Friday, 12 September 2014

So let's Compare and Contrast

So here's the thing. This appeared on my Facebook feed today. A Grade 6 Washington D.C. teacher assigned her class a compare and contrast assignment and there has been major back lash because she was using a Scholastic text about Hitler and WWII to contrast with an article written about George W. Bush and the Iraq War, a text the school board admits was used the previous year in a separate unit.

So where is the issue? What is the fuss about? Have we not been using compare and contrast as a tool to promote higher order thinking skills for a while now in classrooms? Or was it because politics have gotten in the way? Or because the president in question is still living? Has American society (and perhaps Canadian as well) become so polarized that even a classroom discussion contrasting events cannot be envisioned? Or was the furor over the idea that behaviour we consider most extreme, like that of Hitler, should be compared to anyone at all? Then how do we talk about Stalin, Mao or Genghis Khan? The teacher has been reprimanded for using poor judgement even though both texts have been approved by the board.

So was this an exercise that should have been left for a higher grade level? Or was it the idea that questioning past historical events is not acceptable? Would a compare and contrast between Andrew Jackson, he of the Trail of Tears and Hitler have been acceptable? Or between Sir John A. MacDonald and his policy of starving the natives and Hitler been ok? When do we discuss eugenics? The cleansing of people with developmental delays through sterilization in Canada? Residential schools? Using aboriginals in starvation experiments? The internment of the Japanese in World War II and the internment of Germans in the Great War in Canada and the US? How do we discuss war, genocide, hate literature and the general ugly side of human behaviour in class and at what grade if this simple compare and contrast exercise is abjured?

Are not we, as teachers, required to look under the rocks of history and peer at subjects that are difficult to discuss? Because if we don't discuss them, challenge enshrined beliefs and ask our students to look objectively at issues of the day, what will we discuss with them? And if part of our role is to encourage citizenship, critical analysis and critical thought how do we do that when we can't even ask the questions?