This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Jason Hanson
When I began my first year of teaching in August of 2001, little did I know that in less than two weeks the U.S. would be rocked by the terrorist attacks of September 11th . When that tragedy occurred, I was bombarded by faculty and students as to why this happened and how should we respond? Apparently, the Social Studies teacher could shed light on the topic. Well today, much like back then, I do not have the answers, nor should I. As our nation navigates the waters of a pandemic and civil unrest, I have turned to the values of the Fluency Project for guidance.
The Fluency Project has consistently reminded me that student voices need to be heard, equity must be attained, and relationships need to be created. Modern technology could be the medium in which to achieve these goals. Yet, when I turn on the television or scour the internet all I see and hear are politicians and talking heads from both sides of the extremes pontificate as to what should be done or could have been done to prevent the spread of Covid-19 or much of the civil unrest our country is experiencing. What we are left with are divergent opinions, hurt feelings and no solutions. We can do better with technology.
What is being left out of this “discussion” if you want to call it that, are the voices of the youth that are so confused as to what is going on and what this means for their generation. The only voices of the youth that I hear are slickly produced commercials that seem to make the issues of our day appear cut and dry. These are not organic voices, but attempts by corporations, the media, and politicians to drive a narrative. Technology is being abused.
As a Social Studies teacher, I have prided myself on my ability to avoid telling my students what to think. Instead, I have tried to help my students learn how to think. This has caused a lot of frustration on the part of my students. They are so used to
being technologically indoctrinated from both sides of the political spectrum, that they simply want to be told what to think. This is where I think that THE Social Studies in conjunction with the Fluency Project’s values can be of benefit to our society. While I totally support the emphasis of STEM subjects, I think we have done so at the detriment of Social Studies. There is room for all. We have removed the humanity from education and are now paying the price for it.
Our politicians have sent the subliminal message that Social Studies is not as important as the other subjects. The proof is the way the state assesses student knowledge through standardized testing. For example, one year we tested social studies in junior high only to exclude it the next year due to budget constraints. In other words, Social Studies is important only if we have money to test it. I have always felt protective of my subject matter and I feel that it gets discredited as a “soft science”. However, when our nation gets entangled in geo-political turmoil or civil unrest, it does not seem so soft anymore. These are hard-hitting issues.
The Fluency Project’s goals of creating equity is the only way we are ever going to truly discuss what prevents our nation from ever becoming a “more perfect union”. Honest, transparent dialogue is paramount. This cannot happen if we continue to label each other for our points of view. Giving our students’ agency requires them the freedom to share. That means setting aside our personal beliefs. Technology is providing us the medium to do this. The Fluency meetings have exposed me to countless programs, books, devices, and websites that provide students with a platform for them to share. However, these technologies are futile if we do not equip students with the ability to empathize and to choose what they are passionate about.
The real relationships that students could create are superficial unless we allow it to happen organically. Political groups or agenda-driven special interests are not going to make this happen. If anything, they are going to slow the process down. We as educators (especially in the Social Studies) must resist telling our students what to think, but how to think. That is not equity nor is it choice. Furthermore, students must be trained in how to use technology as a bridge to help people of diverse thought meet in the gray areas of humanity. It appears that technology is being used as a weapon to further divide us into various ideological camps. That is wrong. I see the Social Studies as a ship that can help keep students afloat as they try to determine where to steer. The goal is not to steer them, they must do that on their own. The Fluency Project provides the value system to empower students to begin steering.
Social Studies has been relegated to a quaint life raft that can be thrown out when it is politically or socially expedient. The Fluency Project has taught me that Social Studies education is more important than ever and that the values of student voice, empathy, relationships, and transparency work in harmony with the goals of Social Studies education. Proper use of technology are the ideal means to do this.
I will never truly be able to fully answer why 9/11 happened? or what could have been done to mitigate the initial spread of Covid-19? I cannot answer how history should be viewed? or what prescription our country needs to mend itself? However, what I can do is use Social Studies education and the values of the Fluency Project to give students the opportunity to explore these issues on their own, honestly, and transparently. Hopefully, technology can be just the medium to do it.
Jason Hanson graduated from The Ohio State University in 2000 with a major in Psychology and a minor in Geography. He earned his Master’s in Social Studies Education from Ohio State in 2001. Jason began a career as a high school Social Studies teacher at Bishop Donahue High School in McMechen, WV. He will begin his 20th year of teaching where 16 has been spent at Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, OH.
Jason has coached numerous sports including baseball, football, and girls’ basketball.
Jason currently is a member of Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Jason’s special interests include drawing and reading.