Should Teachers Make Their Political Opinions Known in Their Schools? By Yen Yen Woo

Last week, the Teachers Union filed a law suit against the Department of Education for infringing on individual teachers’ freedom of speech when the DOE attempted to curb teachers’ expression of their political allegiances through acts such as wearing a political button? What do you think?

While I am always an advocate of sharing our lives with students without imposing our ideas on them, would wearing a political button, or telling students that “this weekend I was at a political rally” be going too far? Or is this another way of making current events relevant to our lives and curriculum in the classroom? How far would you go? What would you consider? How might you talk about politics and the elections in your own classroom with neutrality so that all viewpoints are considered?

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27 responses to “Should Teachers Make Their Political Opinions Known in Their Schools? By Yen Yen Woo

  1. In conjunction with teachers giving their cell phone numbers to students, I believe that teacher’s personal lives need to stay separate from their profession. In education the teacher needs to keep their beliefs separate from the students. A teacher should provide proper educational information to the students. The relationship between the teacher and student should be comfortable allowing anything to be discussed, although the teacher should never express their opinion always be open to both sides. For example if the teacher expresses their opinion of who they wish to vote for in the election the student can bring that information home to their parents and if the parents disagree with the teachers choice the parents will then approach the teacher or the school to complain. Teachers hold high power over students and the amount of respect the students have for them could result in a change due to the student wanted to be similar to the teacher. The election is an important topic that should be discussed in educational facilities, especially during the year of the election it is never too early to start. Teacher can ask the students opinions to be formulated in papers, but even students are afraid to speak their mind. During my observation I was speaking with a student about a project they are conducting in class for the election, when I asked the student whom she would be voting for if she were able to, her response to myself was it is a secret. This scared response came from a 4th grader who is not even able to enter the voting booth. If the students are cautious about sharing their opinions on the election, teachers should realize to keep their information secret too.

  2. I think that it is a bad idea to tell students who you are voting for in an upcoming election. I have very strong political beliefs and opinions as many people do, however, I don’t think it is my job as a teacher to impose them upon my students. I think that it is my job to make them explore both sides and understand the fundamental ideas of each party. It is important that they formulate their own beliefs and opinions based on the information.
    Most children hear their parents talk politics at home and are aware of whom and what their parents support or don’t support. I will venture a guess that most children don’t know why their parents have these beliefs and opinions, but take them as the truth because it’s mom and dad. If I, their teacher, start giving my personal views and they turn out to be different from what they hear at home, then I run the risk of alienating myself. I am very open and passionate about my political views in general, however in the classroom I have to remain neutral so that I don’t lose the respect, attention or open-mindedness of my students.
    In the end, what is really important is that our students have an opinion of their own; that we spark up an interest within them; that we ignite some type of fire to get informed and get involved. We need to teach them to to think for themselves, not tell them what to think.

  3. This is, indeed, a tough issue. First, I think its important to note that a teachers political position will come out in class whether they wear a pin or not. That is true for all of us. We often, unintentionally, let our feelings on many issues known through conversation with students and colleagues. Others make judgements based on the way we dress, how we act, kind of car we drive, etc. Second, I agree that there is no place for politicing in the classroom. We should be teaching students about looking at candidates and evaluating their stances without revealing who is our favored one. No pulpits in the classoom please.

  4. Students are very easily persuaded, especially when hearing a teacher’s opinion, who most believe are “always right” or “know everything”. A teacher presenting his/her personal political view can be dangerous. If a teacher were to inform his/her students who he/she will be voting for it is possible that these students will end up making an uninformed decision based on what the teacher has just said. Instead of teachers voicing out their opinions they should be informing students of all the different views out there, pose questions that will make them want to know more and even form their own ideas and opinions. A teachers job is not to impose his/her own ideas on the students but rather help them form their own.

