Classroom discussions are important for students to better grasp complex ideas. Students use the time and space to ask questions and speak to their peers about hot topic issues, and to form opinions about those issues. When it comes to political opinions, teachers should remain neutral in those conversations, only sharing what they know to be fact, not opinion.
McNicholas’s school policy prohibits teachers from sharing their political leanings with their students. “I’ve informed teachers that it is not appropriate for a teacher to advocate for a particular political candidate with students,” Principal David Mueller said.
A teacher sharing their political opinions short circuits a student’s learning, possibly making them blindly agree with a teacher that they respect rather than doing research and using their life experiences to determine who and what issues to support.
When it comes to the classes where teachers are openly political, a student’s desire to learn and their curiosity is outweighed by their fear of being viewed or graded differently. “Teachers forget that when students ask questions, it’s not always their opinion, but often a question or topic they are looking to become more educated on,” senior Isabella Bonner said.
“Students need to learn and develop their own beliefs and opinions. Students should not be swayed at an early age to align with any political party without the value of life experiences and advanced education. Teachers are here to challenge students and help them navigate but certainly not impress upon them their views,” math teacher Christine Sennett said.
All teachers received a survey from the Milestone about this topic and of the responses, the teachers unanimously agreed that sharing political opinions in class is not appropriate. “The whole reason we became teachers is to help encourage our students to think for themselves,” science teacher Mary Dennemann said.
A teacher openly sharing their opinion may limit possible class discussion. “Students may feel intimidated to share an opposing view or worry an opposing view will influence their grade,” SAIL teacher Renee Herndon said. When a teacher expresses their opinions so openly, and passionately, students can become closed off in discussions and feel that they cannot share their views or ask questions that are contrary to the beliefs of the teacher.
While sharing their own opinion is problematic, opening up a conversation among students is okay and encouraged. “I don’t think teachers should openly start dialogue on politics. However, if asked, I think teachers should find a way to answer without getting into personal beliefs. Keeping an open dialogue with students, even though the subject can be ‘touchy,’ is important. Finding the best way to handle those situations is the hard part,” said band teacher Keith Nance.
With it being a presidential election year, and most of the senior class being of voting age, this issue is more important than ever. Creating civil discussions about political issues can be extremely beneficial for these first time voters, granted that both sides are shown and argued. “I always stress the importance of being an informed voter, not voting with your emotions but with facts. Research each candidate and make a decision based on what you believe are the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ for those people. Don’t follow the crowd just to follow the crowd,” Spanish teacher Anne Herrmann said.