Maintaining Objectivity when Teaching Political Responsibility

It is important that teachers avoid partisanship while discussing political responsibility. The role of an educator is to educate about a subject, not to indoctrinate their students. Furthermore, teachers may lose credibility with their students if they are not objective in their presentation of facts.

Public schools begin to teach political responsibility from the earliest of grades. Students, of all ages, are asked to vote on a variety of subjects, from whether to take play time outside or stay in the class, all the way up to who class officers will be, and how club funds should be spent. Along the way, teachers are using these scenarios to teach about the political process in general, and, more specifically the voting process, and the individual responsibility to participate in the decision making process.

If an educator introduces their own thoughts, feelings, and opinions into a discussion about political responsibility or the political process, it may interfere with their students’ ability to interpret the information on their own. In all instances, teachers should be disseminating information, and assisting their students in developing the students’ abilities to comprehend and analyze that information. When teachers enter into partisanship discussions, and offer up their own personal opinions, they run the distinct chance of influencing their pupils’ thinking.

While this may seem more important when teaching in the younger grades, it is also a problem when teaching older students. Although it may not sit well with Mom or Dad, if little Devon comes home from second grade and says that the teacher is voting for Mrs. Smith for President, Mayor, or School Board President, little Devon won’t actually be voting. High School and College students, however, may have their thoughts unduly influenced by a professor. Worse, they might not even be aware of it. When teachers make side comments and snide remarks, for example, against a party or candidate, even if they do not come out and say they support the other side, there is a chance that their students may subconsciously internalize those negative thoughts and feelings. This is especially true if the student hold that educator in high esteem.

Another issue is that if students recognize an educator is constantly pushing their own perspective, the students may begin to discount much of what is taught by that teacher. The teacher may lose credibility with their class, and thereby may also lose the trust, and possibly the interest, of some, or all, of the class. Even if much of what an educator has presented has been objective, once they allow their own partisanship to be know it may sour their students’ taste for them as a teacher and for the class in general. Students may also feel taken advantage of, as they are, to some extent, a captive audience. Students are clearly not on the same “power plane” as educators, making it hard for them to argue with the opinions presented in the class, or even to object to the fact that their teacher is presenting personal opinions over balanced facts.

While students may inquire as to the personal thoughts and opinions of their teachers, it is the teacher’s responsibility to present the class with unbiased facts and provable information. As students age, this can become more difficult, and requires consideration and thought. A teacher may acknowledge, for example, their own political associations, like the fact that they are Democrat, without tainting their lesson. On the other hand, spending time discussing why they are a Democrat would most likely be unprofessional and inappropriate.

In an effort to maintain objectivity, teachers must limit injecting their own political biases into their lessons and classroom discussions. Should they do otherwise, they run the risk of being dismissed by their students as trying to convert, rather they convey, and they fail to uphold the tenants of their profession – to present information, not to espouse doctrine.