  5. I don’t believe that teachers should directly inform students about who they are voting for, even though students can get a sense of it. Instead of teachers voicing their opinions they should discuss the political views of both sides. This way students can decide for themselves. I also think that students could possibly form an opinion about a teacher if they don’t believe in the same views that a teacher does.A classroom is not a polling place and students have to learn how to make decisions on their own.

  6. This is a very controversial issue. Part of me believes that teachers should be able to display their political views. But the other part believes that the teachers values and beliefs should not be dispalced onto the students, as it should be the students decision to decide who and or what political party they would like to support. Politics in the classroom can be compared to religion in the classroom. The classroom should be an equal and bipartisan place. Students need to be informed of political issues but need to receive the information and form the ideas on their own. This is like much of education where the teacher should provide the students with learning tools to help make decisions, but the decisions should be made by the students themselves.

  7. I think that the presidential elections are a good way to get students excited to learn about US history and Government. I think that the lessons need to be neutral and unbiased. I do not think that a teacher should impose any of their personal political beliefs on their students. Instead, I think that students should be given the facts and allowed to decide for themselves.

    When I am a teacher, I will not preach dogmatic rhetoric on how America should be or who should be in office. I would allow for open class discussions where I will take a back seat. I will let the students do most of the talking so that they can formulate their own opinions and views. This will also be an opportunity to motivate students to read the newspaper and learn about current events. Whatever the lessons are I would make sure that I stress to my students that neither political party is better than the other. I would make sure they know that they will not be judged or graded based on a political alliance if they choose to divulge it.

  8. I think a teacher’s political viewpoints should only be discussed when relevant to the students and with the purpose of being productive. With all that is going on in our country it is hard for us all to hold back our opinions and I think that goes for the kids we teach as well. But I also think like everything else there has to be a line that as we have to be careful not to cross. If students want to engage in conversation and get feedback from their teachers I think that can be a good thing, but it must be done cautiously and in a way that we are not imposing our opinions on others. I think there is a difference also between having an engaged conversation where the teacher is mediating things so that the students can make their own educated decisions and parading around wearing buttons, spewing out political beliefs.
    We are all entitled to express our viewpoints but ultimately there has to be a time and a place. If we were at any other company or job they most likely wouldn’t tolerate people being overly expressive about their political views. So I think people have to remember that when they are in the school building it is still a workplace like any other.

  9. I do not think that teacher should share their political opinions with their students. Politics like religion is a very personal subject and should not be shared publicly. Students are very impressionable and I think by sharing your own personal views it could hinder their exploration for their open opinions and might also change their feelings/respect for you as a teacher. I think that it’s important to talk about political issue in the class room as long as it is in an unbiased way.

  10. I feel that it important as educators not to discuss our political views with our students. Yes, as many of the comments have stated, the students might get a feeling of our views but we need to try to keep them to ourselves. When I have observed Biology classes, the question always comes up during the year about Stem Cells and abortion rights. It is up to us to present the pro and cons of the issues to enable the students decide for themselves for what they feel is correct. The presidential race offers us a unique teaching tool to promote higher level thinking, class discussions and assignments that can help us become better teachers. We should keep our opinions to ourselves but us this moment in time to enhance the education process in our classes.

  11. Freedom of speech is not always freedom to say what you will, but when it comes to political choice, if you don’t talk about it, how can any one side grow to understand the other? Barriers like politics, economics and religion have separated people for years. And some like it that way–Mostly the people who have power, money and — well Religion. They hold onto their guns and ro-s–No, no that’s not it. Well why don’t I put it this way. Opinions are important enough to share but people must be able to agree to disagree so that all of the voices can be heard This way “change will come” and it will be the “change we need .”

    Why are people so locked into one way–theirs? There are different routes to one destination. Let’s try a little differentiated instruction in politics. Carry your Obama cup (blue) and carry your McCain cup (red). Maybe the assumptions can stop and guessing about what our neighbors are thinking can dissipate, people can actually have a conversation about it and then go back to their corners; rather than suppress our rights for freedom of speech as Americans.

