Let the Kids Disagree
When people disagree well, I take notice. Perhaps it’s because when I have failed to do so, it felt devastating. Once I notice that my words aren’t landing charitably, or that the other person doesn’t feel understood, I know I’ve lost something very important in conversation.
The opportunity to demonstrate healthy disagreement—regardless of if minds are changed or consensus is reached—reflects some of the beautiful paradoxes of Christianity. Ineffective dialogue can ruin this opportunity, and too often it takes people far from the Christian mission of speaking the truth in love.
I am slowly becoming aware of the spiritual, social, and psychological dynamics of conversations, and it has taken sensitive training and correction. Now, I find myself in the precarious role of teaching others what it means to navigate tense conversations… at age 12.
As a 7th-grade science teacher at a Christian school, I didn’t necessarily expect this would be part of my job. Then, as we began exploring life science, genetics, and ethics—hard-hitting topics that even adults disagree on—the students began piping up with questions of their own.
Miss Rollins, if God is all-knowing and all-powerful and is watching over us even when we were just a cell or two, then how come some people are born with disorders?
Welp. Faced with this opportunity I felt several emotions at once; my head went off like a panel of Inside Out characters. I had just told them about how God watches over us since our conception. And as soon as the student finished asking his question, hands shot up across the room—hands from kids who didn’t always participate in our discussion.
These conversations continued as we went on to study biological evolution and biblical creationism. I wasn’t only getting a grasp of how well the kids understood each lesson, but also how they approached dialogue with one another.
I realized one of the most important things I can teach my students is how to apply their academic knowledge into real-life conversations. Even “book smart” students may not be able to articulate their positions in a winsome way, or hear out those on the other side. Robust discussion in a classroom setting can teach students how to disagree well.
I find myself playing the role of a coach, or even a chaperone, in their debates. I force students to ask themselves questions before they speak up and take the time to seriously consider one another’s points of view, and help them practice with role-playing. I repeat lines like:
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