PRO: Sharing is Caring
The 2016 presidential election has been historical and seemingly interminable. With all of the extensive media coverage, iconic hair, party perspectives, and caustic rhetoric, there is not one single American unaware of the current political atmosphere in the U.S.
So why should teachers pretend to be oblivious to it?
Civics teachers must pretend that all policy proposals from both sides of the aisle are in fact valid and religion teachers have to avoid using specific political references, all in fear of being accused of forcing their views on their students or the church. Plus, students are usually able to tell where the biases of a teacher lie even if the teacher believes he/she is being completely objective.
So let’s throw off the blanket of obscurity from teachers and their opinions. I am not one to suggest that teachers start actively campaigning during class and pass out Trump/Pence stickers or Clinton/Kaine t-shirts. The method that teachers use to talk about their beliefs should not be with the intent to convince but with the intent to share. Teachers should gently present their views as a means of demonstrating what it means to be a part of a democracy and what it means to have a respectful opinion.
For example, let’s examine the Great Barrier Chief himself, Donald Trump. Many have pointed out errors in the plan he has presented for a wall spanning the Mexican border with the United States. Not only has the plan been rightly criticized for its likely ineffective execution, but also for the racism undoubtedly fueling its existence.
This is a moral issue. As a Catholic school, we are obligated to point out immoral behavior and plans that do not correspond with the foundational beliefs that Presentation was built on and that the Catholic church teaches.
Instead, in order to follow this rule of absolute neutrality, teachers that I have had are
currently either approaching Trump’s proposal half-heartedly and tentatively, or ignoring it altogether. Teachers are not speaking against or for the wall, they are just setting it aside. This creates a huge problem because the wall is an egregious, ugly, black stain on the shirt of America, the likes of which have never been seen in its history.
The act of not discussing the wall or issues like it at Presentation or in any school community draws attention away from just how significant it is in the political arena and leads students to not learn how to form opinions on issues that could be just as significant in their future as voting citizens.
Arguably the definition of education in a democracy is being taught to not only form an opinion but to respect and reflect on the opinions of others. Something so radical as Trump’s wall being shoved in the face of every American student outside of school should not be ignored inside of school to preserve the egos of people who disagree with one and other.
Teachers should be able to give every pro and every con attached to an issue and then explain what leads them to believe whether or not the opinion is viable and happily acknowledge that some members of the class will not agree.
This will not leave a student traumatized, radicalized, or antagonized. Why? Because the teacher is presenting the opinion as an attribute of themselves, a product of their own cognitive thought process, or a conclusion drawn from experience.
Students learn from observation and example, especially from adults. Allow teachers to instill a structure for forming an opinion, a context and method for expressing that opinion, and an arena for the discussion of that opinion. If a student has to write down the definition of democracy in class, shouldn’t she be able to use the definition of democracy outside of class?
CON: Teachers Should Not Talk Politics
Samantha is sitting in her U.S. History class when the all-too-familiar topic of the presidential election makes its way into the conversation. Her teacher goes on about how horrible Trump is and how the policies he will create will definitely not make America great again.
While Samantha does not have strong political affiliations with Trump, her parents have told her that they are planning to vote for him, and the opinion of her teacher makes her feel very uncomfortable.
Samantha is not alone in feeling awkward about the political views of her teacher being shared. Teachers should be present to create an environment for student participation, learning, and growth. The way to do this is by moderating conversations to make sure that as many as possible opinions are heard and given equal respect.
If a teacher’s expressed opinion opposes the opinion of a student, then the student may feel too intimidated to share her own views in fear of judgment by the teacher or her peers. For students who do share a differing opinion than that of the teacher, the student (or possibly the teacher) might try to substantiate their belief. This can lead the pair to feel uncomfortable and possibly create a communication barrier between the two.
In an environment designed for teaching and learning, the last outcome people want is for communication, respect or interest to be forgotten. Due to the resentment of the teacher, students could become disengaged in class, resulting in a decrease in participation and academic performance.
Not only do strained relations have the potential to negatively impact academic performance, but so does time spent on conversations irrelevant to the subject. For example, if a precalculus class is in the midst of taking notes on sinusoidal graphs and Trump somehow makes his way into the conversation, the class may become very distracted. Whether it be the teacher or the student(s) who begins the conversation, it quickly turns into a waste of class time which should be focused on math, not ridicule.
The Presentation administration agrees that while talking about politics in a controlled classroom is beneficial for students, particularly during a presidential election, teachers should keep their personal opinions to themselves.
Ms. Miller said in an email, “We do not shy away from controversial issues, but seek to present both sides and encourage students to think critically.” Students do not have to and should not have to refrain from becoming active members of the policymaking system.
One of the academic goals found on the Presentation website is “giving [students] the knowledge and confidence to discover their own unique voices and points of view,” which further shows that Pres students are encouraged to form their own opinions. Students are not able to do so if the biased statements of teachers are commonly shared during class.
Teachers are strong authority figures who have a lot of influence over students, and they must acknowledge the power of their position. This means that teachers need to realize that if they make certain remarks about presidential candidates or other politics in a condescending tone, then students may get the impression that it is acceptable for them to act disrespectfully as well.
Teachers have a responsibility to make sure that conversations about politics are relevant, treated in a respectful manner, all-inclusive and encourage students to think critically. The opportunity to learn about politics in a safe environment is crucial to the success of the next voting generation.