Here is a draft of a sample letter you can send to parents before you begin holding class news meetings.
I wanted to let you know that we’ll be starting daily news discussions in the classroom this week. We’ll be learning what news reporters do, what the role of the media is in our society, and how to read a newspaper and analyze a news report.
Our discussions will focus partly on top news stories of the day, for instance Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. But we’ll also talk about stories just because they’re fun and interesting — for example a story about a neuroscientist who wondered if his dog really loved him or if the pooch was just in it for the treats. He spent years training dogs to willingly undergo MRIs so he could scan their brains and learn more about what they think. (Spoiler alert: our dogs love us more than they love yummy food.)
Part of the point of this unit is to learn how to read and understand the news, and to learn how to have productive and respectful discussions. But another point is more simple: for the students just to discover something new, have fun talking about it and then hopefully share it. As a parent, I’m learning what it’s like to be away from your child all day and then, when you’re back together again, have a discussion that goes nowhere. “What did you do at school today?” too often can be answered in just two or three syllables. Other teachers who have started holding daily class news meetings have found that their students go home more engaged, excited to tell their families about something they learned, interested in sharing a fun tidbit or their opinion on a larger issue. News meetings also help students feel more connected with the larger world and their role in it.
I understand that this is a divisive time in our country in terms of politics, so want to assure you that class news meetings are not about criticizing our government, attacking people who hold different political opinions, or trying to change anyone’s minds about deeply-held beliefs. While it may be unavoidable that a topic may touch on politics, our goal always will be to discuss it with respect; if this cannot be done, we will put the topic “on hold” until we’re able to do so. Ultimately, though, politics aren’t at the heart of these meetings, which are about how to connect with the world, find your voice, and more simply learn to find and talk about interesting stuff. Topics in other classrooms over the past month have included: a Dutch city that built the world’s largest bicycle parking garage; a city in India where the stray dogs are considered community pets and cared for by everyone; and the six-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway house in Key West surviving Hurricane Irma.
We will be using the New York Times for our discussions. It is a respected national newspaper that adheres to professional journalism standards and is considered a “gold standard” in terms of reporting. I do appreciate, though, that some consider the New York Times to be a liberal, left-leaning or progressive newspaper. I want to emphasize again that these discussions are not going to focus on politics or on the newspaper’s editorial stance. However, if anyone is uncomfortable with the Times being the only newspaper in our classroom, and would like to donate a subsciption to another respected national newspaper for us to discuss alongside it, I would appreciate that contribution. I would suggest The Wall Street Journal, as a respected national newspaper that adheres to professional journalism standards and is considered a more conservative or right-leaning publication.
I’m excited about these discussions and am hope you are, too. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like more details.