"Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge." -Horace Mann
The upcoming U.S. presidential election presents a quandary for teachers: how can we interest our students in the democratic process without abusing our position of authority? When does influence mutate into indoctrination?
As a K-12 teacher/librarian, I've been fielding questions from students of all ages who are naturally curious about the November election. During library classes, I share both non-fiction and fiction books about voting, elections, and the presidency. The younger grades enjoy stories like Doreen Cronin's Duck for President , Marc Brown's Arthur Meets the President, and Kay Winters' My Teacher for President.
With older elementary students, I've been using Grace for President, by Kelly Dipucchio, to spark discussions about the right to vote, women & minorities as candidates, and the electoral college.
When students ask for whom I'm voting, I talk about the responsibility of good citizens to study key issues before making such an important choice. If they push for an answer, I respond that I'm leaning towards Senator Obama but that the adults in their household might have reached a different decision. Informal polls show that the families in our district seem to be evenly divided between the main parties.
In my high school Current Events class, we've been examining candidates' position statements and viewing video clips of the presidential and vice-presidential debates. None of these students are old enough to vote this year, but I remind them that the policies of our next president will affect their lives for years to come. I want them to care about the democratic process, perhaps engage in conversations with their parents about the economy, the environment, social security, health care, and the war in Iraq.
It's a delicate balancing act, educating, without unduly influencing, young minds. I am personally horrified by the Palin candidacy, insulted that Senator McCain apparently thought that I would vote for a woman, any woman, without regard to her suitability for office, but I don't feel that it would be appropriate for me to make a strong statement to that effect in my professional role as a teacher.