    Who knows, maybe one day rich people will be able to live next door to poor people and all of the neighborhood schools will be good.
    I think the matter is more a question of whether or not people be mutually respectful of each other.
    I will talk about politics in my classroom because it is real and it is part of life and I think that children should know what’s going on around them and become part of the process. I will not, however, go to the extreme of trying to convince my students one way or the other or the other other because I don’t feel that my choice SHOULD be theirs. Regulating it is something to think about, however, when it comes down to ethics because once the door closes, are there teachers out there who might try to influence students. Either way, it would be a disservice to Americans not to teach politics in the classroom–just the facts teachers, just the facts!

  12. I recently had this discussion with my good friend who is a 4th grade teacher at a public school in Brooklyn. In her school, teachers were getting in trouble for wearing buttons showing support for their chosen candidates. First, let me say that this is my third semester in the grad program, my undergrad degree is not related to teaching and aside from my observations I have no classroom experience. That being said, my first response to her was one of surprise. Why did it matter if teachers wore buttons to school? These are elementary school kids, they can’t even vote. A button will not persuade someone who has no choice in the matter. It is my feeling that school is supposed to be a place to learn about politics. However, after reading some blogs I have a better understanding of why restrictions are placed about voicing political views in schools. A teacher should presents both sides and give unbiased information so that students can make their own informed decisions. It is my feeling that students, especially young students, get all their political views from their parents. Yet, I still have the feeling that letting these students know that another authority figure, someone they trust and respect, has a different opinion then their parents and that it is okay. There is no right and wrong when it comes to politics, it is a personal preference. Students should be aware of that fact that it is based on the issues that are important to the individual and not a question of right and wrong. It may be beneficial to older students to know that their parents and teachers have different views. It may motivate them to do research and really look at the issues a seek their own answers when two authority figures have different opinions.

  13. I do not think a teacher should divuldge of their personal political views. If politics are to be spoken about in the classroom (which they should be, especially now), then each side should fairly be explained. I think a good way of getting both sides across and allowing the students to make their own decision on who they support is to create a debate forum in the class. The catch is the students will not know which side they are debating for; Republican or Democrat, so they will have to prepare for both. By doing this, they are forced to prepare to argue for either side and they figure out each sides’ stand on the issues. I remember my Sophmore year of college, I took a Political Science class and my professor refused to tell us his political view until the very last day of class. It actually made it interesting because we would try and get him to tell us and he just wouldn’t, so we would try to guess. That didn’t work either because one day we would think he was liberal and the next, he would come off conservative. Good topic for discussion!

  14. I do not think that teachers should preach their political views in a classroom. I think that politics should be addressed in the classroom but it must be presented in a way that the children understand that they are aloud to have their own opinion. I think that teachers should present relevant information and also teach children how to find their own sources that will help them to gather their information and form their own opinions. I had professor for philosophy in college and he was very religious, one of my roommates told me because he was her adviser, but the way that he taught us I would never had known. I always felt that I received straight facts and no opinion of what to believe. I think that teachers should be very careful in the ways that they present their views; they should make it known that not everyone thinks the same way about different topics such an politics and religion.

  15. This is a difficult topic because it is really quite divisive. The Department of Education infringed on individual teachers’ freedom of speech when they attempted to curb teachers’ expression of their political allegiances through acts such as wearing a political button. But are political discussions appropriate for the classroom? I do not think it is appropriate for teachers to espouse their political beliefs because they are in a direct position of authority. If a student looks up to a teacher and that teacher is blatantly supporting a political figure, the student will support that political figure as well. The young student will more than likely not even factor in the view points behind the political figure he or she will just support that person because that is who their teacher supports.

    Impressionable young students should try to look at as many media outlets as possible i.e. the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, and Fox News and then make their own decision as to whom they most closely associate themselves with. I think if teachers want to have a poster of Barack Obama in their classrooms they should also have a poster of John McCain. I think I would tell my students about both candidates’ positions without placing any value judgments on them. It is not my place to impose my political philosophies on them. I think if teachers want to wear political buttons, they should wear both candidates.

