A: Kaepernick has the right to do this, but I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do. All men are created equal, and that’s true, but we don’t all do it. We need to stand for what we want America to be like not what it is right now.
D: He has the right, but it was the wrong place and the wrong time because of all the veterans present.
T: I actually think it was the perfect place because it got us all to notice it.
S: Also, in the article it says he had been doing it during many games before that one.
M: What it did was draw attention. By doing it on that day it gets everyone thinking about the topic. Everyone knows about Black Lives Matter and police shootings, and now everyone is talking about it. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, and he took a good stand by starting the discussion.
K: The article states: “At this point, I’ve been blessed to be able to get this far and have the privilege of being in the NFL and making the kind of money I make and enjoy luxuries like that. … But I can’t look in the mirror and see other people dying in the street that should have the same opportunities that I’ve had and say, you know what, I can live with myself. Because I can’t if I just watch.” This shows that Kaepernick understands he is in a position to spread the awareness.
S: But he could do it other ways. There are veterans who are risking their lives.
A: I think I disagree with that. This is an example of a peaceful protest and its capturing media attention. Many veterans want to make the country better and support him.
What you’ve just read is the beginning of a discussion my 11th grade AP Language class had last Friday. Students read the article “In the ‘land of the free,’ are you free to sit out the national anthem?” (Source: Jaweed Kaleem, Los Angeles Times, September 1, 2016.) They came to the discussion prepared with both annotated article and a 1-page response.
I’ll admit, I was hesitant to discuss this article. I worried students would get heated, the conversation would break down into name-calling, insults, derogatory comments, and hurt feelings. I worried about this because I’ve seen many adult conversations end this way in the past month. Clearly, I needn’t have worried.
An important piece of this conversation was my absence from it. I remained a quiet observer, listening, typing, and allowing students to lead the discussion. They didn’t know whether I agreed with his actions or not. If I shared my personal opinion it might’ve made students unable to share in a comfortable and confident way. I wanted the conversation to be about what they wanted or needed to say, not what they thought I wanted them to say.
*Side Note*Hearing my students talk so maturely about a topic I’ve seen many adults lose tempers over is both scary and reassuring. It scares me that these students are better able to see another point of view and to disagree without name-calling, yelling, or refusing to listen while adults cannot. But it’s also reassuring for the same reason: all is not lost. The kids, as they say, are alright.
Later in the discussion:
AB: I don’t think it was super effective. His goal was to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead, we’re arguing about whether he should or should not have this right because we’re still not focused on the main issue. If he had not done it during 9/11, more people might have focused on his goal instead of his action.
D: What we are looking at is whether he has the right to kneel. What has been accomplished is not actually what he wanted to accomplish.
AG.: Even the article doesn’t mention Black Lives Matter. It’s about the action.
M: That is a problem with the country, we look at something like this and focus on the individual but not the movement he’s trying to call attention to.
AM: So what would be a better way to call attention to the BLM movement? Protests like in North Carolina? No, because everyone disagrees with that. Taking a knee? No, because everyone disagrees with that. So what is the right way to protest?
This example of civil democratic discourse made me think of all the ways we could improve as adults when discussing topics we might not agree on. Students were trying to determine whether or not it was effective, and if they determined it was not, were actually looking for solutions to the problem rather than arguing just to argue.
I am more committed to bringing in relevant and meaningful articles that students will actually want to discuss rather than shy away from them. I feel empowered because they feel empowered. I want to continue to have these conversations as a class, as a community, and as a nation but I was feeling so tired of the breakdown in communication that I’d gotten to the point where I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
But we should talk about it. We need to talk about it. After all, one of the most beautiful things about living in a democracy is that we have the opportunity to disagree with one another. Disagreements can be conversations, not fights. By challenging what we think, we become surer of ourselves, or not, and both are equally important.
What are you doing to keep the conversation going in a productive way? How are you using civil discourse to seek to understand, to shift perspectives, or to pose solutions?