The Role of Current Events in Elementary Education

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Introduction

The role of teaching current events in elementary school is multifaceted and must be approached with sensitivity. While it is important to instill an interest in contemporary events this must not be done with a force to derail a child’s innocence; hence, why the discussion of teaching children based on age or ability. Critical thinking skills must be cultivated so that children develop the ability to learn that stories have more than two sides if the next generation will be able to end cycles of polarizing and demonizing which characterizes news. However, the benefits outweigh the risks, and a knowledge of current events may help youth feel more a part of their community.

Involving the Young

Over the past few decades the immediacy and influence of current events has become more apparent largely due to the transparency and action made accessible through the Internet. Teachers and parents have quickly realized their children are not only totally ignorant of current events, but have largely no interest in it. Research has found that only “37% of American teens could find Iraq on a world map. The report concluded that the majority of young adults ‘demonstrate a limited understanding of the world.’ Yes, the studies and surveys are depressing, but change is in the air” (Zimmerman). A fine balance is required here, for so much of current events is negative. While there are positive current events available they take some searching out, but if students are going to become engaged in their current world they must not become bogged down by the negative influence of skewed news. 

Overwhelming negative news is the main reasons youth do not seek out awareness of current events. After all, childhood can be a period of relative innocence and respite from the stresses which plague adults and contribute to such stress, as in the aftermath discussions regarding the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting. Justly, teachers admit “I’m also nervous about putting an ‘adult newspaper’ into my 3rd graders' hands. I don’t want to expose my students to overly mature or downright inappropriate content” (Zimmerman). This risk must be avoided, the negative balanced with the positive, as;

Current events are necessarily relevant and provide connections to all curriculum areas. As students read and discuss current events, they analyze point of view, evaluate text claims, and determine the important ideas within a text. And news stories are generally short texts — perfect for shared reading, Socratic circle discussions, and homework assignments. (Zimmerman)

Also, part and parcel in teaching elementary students about current events should be teaching children critical thinking skills they will need to see through editorial slant, misrepresentation, and outright propaganda. Much of the current events is represented through an extremely polarized slant, and if this slant is not analyzed educators will be unwittingly help children become more polarized in their thinking. This is because it is easier to think in black and white, ones and twos, rather than delve into the complexity inherent in reality. Critical thinking skills can begin to be taught at any age, and will empower youths to see not only what it being relayed through current events, but what is being left out. 

In this way current events education done properly will help youths prepare to contribute to the discussion, debate, and analysis of culture without such limited perspective. One way to accomplish this is when teaching on a current event read about from multiple sources and multiple perspectives. Children can learn about critical thinking and investigative tactics through seeking out what sources are affiliated with whom, what do they represent, and why. This will help youth see that how current events is understood is largely part of a cultural filter. If possible, sources from other countries should be utilized to encourage a foreign perspective, which is especially lacking in today’s youth and completely absent from mainstream media (Education World). 

Understanding the need for this there are many news sources geared towards children in order to prepare them for active participation in the world. These sources include:

Scholastic News, a weekly magazine, provides articles on current events in an age-appropriate manner.

Time for Kids features articles on national and world news, entertainment, science, and sports. Teachers may choose a subscription geared for their grade level. The online version also offers printables and quizzes.  

Weekly Reader is published for elementary, middle, and high school students and covers science, health, current events, and literature.

Scholastic News Online is a free resource with breaking news and highlights from the print magazine, above. The Web site is ad free and, like the print version, age appropriate.

Scholastic News Kids Press Corps presents articles and multimedia features written by kid reporters. I use this to inspire my students to become news reporters, too.

Washington Post KidsPost offers articles geared towards upper elementary and middle school, mostly on human interest and science topics. The Web site is fairly ad heavy.

The Learning Network of the New York Times is written for middle school and up. They provide curated articles and blog posts on topics relevant to students. I always preview these articles before sending my students to the computers to read. (Zimmerman)

Clear Benefits

Also, there are many genres of current events (sociological, environmental, political, arts, humanities, etc.) and rather than laying too much responsibility on any one teacher to broach this subject all teachers could involve current events which resonate with the subject they teach (Busy Teacher; Deveci). Research has shown that children who are exposed to current events have many benefits which enhance all education. A few of these benefits are:

1. build language, vocabulary, reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem solving, oral expression, and listening skills.

