperature during Sarah’s workout.

Naturally, afterwards I got a text saying, “You should go skiing! It’s beautiful out!”