In this blog post, Jenna Schemenauer describes her experiences with using deliberation in her high school Contemporary Issues class. She also writes about creating issue discussion guides for use in deliberative forums with other students.
By Jenna Schemenauer
When I first started out this semester of Contemporary Issues, I was a bit worried about the idea of deliberations because I am stubborn and can be closed-minded. Hearing the differing opinions of others at the time did not interest me at all. However, even after the first deliberation, my opinion completely changed. It was absolutely intriguing to hear everybody's thoughts on a topic and the possible solutions that could fix an issue. When a person is close-minded, they don’t always gain access to the knowledge of others, and that can be a shame to miss out on. If I hadn’t been a part of this class or these deliberations, I would have never even considered half of the solutions to all of the problems or topics we discussed.
Creating my own issue guides in this class allowed me to dig deep into an issue and use an open mind to come up with solutions. We also worked with groups to create most of our issue guides, and that allowed me to hear the opinions of other people who I may not have ever talked to earlier. I enjoyed hearing the opinions, thoughts, and ideas of everybody else in my class because it allowed us to concoct real life solutions to real life problems. I actually enjoyed deliberations and creating issue guides so much that I would constantly look forward to having or creating the next one!
We did focus our time occasionally on local issues, and with our created issue guides and deliberations, we came up with real solutions that could be used to better our community. My groups specifically focused on the opioid epidemic in our community, as well as sexual assault. We came up with plausible solutions, that along with discussion with local leaders, real change could be made. For example, we came up with ways to bring social awareness to our community using classes and seminars to educate people on the opioid epidemic. We also came up with an idea of creating classes by medical professionals for families of addicted users. They can learn how to best support their family member, and offer their assistance to them. For sexual assault, we came up with ideas to change local legislation and offer community self-defense classes.
I would have never even considered possibly coming up with solutions to these issues before this class. Big problems that concern a lot of Americans can be daunting and intimidating to create solutions to, because everybody has differing opinions on topics, and not everybody may approve of a plausible solution. However, a combination of the Contemporary Issues class and the issue guides allowed me to create solutions without worrying about the judgment of others, because through deliberation, anything can be discussed, changed, or agreed on!
Social Studies teacher Stacey Jackson describes her Contemporary Issues class and how she helps students like Jenna learn about and use deliberation:
My Contemporary Issues class is structured to help guide students through the inquiry process, from developing research questions regarding current issues through action planning based on research and analysis. Currently, the class is comprised of a mixture of 9th-12th grades. Students begin the semester exploring one topic as a whole class, using a National Issues Forums (NIF) Issue Guide as a starting point and model, to learn about developing multiple options for problem solving as well as an introduction to the structure of deliberation (in comparison to discussion or debate).
Throughout the course, students start to take on more and more of the work, developing their options through research in progressively smaller groups on progressively individualized topics, until they complete each step of the process independently at the end of the semester. Students have explored diverse issues ranging from the US relationship with the Middle East, to vaping among students in our building, to the nationwide prevalence of sexual assault. Ultimately, my goals are that students develop a broader perspective on controversial topics, that they see how they fit into the context of these topics, and they begin to recognize their capacity as a member of the local, national, and global community.
For more information about her work, contact Stacey Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org