There is probably no time in life when opinions are stronger and ideas yearn more deeply to be expressed than during adolescence and young adulthood. Brookwood’s eighth grade students are firmly stepping into that period of life and, out of a recognition of their eagerness to engage in thoughtful discussions, grew a class called Current Events.
Taught by Head of School John Peterman, the class was started to give Upper School students a place to express their thoughts and feelings about a national tragedy. “I have been teaching Current Events for 10 years. Following the tragedy of 9/11, it seemed like our oldest students should have a venue to discuss what is going on in the world around them,” John explains. “Plus I wanted to have the opportunity to get to know the eighth graders in an academic setting, so it seemed to make sense to have them in class.”
John selects all the topics, some very current and fleeting and others deeply embedded in our country’s cultural fabric like capital punishment, abortion, civil rights, etc. “There is a website, procon.org, that provides the class with salient points for both sides of many issues. More than what the kids believe, I just want them to challenge their beliefs or defend their beliefs with substantial information,” John says, who began his teaching career in 1976.
Because of the nature of some of the topics of discussion, John communicates closely with Grade 8 parents about the subject of each week’s class. That way the conversations don’t just end at school. “I let parents know when we are discussing potentially controversial topics so they then can join the conversation at home if they’d like,” he says.
A favorite class among students, Current Events truly gives eighth graders a chance to let their voices be heard. “I think they enjoy discussing things that are controversial. I think they are amazed that their best friends might be diametrically opposed to what they believe. And, I think they enjoy stretching their argumentative muscle, as parents know all too well,” John explains. “Our eighth graders are extraordinarily curious and inquisitive while also being so thoughtful about the way in which they disagree with their classmates. It is a beautiful thing to watch.”