Social studies educators in particular are placed in a precarious position, as many of us are passionate about the very political parties, candidates, and issues we teach our students about on a daily basis. It is difficult to separate our subjective evaluations of each with objective lessons that present the facts before students so that they can come to their own conclusions. This phenomenon comes to a head during presidential election years when politics drives the discourse of even the most casual civic participants.
I taught about the 2000 presidential election during my second year as a teacher. My classes examined the candidates and major issues of the campaign in great detail. We studied the internal dynamics of each of the 50 states in the Union from the perspective of the Electoral College (I never could have anticipated the extent to which this exercise would resonate!). My seniors even orchestrated a school wide presidential election with real ballots and polling equipment, equating individual social studies classes with states and staging the race to 270 electoral votes. All along, my students peppered me with questions about my own preferences, and I promised to reveal them the day after the election.
I held true to this commitment, but the election was not decided for another 36 days. I provided daily updates of the Florida recount to my students, but my comments were colored hereafter by my presidential preference, for now I had visible skin in the game. I vowed to never make this mistake again, and even though I taught a civics course that asked students to declare their own party affiliations for the purpose of a semester-long government simulation, I held true to this policy.
However, I did have colleagues who felt otherwise and remained candid about their political preferences. Proponents argue that we cannot possibly separate our personal biases from the subject matter we teach, so it is better to make our preferences known and allow the chips to fall as they may. Others go so far as to suggest that if one truly believes the ideals to which we subscribe, it is our duty to dispense this sage advice to our students, shaping young minds and tomorrow's leaders.
I clearly subscribe to the position of classroom neutrality, no matter how difficult it may be to execute. I feel that we do our students a great disservice when we deny them the opportunity to encounter objective information and to arrive at their own conclusions after thorough analysis. On another level, to indoctrinate is to deny that our students enter the classroom with political information, familial influences, and biases of their own. In short, they are not empty vessels.
I must also admit that I have been forced to walk my own fine line throughout this election season. The Freedom Museum has positioned itself as a non-partisan source for political information about this election and a myriad of other freedom-related issues, and as our content expert, I must walk this walk throughout all of my official duties. I am also a passionate supporter of one of the presidential candidates, even serving as an alternate delegate at the nominating convention. All along, I have taken tremendous strides to keep these dueling hats on separate pegs of the proverbial coat rack. I'll leave the assessment of whether or not I have succeeded to readers of this blog, listeners of our podcasts, attendees of teacher seminars, lectures, and conference presentations, and visitors to the museum.
Soon enough, the yard signs will yield to winter snow, our campaign ephemera will be related to the memory box in our closets, and our country will get back to the day-to-day struggles of work, family, and society. Regardless of what side of the aisle or which candidate you associate with, political passion should be treasured, not scorned. However, personal and professional distinctions must remain, and I commend educators everywhere who aspire to neutrality while at work.