Let teachers talk about politics

Graphic+by+Sarah+Morgan

Graphic by Sarah Morgan

Leah Carrier

Students, teachers, friends, family, atrium rats currently taking over the school, humor me for a minute. Close your eyes, and imagine being back in the classroom. Picture two scenarios: in the first, a student like me tries to convince their peers to support their favorite politician. In scenario two, a teacher persuades their pupils to support a presidential candidate. To some, the former may seem more socially appropriate than the latter. But it’s not.

There’s only one notable difference between these two situations: the person speaking. Why does this so dramatically change our views? 

Take me for example. The words I’m writing are relatively harmless. Most of you have no idea who I am, and have no reason to trust me. I’m also a student, so anything I may believe is probably no more developed than anything you may believe, which removes leverage.

When compared to a teacher, I would, by default, become the less credible individual.  A teacher is older, more experienced, and hopefully more respected by students than a student ever could be. The school has entrusted them with the responsibility of teaching us about the fundamentals of life in today’s society, so their power to persuade would likely be more impactful than my Beacon article, or speech, or whatever.

Therefore, it might be reasonable to view the teacher’s politically charged conversation as an abuse of power, even manipulation. But this is where the right to free speech comes to play.

Quick history refresher (in case you’re not taking/failing APUSH): according to the Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” That’s what allows newspapers to publish opinionated and controversial stories without punishment. But that’s also what protects hate speech and fake news from being restricted by law. 

So constitutionally, yes, teachers have the right to talk to students about their political opinion. But also ethically, teachers should be able to voice their thoughts to their students. My mom always tells me that ‘you practice the way you perform.’ Applying that logic here, fostering conversations about politics in the classroom will set the groundwork for the way future lawyers and politicians will ‘perform’ as adults.

Political figures nationwide have trouble facilitating polite debates with their peers. Their heated arguments end up all over the media, clouding news feeds with countless unsophisticated role models. To counteract such unhealthy examples, I encourage educators to lead productive discussions with their students regarding civics, and if this means the teacher will share their own view, so be it. (But please note that ‘discussion’ is different from ‘I hate Trump.’) Yeah, we’re young. But we also have the capacity to make up our own minds. Trust us. •