Harry Wong
Dec 2017
Vol 14 No 4

What Should We Teach Our Students About Social Issues – The Whole Truth Or A Watered-Down Version?

By Linda R. Young

Dennis Prager in a recent article titled, “Hillary, Donald, and the Nadir of American Democracy,” sadly but truthfully laments that  Donald Trump is, ”mean spirited.” “His assertion that John McCain, a man tortured for years, while a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, was not a hero because he had been “captured after being shot down”


As part of the third grade Social Studies standards in the state of California, we have asked students to,“Discuss the importance of  public virtue and the role of citizens.” This includes how one should participate in a classroom, in the community, and in civic life. We have also asked students to “Describe the lives of American heroes who took risks to secure our freedoms.”

But how do you begin to explain public virtue and heroism when so many disparaging remarks have been leveled against one of America’s true public heroes, Senator John McCain?

I would never be able to tell my students that Senator McCain was not a war hero, bur Donald Trump has no problem divulging to everyone that this was not the case. What constitutes a real hero? Students learn early on that folks like Dr. Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Cesar Chavez, and Harriet Tubman were all heroes for a variety of reasons.  During the Vietnam War, John McCain survived interrogation, solitary confinement, torture, broken bones, and the list goes on and on. The United States government recognized that he was a hero and decorated him with the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Flying Cross. I don’t have a single family member that served in the Vietnam War much less received a medal of honor.

My students were always thoughtful, insightful, and riddled with questions regardless of the topic. They were taught to analyze and synthesize concrete information. Don’t think for one minute that they would not have had many observations related to Mr. Donald Trump and Senator John McCain. But first, I would be obligated to spend time explaining to seven and eight year olds what public virtue means. “Boys and girls, public virtue means that you have good behavior, good character, and always try to do what you think is the right thing.” I would next ask, “How many of you think you have good behavior and character?”

Explain why or why not?


There was an article Tuesday, July 21, 2015 by Michael E. Miller and Fred Barbash of the Washington Post titled, “What Trump Was up to While McCain Was a POW.” This would be a perfect example of how to use the skill of comparing and contrasting. Each student would receive a copy of the aforementioned article that we could dissect to find adjectives that describe Mr. Donald Trump and Senator John McCain. How are they different and how are they similar? I’m sure they would find words like “loud-mouthed,” “money-making,” “fancy,” “outrageous,” “sweet-talking,” “scorn,” and “belittled” for Mr. Trump. A few of the adjectives for Senator McCain as described by Secretary of State John Kerry would be far different. Words like, “Grit,” “guts,” “character,” “spirit,” and “respect.” In terms of similarities, both men possessed “rebellious streaks” when they were younger. You can be rebellious without being mean-spirited.


As soon as the school year started, I spent an inordinate amount of time teaching children and helping them to understand what the expectations were inside the classroom. Our classroom was referred to as a  “community of learners.” The importance of working together, not always in isolation was a given. We treated everyone with reverence and respect. We did not demean and demoralize others, instead we relied upon the words, “Please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “how can I help you?” and “I am sorry for…” There was no public virtue greater than this. By the end of the year, I was always satisfied knowing that my students were first-rate citizens and would go on to model this behavior in any classroom community and in their own community.

I am hard pressed to explain to my students after everything I have taught them, how one man can judge the character of another and do so in such a derogatory fashion. What makes an individual feel that he or she is superior to another? Does public virtue and heroism have a place in the classroom community, absolutely!  What a perfect case in point. The whole truth is always better than any watered-down version as far as I’m concerned. Help provide students with a moral compass early on, and teach them how to discern between right and wrong. They will impress you every time!


Prager, Dennis. “Hillary, Donald, and the Nadir of  American Democracy,” Jewish Journal, March 4-10, 2016, page 9.

Social Studies State Standards, California Department of Education, Third Grade, standard 3.4, page 10, created May 18, 2000.

The Washington Post, “What Trump Was up to While McCain Was a POW,” Michael E. Miller and Fred Barbash, Tuesday, July 21, 2015

About the Author

Linda Young is a recently retired educator of 16 years. She lives with her husband an educator of 35 years and their five year old Havanese dog, Dudley. She enjoys writing, reading, art, cooking, and traveling.



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This entry was posted on Friday, April 1st, 2016 and is filed under *ISSUES, April 2016, Linda R. Young. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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