Students file into American History class and take their seats. The teacher finishes a few last clicks on his computer and then walks to the front of the room.
“Before we plow into today’s lesson, I wanted to check in on how your team reports are going. Anyone learning anything interesting so far?” he asks.
A few hands go up.
“Yes, Audrey, what have you been learning?”
“Well, I realize there’s a lot I didn’t know about Prohibition. I kinda thought it was pretty straight forward, but as I’ve looked into it more with my partner, I’ve been kinda surprised,” Audrey says.
“Yeah,” another student says, jumping in, “It’s like history is just as messed up as the news. You never really know what’s going on.”
“Well, you might know more if you weren’t constantly Tweeting, Kyle,” another student teases.
“Whatever. You get plenty of information from Twitter,” Kyle shoots back.
“Okay, okay,” the teacher interrupts, “Let’s just say we want to make sure we broaden our sources of information, alright? We’re not here to pick on each other’s social media habits.
“So, anyone hitting any roadblocks? Struggling to find information or sift through the facts?”
A hand goes up at the back of the room.
“What if you can’t convince your partner she’s wrong?”
The teacher pauses a moment.
“Well, Libby, you might need to elaborate more on what you mean.”
“What I mean is the facts are right there and my partner refuses to accept them. It’s like no matter what I say or how much evidence I show her, she’s still refusing to accept them as fact,” Libby says.
“Hmm,” the teacher says. “Any thoughts class?”
“Well, Libby’s partner just needs to accept the facts. Facts are truth, so it doesn’t make sense that her partner can’t see that,” offers a student sitting next to Libby.
“Uh, I’m Libby’s partner, and I’m not the one with the problem,” Connie finally says. “I have given Libby plenty of facts and SHE’s the one who won’t accept them as truth. She’s so hung up on just one thing that she can’t let go of, that she won’t accept the truth right in front of her.”
“Alright, let’s put the brakes on this discussion for a little bit and take a slight detour. Amber, you said that facts are truth and it should be obvious to everyone. Here’s a fact for you. People see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. It’s true. Studies have shown time and again that a number of people can be watching or listening to the same thing and walk away with completely different “facts” about what they saw and heard.
“That says something. That’s a fact worth remembering as you try to put yourselves in the perspective of the key players in history. They saw what they wanted to see, they heard what they wanted to hear.
“Let’s turn that fact around a little bit, changing it from a positive statement to a negative statement. People don’t see what they don’t want to see. They don’t hear what they don’t want to hear. It’s like we become blind and deaf to information we don’t like.
“So are facts obvious to everyone? According to the facts, no.
“The only way to change what we see and hear is by changing what we want. What do we want to see and hear? Do we want to just see and hear what we already know? Are we seeking to understand another perspective?
“I want to challenge each of you, not just Libby and Connie, to think about yourselves. What do you want? Do you want to see and hear facts that simply support your arguments? Are you willing to see and hear something else? It’s good to question what we think we know. If everyone took the time to consider these questions, we may be studying completely different historical events.”
The teacher pauses to let his profound comments sink in.
“Alright class,” he continues, “Let’s go ahead and move on to today’s lesson. Feel free to meet with me anytime you need help on your reports.”
The teacher turns on the projector and begins a presentation on early settlers of the American colonies.
Eventually the bell rings and the students stand up and gather their things. Libby makes her way to the teacher. Connie isn’t far behind.
“Look, I can’t do this report. My partner isn’t willing to see the facts… doesn’t want to see the facts… and we’re getting nowhere,” Libby says.
“It’s not me,” Connie interrupts. “She’s the one not doing her part. I’m just trying to see it from both sides.”
The teacher faces the students and folds his arms.
“This report is challenging, I know. It can be hard working on these issues,” the teacher says. “Think a little bit more about what I said at the beginning of class and see if you can work things out.
“One thing I didn’t share that may also help is — try validating. Look for where you agree before you move into where you disagree. It helps to find common ground before trying to resolve differences. Just give it a try.”
The girls look at each other.
“Fine,” says Libby.
“Fine,” says Connie.
The two walk out into the hallway. There’s a short pause.
“Look, I know I can be intense sometimes,” Libby says as she finally faces Connie. “I do want to get this report done too, and maybe we just need to take a step back.”
“It’s not all you. I probably haven’t been the best partner either,” Connie says. “Try again?”
“Yeah, sure,” Libby says. ” Um, maybe we can meet after school?”
“Yeah,” Connie says.
“Uh, why not come over to my house. I don’t want you thinking I’m a complete jerk,” Libby says, giving a half smile.
“Yeah, that sounds great,” Connie says.
“Cool. Well, see ya,” Libby says.
“Yeah, see ya,” Connie says as they move on to their next class.