In the current political climate, it can feel difficult to discuss political issues or your point of view in a professional setting. However, schools lay the seeds of learning critical thinking, and political issues and political views can provide a starting point to discuss issues in depth in a safe space. Ultimately, what students need to learn is that it is possible to discuss politics without discussing partisan politics. This means that is it necessary to have government classes, civics classes, and history classes on the high school curriculum, but that does not mean you have to promote the viewpoints of one political party over another. Teach politics rather than partisan politics. When discussing political issues think of civics rather than discussing the latest controversial issue that might be circulating on social media.
Public schools and school boards
Public education is controlled by the department for education, as discussed in our blog about politics in education, and was set up by the government in 1867 to teach basic literacy and numeracy. It has since evolved to cover much more but you cannot separate politics from schools as the public schools are run by politicians! Applebaum (2009) notes that teaching is an inherently political act as you try to teach the wrongs of the past to educate the new generation.
Is it legal for teachers to talk about politics?
It is legal for you to discuss current events and political issues with your students. The discussion should be about how you teach your students about politics, not whether you can. It is important to maintain professionalism, integrity, and the intent to educate. A teacher here has used the opportunity to discuss controversial topics to teach critical thinking and debate-style writing.
Should teachers talk about controversial topics in the classroom?
Students do not live in a vacuum, political issues and current events may be controversial within wider society, and students in the classroom may be experiencing these issues firsthand and may need help understanding them or how they fit into the wider world. The role of teachers, and specifically social studies teachers, is to skillfully teach young people the theories behind political issues rather than pushing their own views or political agenda.
If politics is not discussed, what does that mean? It is difficult to maintain neutrality is difficult. To be neutral when someone is being treated unfairly is to side with the oppressor and not the victim. This is not what we should teach our young people.
Should controversial topics be discussed in school?
As we have shown, you need not shy away from controversial topics purely because they are controversial topics. When teaching critical thinking political opinions and controversial issues can be an excellent launchpad for teaching children to analyze, debate, and, engage with the world around them.
What are some reasons why politics should not be discussed in schools?
Some people are concerned that discussing or teaching politics in schools may lead to teachers influencing the political views of their students. However, studies show that this is not the case. When designing lessons think ‘what do the Democratic and Republican Parties stand for?’ rather than ‘who should win the next presidential election?’.
Some people believe children are too young to be exposed to current events and political issues in school. However, studies show that children do follow presidential elections. As with any other topic, it is good for you, to use your classroom to discuss controversial issues with your students. It remains important to be mindful of how you conduct these discussions. For example, some schools use the topic of smoking as a non-partisan discussion point to develop critical thinking rather than a more controversial issue such as flag burning.
Why should politics be discussed in schools?
1. How can you not? Politics is all around us
Government has a huge impact on our daily lives and students need to be educated about that to develop into informed citizens. Children are impacted by current events whether they are mentioned in the classroom or not. They will benefit from discussions within the classroom in a respectful environment to understand why some issues are controversial and the impacts political issues may have on their lives or their classmates’ lives. By discussing controversial topics and engaging with your students you are demonstrating that you can have your own opinions, encourage debate and teach tolerance for people who have different political opinions. Recent current events may have been difficult for you, but even if you choose not to teach your students about political topics, they find a way into the classroom anyway. So it may be best to be proactive, set an agenda and learning goals, and get your students informed and willing to engage in topics from an informed position.
2. You can develop students’ knowledge
Children need to be educated about their rights as citizens. Students need to understand the role and responsibility of government. For example, the minimum wage, what healthcare and youth services are available, and whether we are protected from air and water pollution
3. It could be beneficial for civics across the nation
The current political climate is more polarized than ever before. This may make you want to leave controversial topics at the door. However, some think that by engaging with controversial topics and different viewpoints and learning to engage civilly we may be able to bridge the political gap which has been present in our politics over the last 25 years.
Should educators express their political opinions in classroom discussions?
Journell, an academic at the University of North Carolina argues here that it is damaging to students’ civic development for teachers to refuse to debate political opinions openly. Journell argues it is a myth that teachers can maintain neutrality whilst teaching in the classroom. So, if that is the truth, you should be open and professional about your opinions, whilst acknowledging that all of us have our own opinions when it comes to political issues, so it is good to investigate why you have your political views and engage with the debate on political issues from that standpoint. Voter turnout for young people is very low, even if it has improved recently. If your students aren’t educated about how the president presidential election happens or the political issues then they are much less likely to exercise their civic right to vote.
To be apolitical or neutral is a lot more difficult than you might realize
Are all topics that are labeled ‘political’ done so consistently? Why is critical race theory viewed as political but teaching the history of the civil war is not? To truly be inclusive you cannot shy away from political issues that might be negatively impacting one group of students. A safe space for all students means that you might have to tackle complicated issues together in a safe and supportive way.
Young people surprise us all the time. If you are touching on controversial issues in your classroom embrace the opportunity to develop critical thinking, debating, and teaching tolerance for other political opinions. Developing students into engaged citizens who are aware of their rights and a wide spectrum of political beliefs is an excellent aim for schools.