Teaching Children to Disagree
"Not long ago I watched an animated group of second graders happily share their opinions about a children’s picture book. They were responding to their teacher’s open-ended question about what might have motivated one of the characters in the book.
As they chatted with partners, I heard students say things like, “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with that because on this page, the author said . . .” or “I see what you’re saying, but I wonder if . . .” These were second graders! It was impressive to see children so young using such respectful and articulate language.
I was especially struck by these students’ ability to cheerfully disagree because it seems to be a skill that many adults, including me, never fully developed. In my case, no one ever explicitly taught me how to disagree, much less encouraged me to practice. Instead, I was left to figure it out on my own.
I learned from reading scenes in books or watching characters on television—which mainly taught me how to state my case and then dramatically exit a room. I watched people I loved sometimes disagree, but without getting into any specifics, I can tell you that their skills were pretty low in this area.
And at school? I don’t think anyone even wanted me to disagree. These second graders are already so far ahead of me! It’s exciting to imagine how, with continued teaching, guidance, and feedback from teachers and other caring adults, these children might experience workplaces, politics, and home lives in adulthood that might look so much different and better than our own."
Interactive Modeling of language that children can use to disagree with one another is just one facet of the Responsive Classroom curriculum used at PS 230.