In recent years, teens and young adults exceedingly get involved in social issues.
According to Kim Samson, assistant head of school at Hawken School’s upper school in Chester Township, and Camille Seals, director of the Aspire program and director of multicultural affairs at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, students are inspired because the world has changed.
“The world has changed so significantly, so we are preparing students to navigate a world that is very different from the one many of us grew up in,” Seals said. “When I look at this group of kids, we have this first generation for which openness and inclusion have been part of the narrative since they were born.”
Both professionals said schools have a duty to educate students about issues like race, sexuality and consent.
“It is my belief that what we are doing is educating kids to become responsible citizens and lead a better world in the future,” Samson noted. “We want to be better than we are now and it’s about preparing the next generation for a higher plane of life. Another part of our focus is on developing character and intellect. It is incumbent upon us to graduate students who think not just academically, but also think about social issues and be part of the conversation.”
Seals added, “I find it is a requirement to teach these students what these issues are, what the history is and how to navigate the conversations. They are going out in the world where some of the things that were taboo to talk about aren’t now, at least not for them.”
Increased social involvement in teens and young adults can be credited to the time they spend online.
“The current political scene and the ways students use and have access to social media, it used to be for students to know what was going on in the world, they’d have to read the news or tune in,” Samson explained. “Now, they are able to get these snippets quickly and are more aware of what the topics are out there. But, that is where we have another responsibility in forcing them to seek greater depth.”
Seals noted, “Access to information is very different. When I think about a kid doing research, if you wanted to do a paper, you went to the library and they helped you pick a book. That is not the case anymore. Information is easily accessible in ways that it never was. The world is so different and the consciousness has changed. They are growing up in a world where they are constantly exposed to ideas, so they are less resistant to engaging in these conversations, even if they don’t agree.”
When teaching students about sensitive social issues, Seals said an educator’s role is important.
“Our job is to present them with the data and facilitate the understanding of what they’ve been presented with so they can arrive at their own conclusions,” she stated. “When I am talking to students about race and gender, I tell them the reason they are hearing about this is that it goes back years and generations. That it is rooted in something, it didn’t just happen overnight.”
Samson said educators also need to present other opinions.
“Our role is to be sure that we give students exposure to important topics and the opportunities to discuss them, and offer alternative perspectives and listen to alternative prospects,” she noted. “The idea is to make sure they are comfortable to be in a setting where people don’t agree.”
Seals added, “Every issue is just as complex as the fabric of humanity. And it is important to honor those nuances as you navigate these complex social issues.”