George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Guiding Students in Finding Their Truth

February 23, 2015

What is your students' relationship with truth? It may seem like an odd question, but knowing your middle and high school students' relationship to the truth may tell you a lot about their character and their path to future success.

Tavis Smiley raises this point in his new book about the last year of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. titled, Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had opinions about segregation, education, housing, and local, state, and federal laws. He also had opinions about how people should live together and treat one another.

Tavis Smiley felt that one of the most distinctive characteristics of Dr. King was his relationship to the truth. He always tried to ally with the truth. Of course, he also knew that others disagreed with him, believing in other truths.

In the Classroom

So what does Tavis Smiley suggest we can do for our young people?

1. Have a conversation with them about how they know when something is true.

This should include things they read, internet information (including photos), things they learn from media sources, and things they believe about other people and about relationships.

A related conversation is about the values they hold most closely. Books like Urban Dreams: Stories of Hope, Resilience, and Character help teens think about their values by reading about peers' values, and how and why they came to hold them.

2. Present these four aspects of truth and discuss them with your students.

  1. You have to Seek the Truth. You can't assume it's coming your way. Many people want to get you to agree with them and hold their opinions, but it's not necessarily the truth. You also have to feel the truth is right. If you have doubts, continue to seek.
  2. Speak. Once you believe something is true, you have to communicate it clearly. That's why it becomes so important to have good writing and speaking skills, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did. If you can't express your ideas in ways that people can understand, the truth is not being well served.
  3. Stand By. Know how to defend your point of view. Avoid peer pressure, with is really following other people's goals for you. Act like an upstander for your values, especially with your peers. It takes courage, but this is what it means to be a person of character.
  4. Stay With. People who are always shifting their point of view and values lack integrity. Tell your students the following: Your problem-solving skills and ability to overcome obstacles are important. Your values matter, too, but don't be afraid to reevaluate them. However, this must be serious. You can't shift just because there is some questioning. Think it through, and do what makes the most sense to you.

3. Spread the truth. Encourage children to know that if you believe it, share it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a famous and important letter from the Birmingham jail. Ask your students to read it, and ask them why they think he wrote it. Help them see that it was not enough for Dr. King to know and believe the truth. It had to be spread to others.

Setting the Historical Context

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 similarly required extensive communication, not only about the march itself but also about the principles of nonviolence that had to govern the marchers, regardless of provocation. If the truth were only held by a select few, our nation would be a very different place today. This will also lead to a discussion about how individuals differ about the truth.

Those who supported segregation believed (and, sadly, still believe) in the truth of separation of races. This is another reason to follow the four aspects of truth and to spread what you believe, when you believe it strongly, while being respectfully open to, and analytical about, disagreement.

Talking to your students about truth can help build their values and, most of all, their sense of integrity. That is a quality that will serve them well in college and careers.

What are your thoughts and ideas on this post? Please share in the comments section below.

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Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Curriculum Planning
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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