Today’s blog post will follow a somewhat different format – instead of writing about an interesting article of the day, I would like to speak about a topic that has gained a tremendous amount of news coverage in recent weeks: the Obama administration’s health care proposal.
With all of the controversy swirling around this event, young students have doubtless been exposed to a flurry of stories, videos and opinions on their favorite social networking sites. With every news show come images of vehement pundits and protesters trying to attract public opinion to their point of view. Knowing that students are struggling to take in and process information picked up through these means, how can you help them make sense of such a hotly debated and politically charged issue?
To me, this is where critical thinking and problem solving skills become especially important. Teachers should encourage students to research the health care debate and produce relevent (and reputable!) news items and facts about the proposed plan and the current state of our health care system. Once students have gathered information and have a better understanding of the current state of affairs, ask them to make connections between the facts and ideas that they have gathered.
At this stage, it is especially important to ask students to let go of what they “already know” and form an opinion based on the facts that they have discovered. Encourage them to ask (and answer!) their own questions. How many people currently don’t have access to health care? What will the proposed system cost? What impact will it have on American citizens? How can such a plan be implemented? Are there other factors to consider?
Once students have brainstormed about the topic, ask them to each come up with a few ideas on how they, personally, would address the issues facing health care in our country. Let them collaborate with one another to come up with “alternative” proposals that they can then present to the class. Allow students to ask questions about the presentations – but only if these questions are respectful and add to the class understanding of the matter. You can even assign “roles” to students to help them come up with questions (ie doctor, government leader, someone who already has health insurance, someone who is ill, etc.).
By encouraging students to do their own research and interact with the facts at hand, you will allow them not only to build their critical thinking skills, but also to build an informed opinion with which to weigh in on the debate.