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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 10/29/2009

Should teachers reveal their political opinions in class?

By Valerie Strauss

With the Virginia governor’s race and other elections taking place this Tuesday, The Answer Sheet’s group of moms talks today about teachers and what they should and shouldn’t say about their own political views in class. Please carry on the conversation with your own comments, and later, student opinions will be posted.

This Week’s Members:
Charlotte Osborn-Bensaada, a legislative librarian, has one child in a D.C. public school public and a 3-year-old program in a charter school.
Meg Arcadia is a teacher currently home schooling a 10-year-old boy, and a mom with a 3-year-old son.
Peg Willingham works for a non-profit health research organization and she lives in Virginia, where her daughter attends a public high school.
Linda McGhee is a psychologist, school counselor and professor, who lives in the District and works in Bethesda. Her son is in fifth grade in a Maryland private school.
Jamie Shor founded and operates the PR Collaborative in the District. She lives in Montgomery County, where her son is in elementary school and her daughter is in middle school.

Should teachers be allowed to express their political opinions in class?

I don’t have a problem with teachers having and even stating their political opinions in class. I think it is important that children understand that political issues can be contested and than opinions are part of being a citizen. But the caveat is that teachers really need to be aware of their own bias and ensure they are not using that against students that disagree with them.

This is going to sound like a psychologist, but I think we give away more about our political views than we would like by our nonverbal cues and verbalizations that have nothing to do with politics. That being said, I don’t think we should outright endorse a candidacy or a party in the classroom. I do try to encourage civic participation and involvement

No. I don’t think anything good comes of teachers’ expressing their political views in class, and my impression is that most of them scrupulously avoid talking about politics (just as they generally avoid discussing religious beliefs in a public school setting). Children’s parents whose views differ may regard promoting such views in the classroom as undue politicking/proselytizing, and children whose views differ may feel out of synch with an important authority figure.

I think it is okay if you are honest with young children about being a democrat or republican and, if you feel comfortable, answering who you are voting for in an election. Children often ask teachers these questions, just as they ask their teachers which winter holidays they celebrate. So, being open and honest is okay. Preaching and saying negative things about the other side is not. Every child has to feel supported by their teachers regardless of political or religious beliefs. It is the teachers jobs to provide the facts and let the children make their own opinions.

I think it is hard to say. I am perfectly happy with a teacher expressing political views as long as they are consistent with my own! That said, I do think it is rather difficult to have a political discussion in the classroom especially in this city where it is all very personal. There are ways teachers can use the news of the day to foster discussion and debate amongst their students without injecting personal views. It seems best to let students arrive at their own conclusions without guidance from the teacher.

What do you think about teachers expressing their political opinions to students in class?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 29, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Civics Education, Teachers  | Tags:  Teachers, The Group  
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I'm in with Linda.

Any debate should be student to student.

Posted by: RedBird27 | October 29, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Teachers, like other adults in our child's life, are imbued with a limited authority over the child. I feel responsible as a parent to see that those limits are not exceeded.

That aside, I believe the most important concept my children can be taught, by myself or anyone else, is the value of learning to collect, examine and analyze factual information on a topic. Given that, they have the ability to formulate their own opinion. Should anyone wish to indoctrinate my children with their opinions, they should expect to be asked to provide relevant and verifiable facts to support their opinion.

Posted by: ThoroughandThoughtful | October 29, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Teachers, like everyone else have a right to an opinion and some degree of freedom of speech. They are not robots. I don't think that promotion of any candidate or campaign should be allowed in a school setting, but if there is a student-led question or conversation that brings up the teacher's beliefs or opinion on politics than the teacher should be able to answer honestly (granted the teacher wants to). This will also show the students that it is ok to stand for something- especially in this day when so many don't!!

Posted by: StephanieMom1 | October 29, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I am a teacher and have a very strict policy regarding politics. I never tell the students my political affiliation. When teaching government and politics, I make it a point to present all sides and play devil's advocate. I've had kids ask me who I vote for, etc. I always respond by saying, "My job is to educate you, not indoctrinate you. If you can guess my political affiliation, then I haven't done my job properly."

Posted by: hkerrie | October 29, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

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