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What Do We Do After November 2016?

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This post is by Kathleen Cushman. Her most recent book, with WKCD colleague Barbara Cervone, is Belonging and Becoming: The Power of Social and Emotional Learning in High Schools (Harvard Education Press).

How can we go forward from November 2016, those of us who work with youth to help them use their minds well?

The answers come in a torrent, in the digital and ground-based gathering places where educators share their worries and their work.

Dan Myers, on whose blog math teachers gather to develop and share their practice, reminded readers that how we teach math can make a difference to the economic anxiety that swayed so many voters. Youth who learn to tackle non-routine math tasks, he wrote, will be better prepared to thrive in fields that reward non-routine cognitive work. When math teachers design such tasks (and the tools that make them easier to teach), they take a step toward economic parity nationwide.

A Minnesota high school teacher shared a unit that featured issues of social justice in a unit on statistics. Teaching students to identify their own biases, it calls on a Guardian article revealing the gaps between "what you know about your country" and the reality. Respondents from the U.S. overestimated by 19 points the percentage of immigrants in their country's total population, and the gaps in other countries were comparable.

Across the grades and curricular areas, educators are highlighting the crosscutting skill of perspective taking. The nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves helps middle and high school students "probe themes of identity, individuality, conformity, stereotyping, group loyalty, and responsibilities to those beyond one's immediate circle." Bringing their insights to bear as they study history and literature, they begin to "see how individual choices can help shape a period of history and define an age."

A tide of solidarity and collaborative action is also rising on the school level. Today in San Francisco, for example, June Jordan School for Equity has gathered high school students from across the city in a "Strength in Numbers" youth summit to catalyze positive change. And for the past fifteen years, the Mosaic Project has brought together fifth graders from vastly different backgrounds to forge bonds through empathy and action. Designed by a very diverse team of out-of-school educators, their model deserves national attention and support.

Building those same relationships among educators carries equal importance, if we care about every student's need to learn deeply about the real world that we live in. In a stunning interactive graphic, the New York Times has mapped the "two Americas" that decided the 2016 presidential election. 

Wherever we find ourselves with young learners, we face the gravest work of all in an unprecedented time for our democracy. Let's take it on together--deeply--in these pages and everywhere else we go.

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