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Should Educators Express Their Political Opinions in Classroom Discussions?

In today's highly polarized political climate, teachers around the country are weighing the merits and potential fallout of engaging in politically-charged class discussions. The question of whether or not one's political views should be expressed in the classroom has always been a complicated one for educators. However, in a time when everything seems to be politicized, the question is being raised far more often. 

For the most part, administrators remain adamant on the fact that educators need to keep a line of neutrality when discussing politics in the classroom. Interestingly enough, students seem to think otherwise. 

"Why shouldn’t a teacher be able to vocalize their opinion?" Niagara Falls High School student Santino Cafarella, 18, asked after his government class this past week, according to Carolyn Thompson's report for the Associated Press. "We’re in high school at this point. We should be able to discover our own viewpoints."

Another student backed up this sentiment, adding that as long as the educator in no way tries to influence the student's opinion, they should be allowed to share their views. That statement speaks to a fear among teachers that parents and administrators will see any political discussion as an educator forcing their opinions on students.

"[Teachers are] fearful of teaching some of the current events for fear of parental pushback, fear [they’ll be seen as] pushing their political views, fear of student pushback," said Maureen Costello, the director of Teaching Tolerance, an education project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, according to Education Week.

In the same EdWeek article, a survey revealed that 42 percent of educators were finding it much more difficult to discuss national politics with students. The majority of educators do feel that it is necessary to talk about the political happenings dominating the news coverage. Key issues such as race, gender equality and LGBTQ rights have been at the forefront of many student discussions outside of the classroom, which can lead to the dissemination of misinformation and/or insensitive discourse. 

"Alethea Patterson-Jahn, the head special education teacher at an Albuquerque, N.M., middle school, recalled seeing a student tell another that Trump would deport the student’s father," according to Education Week. Instances such as this one finds teachers feeling responsible for making sure students know their rights and protections under the U.S. Constitution. Engaging in a civics-centered discussion may also rectify misconceptions and foster more respectful, constructive dialogues.

Some teachers, however, remain steadfast on the importance of discussing politics with their students. Following last year's election results, we ran a story on Fakrah Shah, a teacher who created a four-page lesson plan on dealing with the divisiveness of the presidential campaign. 

"I hope that you will take the time to put all lessons aside and talk to our students about what has happened and how they feel," said Shah. "Please, let them speak and be heard. Let them say what is on their minds, this is crucial for our school and our community."

Though, in the same breath, Shah made her own political leanings abundantly clear. "Let us please not sidestep the fact that a racist and sexist man has become the president of our country by pandering to a huge racist and sexist base," Shah added. The expression of such a scathing opinion of the president is exactly the type of rhetoric that many administrators fear.

Unfortunately, it becomes very difficult for an educator to discuss politics without sharing one's own views on what is right and wrong. "You are helping kids to form their own perspective and I think by including your own, you shape it for them," said Larry Paska, executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies organization of educators and curriculum designers, according to the Associated Press. "And that’s not really the goal of social education."

So, while teachers feel somewhat obligated to share their own political thoughts through discussions and students encourage that idea, administrators and experts still find it a subject to steer clear of.

 

Article by Navindra Persaud, Education World Contributor.

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