Politics And Teachers

Carter Reagan DebateBack in 2009 a student approached me and explained how a teacher had called President Bush “stupid” in class. My student, who was upset, told me that it wasn’t even a history or political science class. Honestly, even if it were either of those classes, the teacher’s actions would still have been ridiculous and offensive.

Politics has a place in the classroom. Teachers have a duty to teach children the importance of the electoral process and should model and encourage participation in it. Yet, extreme partisanship and its nastiness have no place in schools.

A teacher is, by his or her very nature, the leader of the classroom. Failure to follow the teacher’s dictates can result in punishment. Students learn that very early. Whether justified or not, outspoken teachers can intimidate students that disagree with them.

The student who approached me that day was from a Republican family and felt like he just had to sit and take the insults to Bush and those who voted for him (his family members). He worried that if he stood up and confronted the teacher, he would end up in trouble or have his grade reduced. Sadly, many students feel that way. Even more sadly, I’m sure some teachers have actually retaliated based on a political position.

I would never tell teachers to stifle their opinions or their speech. However, if they are going to speak about politics, they’d better have a great relationship with all of their students as well as a reputation for fairness and objectivity. Even if they openly embrace partisan causes they must also do so in a way that examines the issues neutrally. This, I might add is almost impossible since a teacher has so much power over a classroom. I will say this: calling President Bush (or any President) “stupid” is not only inappropriate for a classroom, it’s also a lazy, cheap shot.

My policy on politics was to let the students discuss it (when it related to my curriculum) and to challenge both sides to think more critically. I would occasionally tell the students where I personally stood, after reminding them that I respected all sides in a political debate, so long as the speech was well-reasoned and civil.

As the election season nears its end, I challenge all teachers to teach their students about the political process in a way that lets them see the value in the political process and helps them develop their own beliefs without fear of intimidation.

About Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is an administrator, author, and speaker with a background in teaching. His articles receive over a million hits per year and have appeared in a variety of publications. He is co-owner of the small business Theta Hill, and he also writes for The Popular Teen, The Popular Man and other sites.