It’s no surprise students and young adults will lead the future, but they often times do not have a place to express their views or have open discussions at school without feeling constant judgement or tension from fellow classmates or even teachers.
Contemporary World Issues Honors is an elective course in which students are given the opportunity to openly express their opinions regarding controversial topics that are sometimes not brought into light in a traditional classroom setting, all while being educated on the importance of having conversations and listening to others. Lauren Zasadil, AP US History and World History CP teacher, found a solution to the lack of conversation among young adults. By creating this class students have a space to lead forums and to talk to one another about current events, politics and social issues.
“It seemed like students really wanted a forum to talk about a lot of things, so I decided to make a class that was [in a] curriculum [where] you could talk about anything and you could talk about it for as long as you wanted until people got the word,” said Zasadil.
In its second year, WHS’s Contemporary World Issues Honors is meant to inform students of current global issues while generating a discourse among the students to speak and listen to each other’s opinions.
“I feel like what’s happening in the world, especially in America, there seems to be a loss of the skill of talking to people that aren’t like you and don’t believe like you do, and our discourse has been denigrated a little bit where we can’t even talk to each other anymore,” said Zasadil. “I wanted to create a forum where people could talk it out and understand each other a little bit more where they’re coming from and hopefully humanize the other side a little bit.”
So far this year, Contemporary World Issues Honors has covered a variety of topics such as the controversy surrounding the Nike ad with Colin Kaepernick and, most recently, Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and Senate hearings.
“The class is kind of student run so for the first little bit right now we are going over the basic philosophy, classical liberalism and stuff like that, and then after that there is an assessment based on it,” said Ned Jacobs ‘19. “We choose what topics we want to talk about and we have debates and open discussions, and every Friday there are current events where someone chooses something to talk about and then we discuss it.”
The class works as a safe space for students to have the freedom to talk about controversial themes without a restriction on what is deemed too inappropriate to discuss at school, with exceptions to debates or forums that may get out of hand in which a teacher may intervene.
“[Zasadil] sits in the corner and has a student run the debate,” said Claire Adams ‘19.
“It’ll go back and forth but she will never let it go out of hand. No one can be mean to another person, and we have to be polite and let someone speak.”
During debates, students are faced with disagreements and opposing arguments, but this does not discourage them from expressing their views, but rather serves as an educational opportunity for them to listen and understand everyone’s opinion.
“I think opposing views are very important in discourse, especially politically because there is never an answer to something unless its a statistical question,” said Jacobs. “For me, the most important part is understanding that different people have different upbringings.”
Students have praised the course as an environment where they are able to have a meaningful voice in society, one in which they feel their voices and actions will shape the future of America.
“I think it’s important that students become aware of the current issues that are going on in our world since a lot of us are going to go on and vote,” said Adams. “I think if we know about the issues, then we can do something about it.”
Despite teaching the course for six months after going on maternity leave for the first half of the year, Zasadil is excited for the future of Contemporary World Issues Honors as an outlet for student expression.
“I’m excited for the class,” said Zasadil. “I’m excited for this year. The classes are super different and super interesting and everyone should take it next year, that’s the goal. The goal is to get as many people to take it as possible.”
With the year only just beginning, students of the course already have their goals with what they hope to learn and achieve from the class this school year.
“My goal going into it was just [that] I want to debate with people because I really love debate, but I can already tell my real goal is understanding other sides of the aisle coming from my political perspective or any political perspective,” said Jacobs. “In this very polarized time, it’s really easy to demonize the other side and I think it’s really important that this class is teaching us to be more understanding of people with different views.”