Yesterday I was getting my hair cut when my hair dresser asked me if I was a student.
"Actually no I'm a high school teacher" I replied
"Oh really, where do you teach?" . I told her I taught in Philly. She makes a face, "Oh wow isn't that where the schools have asbestos problems and they're closing the buildings and all? I can't imagine how you all deal with that!"
Uh thanks? I think to myself . I never know what to say in moments like this. She's pointing out a tough situation that I nor my students have the privilege of escaping from. It's an awkward feeling that makes me feel silenced. At first, I dealt with the thought of asbestos in my classroom by telling myself "just don't let the kids punch holes in the walls...you'll be fine!". However, with each dude that came into my classroom to inspect the piping for asbestos ("don't puncture the walls and you'll be fine" they told me) it became clearer to me how widespread the neglect of Philly's students and teachers really was.
At the end of the day, it's not the asbestos in my floors and walls that I'm worried about. It's how the issue of neglect is affecting the public, my coworkers, and my students that I'm worried about.
Teachers are always trying to get their students to be "critical thinkers" but what does that term really mean? I've struggled with defining what it means to be a critical thinker for a while now, especially as I try to teach that skill to my students. It's obviously much harder to teach something that I struggle to define myself. As I watch my students practice critical engagement in Harrisburg in a way that I never did as a teenager, I'm wondering how my definition of critical awareness has changed over time.
Brene Brown defines critical awareness in her book Daring Greatly as the following.
The concept of critical awareness is sometimes called critical consciousness or critical perspective. It's the belief that we can increase personal power by understanding the link between our personal experiences and larger social systems.
What better way to increase their power as students than to engage directly with those in power in Harrisburg. In an age where youth lead the way in raising awareness for climate change, gun control, LGBQT rights, and more....sounds like they know more about what it means to be critically aware than we give them credit for.
So..the question becomes, how can I create opportunities for my students to exercise, strengthen, and practice critical awareness in my science classes? Here, Brene Brown breaks down the steps towards practicing critical awareness.
Practicing critical awareness means linking our personal experiences to what we learn from the questions and answers. When we do this, we move toward resilience by learning how to
Help students zoom out and see the big picture. Guide students in linking their own personal experiences with that big picture. Then, provide students with the opportunities and tools to share what they know with others. In the spring I begin teaching a course called Science & Society where I hope to experiment more with these ideas with my students. For now, I'm still in the brainstorming phase.....to be continued.