Politics in Education

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Schools are a vital part of any community. They provide lessons and skills to the new generation and can shape their attitude toward participating in our political system. From middle school to high school students will be impacted by the education policy decision-making of politicians. So let’s explore how schools and politics mix a bit further.

Is education a social or political issue?

Our political system ensures that the government provides funding for public schools to enable all to have equity in accessing public education. Decision-making and policy-making are not impervious to political bias; in fact, some decisions in regard to educational policy are explicitly political. Educational segregation in the 1960s was a direct cause of political policy and the prevailing political system. The desegregation of schools was the culmination of social justice activists lobbying the government to change our public schools from the national level down. This is a clear example of educational reform being used for social justice and to ensure educational equity. It demonstrates why politics and education are intertwined. If you’d like to read about whether politics should be taught in schools, check out our blog on this subject.

How does the education system work in the US today?

Education is mainly a state and local responsibility in the United States. It is individual states and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation.

At the national level, the federal government is responsible for targeted support of the education system and for emergency-type scenarios, for example, the covid-19 pandemic which led to the closures of public schools across the country.

The school system in the US is made up of public schools, charter schools, and private schools. Parents have the luxury of school choice depending on where they live and whether they want to or can afford school fees.

What is the government’s role in education?

The U.S. Department of Education administrates each school district and recommends teaching strategies and materials, eg textbooks, these recommendations are not mandatory to follow. Most of the public education budget is controlled by the state government. Education policies are advised by the federal government at the national level but administered by school districts and school boards at the state level. It is therefore the responsibility of the state bodies to ensure educational equity and pursue education reform as they see fit. Here is where politics and education meet. State bodies are drawn from a politized local population. The people elected to these bodies are political and have views on pedagogy and subjects. Please see the political furor on teaching critical race theory.

Why is teaching political?

Life is political, so therefore the education system is political. What you teach in the classroom and how you choose to teach it is informed and influenced by the cultural, social, political, and historical factors of the town, city, state, and country in which you teach. As you may have read in our blog about the political spectrum it is not possible, or even desirable to strive for a politically neutral classroom. Everything in education, including the textbooks, the curriculum, and the education policy-making that govern teachers’ work and students’ learning is political and based on ideology. If you’re creating the next generation of citizens who may serve their country, you have to question the type of citizen you are helping them grow into. If you want them to be well rounded and politically engaged and aware, it is necessary to discuss politics in the classroom.

What are the political aspects of education?

The politics of education show that historically that politics have influenced policy-making and decision-making when setting education policy. For example, during the Cold War, it was decided at the national level that the department for education should be more involved with education policy to ensure that there would be enough talented students progressing through higher education to ensure they could help the country in the space race.

More specifically in the classroom by teaching the history of the nation, social studies, and social studies you will naturally touch on social justice topics. For example, by teaching the war of independence, the civil war, and the civil rights protest movements you are teaching politics!

How does education affect political participation?

What affects who participates in politics? In most political science studies it is found that individuals with higher education participate more in political activities than those with lower education. Our education system is supposed to increase civic skills and political knowledge that triggers understanding, engagement, and a willingness to be involved.

In reference to our educators, as part of your professional development, you may choose to join a teachers union to form coalitions to influence decision-making and educational policy.

What is the relationship between education and democracy?

Originally, public schools were created and funded as a part of our democracy. In order to ensure that all members of the democracy were able to participate in our political system, education was identified as a key tool of democracy, known as the ‘great equalizer’.

Although political polarization is not new it is increasing. Education provides an opportunity for school administrators to create an environment for inclusive education which succeeds in creating educated and engaged students who are aware of politics at the national and local levels and are able to use the classroom format to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This will only enrich their political contribution as adults.

Over the last few years, we have seen the damage that has been done through educational interruption. If we don’t prioritize educational equity it will be those less fortunate in society that will continue to suffer disproportionately.

Why is education important for politics?

People that have been through higher education are more likely to be informed and engaged in the political system. Education also teaches people problem-solving and critical thinking. Both skills are vital in political participation. As you will see here, education is a dividing line and an indicator of potential voting behavior. To try and bridge the gaps in a politically polarized nation, education could be one of our tools.

We also do not want our students to feel comfortable with the trauma of others. We want our curriculum, instruction, resources, and professional development to include the voices, experiences, and perspectives of all Americans—especially those from marginalized groups. An informed electorate is key to sustaining a true democracy. The stakes are too high not to educate our young people about politics.

The American Federation of Teachers voted to endorse Joe Biden during the presidential election. The AFT lobby on behalf of educators and have the best interests of their students and schools in mind. They may well be more powerful thank you think.

Final Thoughts

Social sciences teach us that we are products of our history, our nation, our towns and cities, and our political system. Hopefully this blog has shown the political nature of the classroom and the historic reasons for that. Furthermore, hopefully, you will feel empowered to use your problem-solving skills to consider how you will teach your students in this field.

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