Editorial: Teachers Should Be Objective in the Classroom
October 5, 2012
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The upcoming election provides many opportunities for the discussion of politics, and teachers who are passionate about their views may be understandably eager to share. Yet educating the student body about any issue takes place more effectively through an unbiased presentation of both sides.
In these highly politicized times, teachers should make an effort to remain objective, saving personal information and political views for outside the classroom. School is a place for teachers to “help guide students to question the process and think critically about their decisions,” says English teacher Tania Kranzler, and fostering these critical thinking skills is best done when teachers “stay out of stating their political preferences.”
The authority inherent in the position of teaching gives teachers’ words more weight in discussion, blurring the line between fact and opinion and so impeding intelligent discourse. Students are expected in most situations to take teachers’ statements at face value. Even in a discussion as subjective as analysis of a novel or passage in English class, the view of the teacher will inevitably be the view students are expected to take in essays and on tests. This unique position of power that teachers hold in the classroom can leave those who adhere to different ideologies uncomfortable voicing their opposition.
When teachers inadvertently make those of the minority view feel dismissed, as if there is no validity to their point of view, the students will naturally think twice about stating their ideas. In this way, allowing personal opinions to color teaching can ultimately poison the classroom atmosphere. As in all matters from sexual orientation to religion, each student deserves to feel at ease expressing themselves, and only a decent respect for the reason and intelligence of students on both sides of the issue can stimulate interesting discussion.
If a teacher does feel the need to provide an opinion, he or she should at least provide sufficient disclaimer that they are injecting their opinion into a conversation, so as to draw a clear distinction between objective fact and subjective belief. This year especially, the need for teachers to present political issues in an impartial way is more critical than ever. With November’s pivotal election rapidly approaching, even students who will not cast their votes this year will make their first judgments of both candidates and parties. These judgments will form the beginnings of these young Americans’ outlook on the state of politics in America.
Ron Weiss, who teaches Statistics and Economics, feels that “the current election is a fantastic environment for teaching,” as “both candidates have very distinct views on everything.” At the same time, he says, “it is important for teachers to remain neutral with respect to political affiliations. I go out of my way to remain neutral, and at the end of the semester in my economics class it is not uncommon for students to ask me whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican…Students need to see both sides of any proposed…policy so that they can make an informed decision when it comes time to vote.”
Not offering students an even-handed look at both sides feeds the very partisanship that is behind the gridlock crippling our country. Objectivity, on the other hand, will create an environment of healthy, rational, broad-minded dialogue.