Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Public Schools and Teachers Using and Abusing the Election

 What is offensive in school?

How should teachers be engaging students concerning the Presidential Election of 2016? Some would say educators should avoid all political discussion in light of the volatile nature of this election.

However, how can teachers, as purveyors of pertinent information, let such a meaningful event pass without some response? Presidential elections are exciting for students and provide them an opportunity to discuss and debate a range of issues in the classroom.

Educators can ideally use the election as an opportunity for developing critical thinking skills, media literacy, and an understanding of the United States political system. Civics teachers, government teachers, language arts teachers, history teachers … the election touches the curriculum of so many disciplines.

Still ...

This year, with the contentious campaigning, all that excitement is more likely to turn into emotional conflict. Most Americans are demonstrating much more passionate feelings about the candidates than in previous years, and children have been exposed to these feelings.

Teaching students about the election demands thoughtful consideration especially since so much heated rhetoric is spewing from the media. In preparing lessons and activities about the election, teachers must emphasize guidelines for students to stay respectful and keep on the issues as they participate in various classroom activities and mock elections.

While asking students to weigh issues and make informed decisions, schools must also encourage pupils to thoughtfully understand the position of others. This knowledge helps safeguard the future of the American democracy.

President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy; therefore, is education.” 

Warning -- inside the classroom the teacher is obliged to meet the expectations of the job, and this implies reasonable restrictions on the expression of private views. For example in political matters, teachers must not attempt to proselytize or indoctrinate students. They are prohibited from promoting political candidates in class.

Public school teachers are in a very unique position. They are individuals and employees of the state. Therefore, school districts have an interest in making sure that the messages that students receive are in line with the district’s goals and vision.

"Teachers are authority figures and role models for young students," says Stanford political science professor Terry Moe, who studies politics at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank. "It's an abuse of that authority to try to sway political views."

For example, courts have ruled that a school may ban teachers from wearing buttons supporting a current political candidate, as this could be considered “disruptive.” Courts have also upheld discipline for teachers wearing T-shirts with political messages or slogans. The same rule applies as for classroom decorations or displays: it is best that teachers avoid any appearance that they are advocating a particular political view.

The challenges of teaching about the election are great. Still, this less-than-considerate election year should help encourage teachers to lead some additional instruction that preserves, not destroys, values and skills essential to good citizenship. These concerns seem very important:

* Teaching Children to Be Critical Thinkers
* Teaching Children The Importance of Maintaining Respectful Communication 

* Teaching Children Word Choice, Persuasion and Fact Checking 
* Teaching Children How to Analyze the Appeal of the Two Candidates
* Teaching Children That Sometimes People Must Agree to Disagree

Teaching Children to Study the Election Process, the Executive Branch and Former Presidents
Participatory government is extremely important, especially in a time when U.S. students don't know much about American history. This is a tremendous concern since educators understand that history is critical to students learning how to become better citizens and understanding how the country's political and cultural systems work.

Just 13 percent of high school seniors who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress – called the Nation's Report Card – showed solid academic performance in American history. The two other grade levels tested didn't perform much better, which just 22 percent of fourth-grade students and 18 percent of eighth-graders scoring proficient or better.

Schools must help establish civic responsibility. The drop-off in younger voters (18-25) signals problems for future generations because our system of government is a participatory democracy. The National Standards for Civic Education calls for civics instruction from grades K through 12 to create a citizenship of informed and civic-minded community members.

Let our schools teach politics with the utmost care and concern for all points of view understanding that belittling candidates and the political system is potentially harmful to impressionable young minds.

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