The Teacher’s Great Challenge: Staying Neutral with Students during a Contentious Election

The Teacher’s Great Challenge: Staying Neutral
with Students during a Contentious Election

by Larry Strauss

At least once a year, one of my students asks me if I’m a Republican.

I am not. In fact, I have never voted for a Republican in any election, though I have considered it at times — and so I might be offended by that student’s assumption — namely, that because I am a man and because I am what they consider white and because I am what they consider old and because that is who people associate with that party and the conservative agenda.

But I am not offended.

I am flattered — and should be — because their bogus assumption is a compliment — it means that in teaching them I have succeeded in shielding them from my political opinions and biases.
It is probably foolish of me to believe that I’ve entirely concealed my beliefs from them — or from anyone else.

But I insist on making the effort — and urge other educators to do the same.

It is election time again and as many of us use the moment in the teaching of government, political science, rhetoric, and history I hope we all remember what it means to be a teacher.

This year’s campaign seems destined to be a divisive and emotional one — when, in recent history, has a presidential election not been?

And it is not always easy to keep those emotions in check in the classroom. But it is our job.

And so, for example, the students in my class will analyze the stump speeches of both major candidates along with those of some lesser known candidates and when we evaluate the claims and support and utilize to study the art of political deception, we will do so for everyone. We will pick apart the rhetorical strategies of every candidate, use to reveal the linguistic tricks of their trade and understand how words can change the world — or be used to maintain the status quo.

I have had colleagues over the years who do not believe in pedagogical neutrality when it comes to politics.

They believe that their versions of social justice and righteousness are so right and so essential to the future of humanity that their mission is to persuade students to believe with them rather than trust the next generation by teaching them to think for themselves.

Though I often agree with their views on the world I disagree with their views about our role as teachers.

I am not indifferent to the struggle for justice and the future of humanity.

I just don’t believe that encouraging students to echo our opinions is ever beneficial. It is arrogant and it is short-sighted.

The only long-term hope for all of us is that the next generation and the one after that can navigate their world, make sense out of it, understand it in the context of the past and the future, seek the truth, see the truths, and tell the truth. Their own — not ours.