Teachers abstain from sharing political views in classroom
Shravani Page | Staff Writer
While students are taught about their First Amendment rights in government class, teachers often hold back on expressing their opinions in the classroom.
Government teacher Susie Wilcox said she chooses not to express her personal opinions during political discussions held in class. For Wilcox, that isn’t her responsibility, and students should get to hear about views from both sides.
“It’s my individual decision,” Wilcox said. “Personally, I don’t feel like that’s my job. I don’t feel like it’s my opportunity to use [my position] as a soapbox to tell kids what I think and feel and believe.”
Wilcox said she believes her main goal is to teach her students and create an environment where students can learn from each other and still feel comfortable discussing their personal opinions. She said she wants students to learn about different perspectives and be comfortable making their own decisions.
“I think that it’s my job to help [my students],” Wilcox said. “To have those discussions, facilitate them for them, and help them learn. That’s really what my end goal is: to give students skills to be able to go outside of the four walls of Mason High School and to carry that [learning] with them into their adulthood, and to be able to make those decisions.”
However, Wilcox said discussing political opinions in the classroom is acceptable as long as the circumstances are relevant. She said she also believes the school itself hasn’t restricted her from sharing her opinions.
“I don’t feel like the school has ever told me that I can’t share my political opinion,” Wilcox said. “We’re human beings: we have thoughts, we have feelings, we have emotions. So we have opinions, and I think as long as you share them in an appropriate way that you’re absolutely welcome to do that.”
Government teacher Katie Post said she prefers to express her personal opinions outside of school to the people close to her. She chooses to establish boundaries between her teaching and personal life.
“I vent out a lot to family and friends,” Post said. “ I always have that awareness of school versus personal [life]. Same goes for me as a teacher versus me as a person. They obviously overlap, but at the same time, it affords me the opportunity to keep them separate.”
Post said she believes that there are many risks to expressing her personal opinion through classroom-led discussions. She said it can lead to the isolation of students who don’t share similar views. Post said she wants her students to feel confident in their opinions and express them in a safe way.
“There are many risks that come with [sharing my opinions],” Post said. “ One of the biggest ones is probably alienating students to feel like they can’t share their own. Regardless of wherever you teach or wherever you go to school, people will agree and disagree with you. I think the biggest one is creating a classroom where kids feel like even though they might be the minority in their opinion, they still can feel like they can track what’s important.”
Government teacher Steve Prescott said he wants every student to be included during classroom discussions and does this by exploring all sides of an issue. He said he encourages his students to learn from those who have different opinions than them.
“My goal is for [my students] to use evidence to support their own opinions,” Prescott said. “They have evidence to support their opinion, and without diverse opinions, we would not be the great country we are without having various opinions. I think playing devil’s advocate is a good thing, and when a minority might have a position, a teacher would also express that to balance with other positions that might be more popular mean above your head.”
Prescott said establishing a clear line between work and personal life is challenging. Because of that, he said people try to avoid expressing their political input by showing a lack of concern instead. Getting rid of this mindset and taking in the information is healthier for both teachers and students, according to Prescott.
“We have to be open to these conversations,” Prescott said. “If we don’t, I think that we’ve lost something because we’re just apathetic, and apathy is not going to lead to a strong democracy. Apathy is not the same thing as balancing many opinions.”
Photo by Sharavani Page.