Challenges of Consensus

March 26, 2013

Working at Generation Citizen has been, by far, one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. This is the first time I have ever had an opportunity to teach in a classroom, which is extremely helpful for my chosen field of education. I enjoy going to see my students every session and hearing what they have to say about our lesson and our topic. There are times when it is difficult to get them engaged in the conversation, but once the ball is rolling it is difficult to get them to stop.

I currently teach at the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership for an eighth grade Social Studies class on Thursday and Friday mornings. It is the first period of the day, so the students can be a little groggy and worn down. This school consistently works on projects similar to Generation Citizen, and the students are continuously given opportunities to create change in their communities. They have worked in the past on civic projects, such as cleaning parks and lobbying for safer roads in front of the school, but I believe this is their first time working with a company such as Generation Citizen. During our discussions, they are at first hesitant to share their opinions, until I give them a little push and a little humor to get them started. I make suggestions and inferences, and then they can see where I am trying to go with the lesson. For example, when we were talking about our community issues and deciding which one we would focus on, some of the students did not really know what they wanted to talk about. They couldn’t see anything “wrong” with their community. As a response, I asked them, “What do you see in your day to day lives? When you go down the street, or when you are going grocery shopping with your mom, what do you see that makes you angry?” After a brief moment of pause, one girl said she saw a lot of trash on the streets. I said, “Perfect. That’s a community issue.” Once they saw a simple example, they took it from there and there was no stopping them.

 

One of the hardest parts of teaching in Generation Citizen is adapting the curriculum to the classroom. The curriculum is well designed and I understand why certain concepts and lessons are in there, but there are times when it is difficult to either perform the lesson correctly or adapt it in such a way that my eighth graders will understand. For example, Lesson Three, Choosing a Focus Issue, was particularly difficult. The students knew what community issues they wanted to talk about, and they were very enthusiastic to do so. The day before, I tallied up the community issues they wanted to talk about on their exit tickets, and narrowed it down to three issues. The curriculum expected the classroom to come to a general consensus and slowly but surely agree as to what the focus issue would eventually be. When we narrowed it down to two issues as a class, I thought coming to a consensus would come relatively easy to them. I was quite wrong. The students were at a complete deadlock between the two issues, and no matter how many times I tried to push the conversation, there was simply no way that they were going to come to a consensus as a class. Someone would be visibly and verbally angry if we did not do one issue or the other. Eventually, my cooperating teacher and I decided that coming to a vote was the best decision. I was pleased that they were so enthusiastic and passionate about the issues, but I was disappointed that I did not get the idea of consensus building across to them. I knew that consensus building was essential in a democratic situation, and that was what I was supposed to teach them. I tried to think of ways that I could have done the lesson better, and I came to the conclusion that sometimes things get in the way of consensus building, but I would continue to work with my students on that skill in future lessons. Right now, I just had Lesson Five with my students, and I have run into the same problem. We are having trouble solidifying our goal and the root cause that we want to focus on. The students had many root causes of bullying that they want to focus on, and deciding which one to choose has been difficult, and thus we do not yet have a goal. I am currently thinking of ways to question them and find out what it is about these focus issues that they want to focus on, and once I find out, perhaps I can find a way to combine them so that all of my students are happy. Teaching them the value of a compromise can go a long way, and I hope that I can do that successfully in my next lesson.

~Elise Trudel, Democracy Coach at Wagner College

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