- The Student-Teaching Model Is Outdated: Here's How We Can Do Better - September 15, 2021
- Visualize: How Seeing What's Coming Changed My Teaching - August 16, 2021
- 10 Lessons About Teaching from My Youngest Son - June 24, 2021
- Ending the Epithet “Try-Hard” Once and for All in Classrooms - June 18, 2021
- From STEM, Let's Pivot to the BRANCHES of the Humanities - May 25, 2021
- Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free? - May 20, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part II - April 21, 2021
- 8 Tips So Your Substitute Plans Don't Suck - April 14, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
We have almost 11 more months of dealing with pollsters, pundits, politicians, and partisans who have opinions about the presidential race. Each of the presidential candidates will take the podium, attempting to address the ills of our nation, and often chief among them is the role of education. Additionally, students will harbor their own opinion for a particular candidate (or all of them, in some cases), and they'll want to talk to their teachers about their ringing endorsement or vile repudiation - with the parents listening just around the corner. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"]So how does a #teacher traverse #election2016 without stepping on toes? Very carefully! Click To Tweet
First and foremost, the first step in countering a possible problem is to define it. Teachers need to acknowledge that their position has become a lightning rod for politics, and that's largely because they have permitted the aforementioned crowd to craft such an argument. Gone are the days where "the teacher is right," and sun has risen on the days where the teacher is the "liberal quack" that Rush Limbaugh feels compelled to help conservative students deal with socialist teachers, WikiHow has an entry on "how to be conservative in a liberal school," and common Americans believe today's teachers have more in common with Mr. Van Driessen (of Beavis and Butthead infamy) than Mr. Escalante (the math prodigy captured in the film Stand and Deliver).
Teachers need to take it back by channeling former House Speaker Tip O'Neill, who used to proudly point out that "All politics are local." This can be done by highlighting the classroom for what it is - so incredibly "localized" that it focuses on each student's individual needs - teachers will force those with pitch forks and war drums on absolute retreat.
Next, teachers need to be able to separate beliefs from classroom instruction. For any American, there are many, many issues that are more personal and even religious than political and debatable. Teachers must draw a line between those issues and their classroom. Click To Tweet It would be unfair to students to act any other way. They, like any person, have their own beliefs and biases, as any neighboring teacher or his/her own child might. The skill to be built here is empathy. Teachers are not in the "forcing you to think like me" business - they are in the "here are ways that you can think" or "here are what others think" and "why others arrive at this belief" business. In fact, students should be able to look at one another or any politician and say "I completely disagree with you, but I respect your opinion." Despite what the airwaves show, Americans are not politically at war with one another.
Teachers then need to work to build a big tent and make every student comfortable to speak freely about whatever they believe. In fact, that's such an important right that it's the First Amendment to the Constitution. Again, the goal is not to build a think tank of individuals who espouse the same mindset as the instructor. Not only is that wrong, it's dull. Rather, the teacher's role is to build an aquarium that highlights and accepts differences between all the diversity in students' backgrounds, opinions, and beliefs. This is not for kumbaya, la-di-da purposes, either. This is what Americans used to do before the talking heads on TV told us what to think and we had the Internet and learned how to support our beliefs with the appropriate facts. Remind your colleagues that...America used to discuss things. In #classrooms, we still do. Click To Tweet
Then the teacher should assess the ability students have to discuss certain topics. This certainly varies by age level, reading level, previous learning, exposure to periodicals, location (towns closer to capitals tend to be more political), and a few other variables that teachers might analyze. There then needs to be some tie to the curriculum of study and to the skills the teacher is trying to build in his/her students. Additionally, some topics need to be avoided based upon the variables previously mentioned, while others cause discomfort for the teacher (for me, I still don't enjoy discussing abortion with students).
Teachers also need to decide whether to share his/her beliefs with students. Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy studied teachers who discuss political topics in class and noted that effective teachers can do either or both. What they did caution was that teachers must NEVER advocate their own personal beliefs. That is wholeheartedly true, as teachers have a captive, impressionable audience who respects and reveres them. It's one thing to discuss why a teacher believes a certain way - it's another to dismiss a student's view because they don't align with the person who controls their grade.
I rarely discuss my personal opinions (note: toxic testing, Andrew Jackson, and a few others are on call for my bashing at a moment's notice). That said I often take it one step further and play devil's advocate. I pull my top students aside and tell them what I'm doing, and ask them to join in on the "fun," because, in the end, I enjoy the political dialogue more than I do being right. In 21st century America, not many people can say that. I want my students to replicate that love of political discussion and debate instead of dogmatic, defiant diatribe. If teachers don't shape up their classrooms and the students in them, the talking heads are going to teach the future citizens and voters to be this way and on this way.I want my #students to replicate that love of political discussion and debate instead of dogmatic, defiant diatribe Click To Tweet
Lastly, teachers need to help put their students beliefs into action. Government, political topics, and elected officials should be approachable and not something that is to be continually castigated and ridiculed. I have written letters to the White House, my Senators, my Congressman, my State Legislators, federal and state judges, and have helped on their campaigns. Students should feel like they can do the same - because they can! But they will only if teachers show them how. Otherwise, politics will be something that causes scorn and finger-pointing instead of action and discussion.
Repairing American politics starts in the classroom. Just watch out for the landmines.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]