2. develop informed citizens and lifelong newsreaders. Studying current events helps students understand the importance of people, events, and issues in the news; it stimulates students to explore and learn more about the news, and to pay attention to the news they see and hear outside of school.

3. provide a ‘writing model’ Students can learn by imitating the clear, concise style of news writing.

4. help teachers teach media literacy skills

5. can open up communications between students and parents. Students are often eager to emulate their parents' newsreading behaviors, and talking about the news is one way for parents to engage students in adult conversation.

6. offer ideal opportunities for cooperative-group instruction, classroom discussions and debates, purposeful follow-up writing, and much more. (Education World)

Balance the New and Old

Newspaper and print media is suffering from the ease of access which the Internet provides, while the Internet is contributing to screen addiction and the addled focus which the medium creates. What is needed is again, balance between the digital and print, for each has a unique way of engaging the mind and heart (Student News Net). There is a coldness which emanates from digital technology which can lead to emotionally distancing oneself from the information gained therein. This may be one of the reasons today’s youth appear much more detached and callous than ever before. Thus, exposure to print media and other current affairs artifacts may help the young to be drawn out of the digital matrix to become more engaged in the tactile and emotional world (Spiegler). 

However, watching television news should be avoided for youth due to the fact that the television is the most effective mind control device man has ever created. Only those people who have a strongly defined sense of self and the ability to critically think stand a chance of overcoming the hypnotic effects of television;

Your subconscious mind, which carries all your memories and beliefs and makes you who you are, is directly programmed by watching television. Your mind slips into the hypnotic trance state within seconds of watching TV. This lowers your brainwaves to a lower ‘alpha state’ commonly associated with meditation and deep relaxation. This is believed to be caused by the screen flicker and explains why you feel sleepy while watching TV. (Parvez)

There are many tools for educators who want to include current events in their classrooms in a positive way which encourage critical thinking. One such method is the developing of mind maps. This is also called a semantic web, and “if you want to discuss Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf Coast, start off by writing the word “Hurricane Isaac” and draw a circle around it. Ask students: What do you know about Hurricane Isaac?” (Spiegler). This can help youth find ways to investigate many topics, as well as help them see the interconnected nature of current events. This can lead to classroom debate where children learn to hone their critical thinking skills even as they learn to listen to the value of other’s perspectives. Healthy debate can help children strengthen their understanding of a topic as well as how their understanding effects those around them. 

Conclusion

Teaching current events is a good way to help youth’s see beyond their own immediate concerns and place themselves into the larger context of the world. This increases empathy even as it enhances literary skills. Youth can be helped to see that young as they are they still play a vital role in world events, and many current events stories relate how children have contributed new ideas and inventions. However, this investment must be balanced with positive news, critical thinking, and an eye for the slant to avoid the propaganda techniques inherent in the communication of current events. Helping youth overcome these hurdles of perception may enable and empower more diverse current events reporting in the future.

Works Cited

Busy Teacher. “How to Teach Current Events to ESL Students.” Busyteacher.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://busyteacher.org/4964-how-to-teach-current-events-to-esl-students.html

Deveci, Handan. “Teachers’ Views on Teaching Current Events in Social Studies.” Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice 7.1 (January 2007), pp. 446-451. Retrieved from: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-1369684841/teachers-views-on-teaching-current-events-in-social

Education World. “Why teach current events?” Educationworld.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr084.shtml

Parvez, Hanan. “How TV influences your mind through hypnosis.” Psych Mechanics, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.psychmechanics.com/2015/03/how-tv-influences-your-mind-through.html

Spiegler, Jinni. “5 Brilliant Tips for Teaching Current Events to Younger Students.” Teach Hub, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.teachhub.com/5-brilliant-tips-teaching-current-events-younger-students

Student News Net. “Today in the News.” Studentnewsnet.com, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.studentnewsnet.com/index.php?fuseaction=home.login

Zimmerman, Alycia. “Extra, Extra, Read All About It! Current Events in the Classroom.” Scholastic.com, 21 Sept. 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/classroom-solutions/2011/09/extra-extra-read-all-about-it-current-events-classroom