Friday, January 11, 2013

Educator Issues: Politics & Religion in the Classroom

Recently a family member of mine was discussing the difficulties of having a possibly-unfair teacher. In this discussion about fairness and being reasonable (more on that later), someone posted about the school being a horrible place because of "left wing idiots". And he put it all in caps. Ahh, the joys of Facebook.

This leads me to several thoughts.

A teacher's politics should have nothing to do with the classroom. A teacher shouldn't be talking about their own political affiliations, who they voted for, or whatever. It just isn't appropriate and can start serious problems.

I once had a student who claimed, on the first days of class, to be a Young Republican. This was in Arizona, which if you've read ANY of the news in the last few years, you know to be a very polarized (and dare I say racist?) state. This student, in a room filled with kids who hated the Republican party for the laws they had passed, continued to speak his mind. Is it his right? Of course. Was it the safest thing to do? Maybe not. (Its really not wise to say, “Hey, you guys got your papers? NO?! THEN YOU'RE DEPORTED! Hahahhaah!”)

Yet, was I going to spout my own views at him? Not exactly. Because I was there to teach all children, regardless of what they believe, regardless of if it aligns or doesn't align to what I believe. And at a delicate age, when students are just starting to determine who they are, when emotions and hormones run high-- what damage would it do to my own credibility if I stood up and got on my soapbox? If a student doesn't agree with my philosophies politics (or religion for that matter-- the two are so intertwined these days), it may stop them from wanting to listen to me talk about things that are FACTUAL. It changes and can taint the relationship. It starts drama and changes your environment from being a safe place, to another polarized sphere. Unless you are debating things in a civics class (for example), in an organized, structured way.... it just isn’t the place

So, then why did I say "not exactly"?

Because as a teacher, it is also our mission to make sure that no student feels bullied, belittled, or downtrodden. If what you are saying deals with an issue of civil rights, or sexual equality, and you are being a bully? If you make someone feel like their color, creed, religion, sexual orientation et cetera makes them less of a person?  Well, then it is my duty to say something. Gently. Civilly. With many questions to try to get the student to see an alternative point.   In those cases, you are going to hear it from me.... But that doesn't have to do with politics-- that has to do with human decency.

Point number two:
I am sick of all the political bashing on both ends. How are we not getting that we all have something to learn from each other? Why do we not understand that yet? Diversity and multi-culturalism are huge buzz words in education today, and with reason. Yet, we can't even begin to talk about those issues if we can't sit down and stop being so stubborn and polarized, frenzied with political fervor.

Furthermore-- if your child was taught by all liberals or all conservatives or whatever (in the classroom or not, and whether they knew it or not), you'd end up with an unbalanced child who wouldn't be a able to make up their own minds on what they believed. They should have access to many opinions without fear mongering or bashing other sides. The same goes for religion.

 Let's give them information, actual information, stripped of the pomp and the fear and the guilt and the propaganda. And then, let’s work on having them identify that bias and propaganda, and analyze the reasons for why people get so polarized and feel as strongly as they do.  Then, they know emotion and fear-mongering and bias when they see it, and instead of reacting emotionally themselves, can analyze. Think. Find some data to back up what they believe. Have a civil discourse.

Let's create thinkers. Logic-makers. People who don't just get brainwashed and follow the mob with pitchforks. No sheep, but leaping, independent frogs.

Let's give the kids a chance to decide what they want to believe and feel no fear of reprisals from family, friends or government. If you want to be a Republican and you've got all the facts, great. If you want to be an atheist with no political affiliation, great.

Let's just make it their choice-- not ours.

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