  16. I think a teacher even if they do not openly state this political views in class will still inevitably show the students what they believe. When they are talking about politics they will make comments that will lead people to make a conclusion. If a teacher is pro one candidate they might make more positive comments about them. If the teacher feels one candidate is not as good they might make more negative comments about him. This could all be done unconsciously. Whenever a teacher teachers they are using their own social biases. Having an opinion is part of life. Should students be allowed to watch the news because every political news segmant is biased toward the opinion of the newscaster. While I feel a teacher should not openly come out and say I support this candidate because …. it will happen no matter what. People need to accept the idea that even every textbook is biased too. Should we stop using every textbook? If learning were conducted without an opinion it would be just plain boring.

  17. It is appropriate for a teacher to wear a pin that depicts their political ideals. It is their given right. However they can not implement those ideas in their classroom. Kids today are very impressionable. They will take your opinions into consideration and either follow in your footsteps or steer away from them. Teachers are role models. If students see that you support a particular candidate they may mimic your behavior. Politics are considered current events. As long as you express the views of both parties without any bias then they can be discussed in the classroom. It is quite hard to remove your own thoughts and opinions from this subject. You can be bias without even knowing it. It can be underlying in the tone of your voice or in the way you annunciate certain sentences. This is a very sensitive subject. It is a topic we are currently dealing with. If you are a teacher you need to be implement both parties views, reviewing both the good and the bad. It is up to you to be the mediator and educator.

  18. As a teacher i think it is important to teach students about what is going on politically around them. Making sure to teach at thier level and to try not to favor one side so that students can form thier own opinions. I do not believe that teachers should be banned from discussing politics. Teachers definately have a n influence on thier students so they should be careful not to lean to heavily on one side as opposed to the other.

  19. Students need to know about what is going on around them and how it will effect them so it is important to bring this to light. Something like wearing a button to school is not outragous and should not be looked at as infringing on someone elses opinion. It is free expressin just as long as they are not telling someone of opposing opinoin that they are wrong! I think it is one of the responsibilities of a teacher to discuss the issues and let the students think about what they think is right and who they would want to choose. As long as you are putting both parties point of views out there and not just one, then I do not think it is wrong to hold political discussions in the classroom.

  20. As a teacher your influence over your students is either as primary or secondary to their parents. As a future elementary educator I believe that my students grasp of the political situation will be limited at best. In my observations I noticed many of the political discussions were significantly impacted by the parent’s opinions that were echoed by the student in the classroom. As an educator my opinion will remain that, I am not going to discuss my political beliefs in the classroom, only educate the children as to the political system and its impacts on their lives in the classroom.

  21. A teacher has a large influence over the opinions of their students whether they like it or not. As an adult and an authority teacher whose purpose is to educate students about various topics it is obvious that the political opinion of a teacher can largely shape that of their students. For this reason I think it is appropriate that teachers only present the facts of a political situation and refrain from making any personal opinions. The job of an educator is not to tell their students what to believe but to present them with all the available information to allow them to make their own decision. Imposing your personal opinions on students has no place in the classroom on the topics of politics or any other pertinent issues.

  22. While it is important to make students aware of current events such as the 2008 Presidential Election a teacher should not impose their own values on them. Students are highly influential and often strive to be like those teachers that they look up to and respect. As teachers we should want to give students every opportunity to create their own knowledge and part of that includes formulating their own opinions. I believe that holding mock debates, presenting students with accurate (and unbiased) facts, and even having an election are solutions to making students aware of the current presidential election without giving your own opinion. I do not believe that it is not an infringement on freedom of speech to not allow teachers to openly endorse on candidate over another. The future president should reflect who the people have chosen in their own free will, meaning that older students who may be of voting age should not vote one way over another because they were influenced by an opinionated teacher’s remarks. I truly believe that it is important for first time voters to gain a sense of pride in knowing they made a well informed decision that was their own so that they continue to be active citizens.

