Monday, October 13, 2008

Politics in the Classroom

"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.

The future is in the hands of our students. Their choices will determine whether and how our nation will survive and prosper.

"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote." -George Jean Nathan

"Fourth of July parade" by cyanocorax


Cathy Jo Nelson said...

Bravo. I so agree with your sentiments and statements of fact here. I am also horrified at McCain's selection for VP, and if he truly thought he'd win the women vote, well, just as he is illiterate about technology, so too is he illiterate about women. Now had he chosen Condoleza Rice or some other seasoned veteran woman from the political arena, I may have given some thought. But as it stands now, I can't abide by the thought that he may become unable to see his term through (for whatever reason) and our country would be led by a bimbo. I do not wish him any ill will, nor do i want anything negative to befall Palin, but the duo in my opinion is NOT the best fit. Sigh--I am still having difficulty with the knowledge that both candidates (McCain and Obama) sent/send their own children to private school, which smacks in the face of public educators everywhere. What's a public school educator to do? Obviously for me, I must select the lesser of two perceived evils. I also cannot get my mind around McCain not even knowing how to send an email, especially when my own 74 yo Mom can use her laptop and projector for whatever function strikes her fancy, be it a church event or a family gathering, and also uses a webcam to skype family members. Clearly this man is not only out of touch with women, but also middle class America. Sigh.

A Keeper's Jackpot said...

It's unfortunate that race and gender are even noticed in an election as important as this one. It blows my mind that people will actually let gender/race be the deciding factor for which candidate gets their vote. I hope in my lifetime I get to see a change in the way some Americans think and a positive change the way that they see the world.

While I find a few of McCain's proposed policies/solutions and his choice in running mate to be quite insulting, watching Saturday Night Live is finally enjoyable after several years of it being painful to watch ;-)

diane said...


I might have thought long and hard if the choice were between Obama and someone of Hilary Clinton's caliber, but Palin makes it impossible for me to even consider McCain.


I'm counting on your generation to come through for us - or I will have a VERY uneasy old age.

Anonymous said...


it is sad that children come to you in the first place to ask the politic questions that they do.

Indoctrination is a word that comes to mind when, out of the mouths of babes and little children, come questions that have their origin in the discussions and perhaps biased and palsied opinion of adult conversation.

I see politics like a drug, such as alcohol (I enjoy alcohol by the way) or like carnal pleasure (I have been known to enjoy a bit of that too!)

Laws and customs in our society protect children from these adult practices for a reason - and a good one too.

Unfortunately, the political minds of today were probably formed (or deformed) in much the same way as some unfortunate young children are abused through their introduction to drugs and sex in those precious and formative years of childhood.

For many of those unfortunate children who grow into adulthood, there is required a period of rehabilitation, as society recognises the need for their reformation.

Not so with political opinion that was formed deep rooted by childhood indoctrination.

Here endeth the rant :-)

Sherry Crofut said...

I think it is absolutely imperative that we teach our children about politics. I teach 8th grade and we have our students researching each of the president and vice president candidates and writing an opinion paper with supporting facts. When students ask who I am voting for, I registered to vote on my 18th birthday and have voted in every election so far. When pressed on who I am voting for, I tell them that in my position as teacher I do not wish to sway their opinions, so I just can't say. They seem to understand that. Our district is very touchy on this subject, so I know I won't get in trouble with that answer.

Anonymous said...

Diane- I become so dejected around campaign time because there are so many Americans who don't know how to be informed voters. Look at the rate of actually VOTING in the United States! How many billions of people around the world would give anything to have that right, to take on that responsibility? But, just like many other things, Americans take it for granted. I can't stand that we cannot have a decent, responsible conversation about politics with kids. I truly believe that kids need to be exposed to these types of situations so that they KNOW how to carry on those conversations when they leave school. Heated issues have become taboo in our society, and people pick and choose friends based on party affiliation. I believe that banning political discussion in the class room has led to even more divisiveness in our culture, and it is a direct result of the same fear mongering that has taken the stage in Washington for the past decade. What is wrong with me telling a student that I lean one way or another, and explaining why, and then saying, how do you feel about this topic? That lets them see that the giant monster of disagreement is not to be feared so much, and it validates THEIR opinions as well. OK, since I could go on for eons, I'll end my rant here. I say, leave the indoctrination to the churches, and let kids dabble in politics, it's what teaches them how to be AMERICANS.

Jim Dornberg said...

I applaud you for taking the time to educate the children, because chances are, they are being brainwashed at home.

Too many Americans have the "don't confuse me with the facts, I've already made up my mind" mindset. The emails that have circulated with false rumors about the candidates, and the endless commercials just add to that mindset.

Anonymous said...


I am so happy to see that someone is educating our students about these important issues. I was very saddened that only one student in my classroom knew what was happening on November 4th and even more concerned when the majority of my students could not tell me who was running for president and vice president. Of course they were also a little taken aback, that I knew since I am not a social studies teacher. I just wish there were more dialogues like this among students and teachers as well as as teachers and teachers.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we need to educate students on politics, I also believe that we need to give them unbiased opinions as educators and help them to develop opinions of their own.

diane said...

I understand the need for educators to tread carefully so as not to cross the line between discussion and "indoctrination."

However, our (New York) state curriculum includes a civics standard culminating in 12th grade, when "students should be ready to synthesize and apply this content-rich experience to the study of contemporary and/or historic public issues and to increase the student’s awareness of their rights and responsibilities as a citizen."

We need educated voters who think critically and make informed choices.