The Power of Disagreement

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend an event where Governor Charlie Baker was speaking. It was a fantastic event, and it is always such a pleasure to hear the Governor speak about the state of the Commonwealth and our society. During the discussion, I could not help but be encouraged by a story he shared from his childhood that has shaped his view on debate, disagreement, and decision-making.

Governor Baker shared that his mother was a registered Democrat, and his father was a registered Republican. In his house, while growing up, his parents often engaged in conversations and disagreements on a number of issues. As he reflected on growing up in a household that embraced debate, I want to share two important ideas that resonated with me and are relevant for our students.

First, Governor Baker talked about the idea of surrounding oneself with the best minds regardless of their party affiliation and encouraging debate. He empathized the difference between intellectual disagreement and malicious disagreement. It was a critical distinction. The purpose of debate is not to tear another person down, but to deepen one’s own understanding, as well as the other person’s.

The point he shared was about how his parents and family friends were able to enter into strong arguments over politics, but it never impacted their relationships. By not entering a discussion with malicious intent, they knew that the arguments was about ideas.

Governor Baker’s words ring true if we are to live up to our mission of “develop[ing] life long learners who are informed, engaged, and ethical citizens and leaders in our diverse world.” We must continue our work with students so that they can engage in authentic discussions about what they are learning, the issues in our own community, and current events.

In recent conversations with ninth grade students, it was clear that they want to be a part of intellectual debate. They want to engage in conversations about our world and to dive deeper into the issues. They also shared that they believed the Brimmer community was one that was welcoming of all diversity–race, ethnicity, religious, identity, and intellectual.

We need to continue to teach students to engage in these discussions in order to learn and not to create conflict. In this way, like Governor Baker’s parents and family friends, respectful debate can lead to stronger personal relationships and deeper understanding, instead of creating wedges between people.

A Week of Civic Engagement

Over the past week I had the pleasure of working with a group of students in the Boston Winterim group for Brimmer and May. The week was built to be an exercise in Design Thinking while looking at a way to make a social impact on our community. Students want through a process of identifying an social issue to focus on for the week and eventually chose to look at environmental issues facing our local community.

With the uncertainty that a Design Thinking process can take a team, it wasn’t clear where we would end up. However in the end, it became a deep lesson in environmental issues, civics, local and state politics, and moved past the traditional lens of community service.

To learn more about the impressive week of work(that will continue outside of this week), visit the Hammond Pond Reservation and Webster Woods Improvements site that was setup to record the work.

Learning through Hamilton the Musical

Like many people, I have spent the past year constantly playing the Hamilton soundtrack in the car, on lazy weekend mornings, and other times throughout the week. While the music is infectious, I was hooked by the brilliant way that history is weaved into the lyrics- let’s be honest, writing hit songs about the formation of the country’s national banking system and the Proclamation of Neutrality are not an easy task.

The magic of Hamilton is the way that the musical has brought history to life and engaged millions of people in learning about a part of the country’s past. How was Hamilton so successful? In many ways the show was impactful due to the same qualities that we find in successful classes. We know from research that building student connections to a subject area or topic has a direct impact on the level of learning that occurs in the classroom.

One way that I observed our teachers bringing relevance to their classes was in a ninth grade history class. During the class students were working in small groups discussing Brexit. Groups were tackling the reasons why some citizens wanted to leave the European Union, why other wanted to remain, the impact of the decision to leave the EU, and what it could mean long term. Students were researching information, referencing their readings, and debating the topics with each other. In another class, AP Environmental Science, the teacher was leading a conversation about the Zika Virus. During the conversation the teacher would bring the students back to what they learned and modeled how historians think about modern issues.

This type of learning is indicative of the classroom environments we have at Brimmer. Students are not only learning the important information in the classes, they are also building the 21st Century Skills needed to be successful.

Perhaps the class discussions did not have the same lyrical rhymes as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in the “Cabinet Battle I and II”. However I feel confident that students came up with strong reasons for whether or not Britain threw away its shot.