  23. There are two subjects I believe we as adults should never discuss publicly (because of how sensitive the subject is) and they are religion and politics. We should never impose our beliefs and ideas upon others, and the same principle and idea should apply in our classrooms. However, it should be discussed in a neutral way. I don’t believe that teachers should wear a political button because that may cause a conflict. Students look up to teachers and highly respect their opinions. A student should have the right to form opinions and beliefs and ideas on their own. Teachers can implement elections and political view points in their lessons by pinpointing the vital points from each party. The teacher can put students into groups (not based on their actual beliefs) and then students can form their own debates. There are many ways to go around it without a teacher voicing who she will vote for. Because what will happen is parents will begin to hear who their child’s teacher is voting for and then begin to think that that teacher is encouraging their child to agree with that teacher’s political view points. Politics (just as religion) is a very touchy subject and should be spoken about lightly.

  24. I am intrigued with this topic in general. While growing up, I can remember not thinking of my teachers as people; with lives, children, bills, interests, hobbies, political views, and car problems. I, in my naivety, did not think outside the four walls of my classroom. I received, from my parents and other adults in my sphere of influence, the conviction to question, get involved, and make a difference for my future. During my undergraduate college career, I was blessed with faculty that taught as a peer. We learned together, we experienced life as lessons in and out the classroom, and we became active in every sense of the word. Without their influence to learn through experience, I would not be here today. Without being taught that it was all right to have an opinion, that is was all right to take a stand, both of which I learned through watching those that I looked up to do the same, I would not have found my own voice. I think that in some instances adults are fearful of giving children power because it could be a detriment to their youth. However, outside the classroom children are being forced to grow up so quickly, and what are we doing as educators to give them the tools to succeed. It will never be right to send our children into the world ill equip. I think it is our duty as educators to promote the bigger picture, to show the youth of today that we are active citizens. I do not think, as teachers, we should be personal, but we should show that it only takes education and courage to change the world. I don’t think we should steer away from such topics as sex education, politics, money management, religion-art-history, or pop culture. I think we should be tactful, use discussion and debate positively, and encourage our students to learn through experience.

  25. This one’s easy. If you’re a democrat, of course you can. Seriously though, I think that it all depends on the subject matter and the student body. I don’t believe that a teacher should actively promote his/her opinions in their academic setting, not even by doing something as seemingly innocuous as wearing a button. It just doesn’t seem professional. But I definately feel that it’s important to talk about current events and topics with your students. A teacher can present the facts and different viewpoints to generate a discussion among the students. And I see no harm in answering honestly any questions your students might pose to you about how you feel though, generally, the more controversial the topic, the more neutral the teacher should be (overtly, anyway). When students asked me who I was voting for, I prefaced my answer with a short explanation of how I thought that both candidates had their strong points and that I respected the opinion of voters who preferred my candidate’s opponent. Even in the earliest grades, introducing the concept of different points of view and teaching students to respect the opinions of others is invaluable.

  26. This is a tricky issue. While I believe that it is important to maintain a wide interpretation of the first amendment in the classroom, I don’t think it’s appropriate to wear political buttons in class. School, for me, is supposed to be as unbiased as possible, in order to promote greater freedom for idea sharing.

    I really don’t think that teachers should be publicly partisan – and I agree with commenter ‘thoneboylan’ above – it’s just not very professional.

    Unless you are wearing a button representing each party – and your goal is to promote a debate, or to introduce election issues to your class. I think that the job of a teacher, especially at the high school level, could reasonably include the training of responsible, well-informed citizens.

  27. The article asks an interesting question. I think that teachers have a tremendous amount of power and influence over their students. In light of that I think it is imperative that a teacher keeps political opinions to him/herself. A teacher must stay neutral and present all sides of the political issues. I think a teacher can do this while encouragaing students to be aware and to be politically/civically involved.

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