With the Obama/McCain showdown claiming more above-the-fold newspaper space and primetime television minutes each week, I have been considering the delicate relationship between teachers’ personal politics, and their educational obligations to their students. Children have no qualms about asking blunt questions, including “who did you vote for in the last election?” which I was often asked when I taught sixth and seventh grade social studies at IS 143 in
My students really wanted to know what I believed. Most of them were immigrants or first-generation Americans, and they were learning about democracy and politics for the first time in my class. They struggled in particular to understand modern political parties, and they wanted to know what the adults they looked up to believed, so that they could begin to build their own political opinions.
But is it fair for teachers to share their personal political views with students or is it a teacher’s job to present the all of the ideas and arguments and teach the students the skills they need to form their own opinions? According the chancellor’s regulations, it is forbidden: all DOE employees “shall maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to all candidates,” while on the job, but in reality, this is not always followed. And remember what happened when a
Stanley Fish, a distinguished professor who has worked at several prominent universities, would also argue against bringing politics into the classroom. Fish writes in his New York Times blog that it is not only possible but critical that teachers don’t share their personal political opinions with their students. Gray Lady readers, particularly those who are also professors, have responded in force, igniting a vigorous debate that Fish has now responded to twice (I have even noticed some of my own professors from college chiming in).
But the relationship between politics and teaching is not just confined to higher-education. The commentators who complain that kids don’t know enough, or care enough, about the democratic process are usually quick to blame elementary, middle and high school teachers. If teachers are passionate about politics, should they share that with their students? I am inclined to side with Professor Fish and argue that politics need to be taught but not partisan ideas.
In this presidential election year, do you think that teachers’ political opinions should be shared or silenced while they are at school?