Election 2020: A workshop for educators

At this contentious moment, how can K-12 educators engage students in constructive, respectful dialogue? Mount Holyoke presents a three-part workshop.

As the 2020 presidential election looms large and fall classes resume across the country, educators are poised to help students talk about and process this contentious moment in time — one constructive, critical conversation at a time. 

Election Workshop Series for Educators & Parents, a three-part online workshop offered this fall through Mount Holyoke College’s Professional and Graduate Education programs, is designed to equip educators and parents with the skills and context to facilitate such healthy dialogue about the election.  

As Eric Schildge MAT’19 explains, the framework that may have sufficed in classrooms of yore — “Here are the election issues, kids, debate!” — is simply not helpful or healthy, given what’s happening in our country right now, including ongoing discussions and protests about systemic racism. 

Schildge is the assistant director for outreach at the Master of Arts in Teaching, Teacher Leadership (M.A.T.L.). He and graduate student Michael Lawrence-Riddell MATL’21, an Amherst educator and the executive director of Self-Evident Media, are hosting the live sessions on October 1, 5 and 8, 7–9 p.m. Participants are encouraged to attend all three parts.   

“We’re facing one of the most important elections of our lifetime, if not our country's history, but also one of the most contentious and potentially harmful and violent moments in our nation's history,” said Schildge. “There’s a sense that the stakes are really high. We wanted to put something in front of teachers to show this is a conversation they could, and should, be having with students, but in a way that doesn’t present it as a quote-unquote ‘debate.’ Which, for a teacher, would feel like walking into a buzzsaw of conflict and unhealthy dialogue.”

Instead, Schildge and Lawrence-Riddell advocate that teachers frame class conversations around a mix of intentional questions.

Each of the two-hour sessions explores a different question: What is at stake in this election? How is democracy an ongoing project in American history — which is to say, how have different groups worked to shape democracy? How do the multiple aspects of identity — race, class, gender, ability and religion — influence our perception of American democracy? 

Woven throughout the series is a probing of power analysis: Who has power? Why? How do they use and maintain power? 

“We are thinking through the lens of intersectionality and how different groups and individuals experience and see our democracy,” said Schildge.

Participants in the workshop will gain class discussion strategies to encourage understanding of the candidates, the issues, and the history that led us to this moment — plus key vocabulary and useful primary and secondary sources from the past and present. 

“My hope is that the conversation that ensues in the class setting is healthier, more constructive and also more likely to encourage students to see and respect other people’s points of view, within the context of a rigorous historical framework,” said Schildge.

Informed citizens — of any age — aren’t a given, especially when the national political stage brings so much noise and chatter to sort through. 

“There’s a lot of work to do to understand what’s happening and what’s at stake in this election, and to parse out which sources can be trusted,” said Lawrence-Riddell. “Democracy only works when people are really informed about the things that they’re voting for or participating in or pushing back against. We’re hoping to provide some of that framework in that context so that people can think critically about the election.”

The workshop, which is designed primarily for educators at the middle and high school levels, represents what Mount Holyoke’s Professional and Graduate Education programs does best: facilitate collaboration among educational leaders.

“In our classes and cohorts, it really is a relationship of equals between instructors and students,” said Schildge, who previously taught Lawrence-Riddell in an educational policy class. “The Teaching Leadership program brings together some incredibly accomplished mid-career educators who each bring something unique, in terms of their skill set, to these learning experiences.” 

Relationships forged in the program often spin off into opportunities and resources that benefit Mount Holyoke and the wider educational community.

“I jumped at the opportunity to work with Eric on this project,” said Lawrence-Riddell. “What we’re hoping to do through this project, and through the work that Eric and I do in our own spaces, is to just help give people some of those frameworks and processes to get at critical understandings so that they can be informed citizens.” 

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