What SHOULD Teachers Tell Kids about Elections?

I made a HUGE mistake today.  

After checking out this Washington Times article about an elementary school in New York that cancelled its mock election because students were showing open disrespect towards one another based on nothing more than the political party that they “supported,” I read through the comment section.

#badmove

Here’s a sampling of what I found there:

 “Nice going ‘educators’…you don’t realize it now, you think you’ve won because you stopped the Trump chant. You’ve lost, and lost big. The students just got an up close and personal experience with what marxist/communist/fascist tyranny feels like.”

“Agree with you. I taught my son the opposite. He knew that he was there to learn to read and write not for the opinions of the weak teachers or students. If one of his teachers started preaching their brainwashing, he knew to tun out!”

“It’s nice to see the youth of this island haven’t been corrupted and indoctrinated by the damn liberal teachers. To you “teachers”, what’s the matter, it didn’t work out the way you hoped it would? Children have figured out early that there is no assimilating the barbarians into Western culture? Why don’t you liberal dipschits move to Sweden and then you can write about how peachy everything is.”

“Go, kids, go! Lookit how their politically correct lefty narrative teachers scramble to cover it up. No doubt they all went to the transgender bathroom to make themselves feel less “offended”; the teachers, I mean. Fools. Morons. Idiots. It’s why all children ought to be home schooled.”

“It really is a necessity to check with your children about what was taught at school each day.  So you can correct the garbage fed to them by liberal-left unionized teachers.”

I wasn’t all that surprised by the hate being hurled at classroom teachers in these comments.  After all, the “teachers are trying to brainwash students to be slaves to the Democratic party” line of thinking — which makes me chuckle given that I’ve voted for as many Republican presidential and gubernatorial candidates as I have Democrats in the last three decades — has been a part of talk radio shows ever since  Rush Limbaugh first started calling people Sheeple.

But those arguments are pretty darn crazy, y’all.  Seriously.

I’ve taught for over 20 years and I’ve never tried to brainwash the kids in my classroom to support and/or oppose a particular candidate for public office.  More importantly, I’ve never had a supervisor order me to brainwash the kids in my classroom OR been handed sets of curriculum materials that were designed to trick me into brainwashing the kids in my classroom.  Turns out most of us teacher types actually dig the idea of helping kids to form their own positions.  In fact, my guess is that most teachers would flat out celebrate a student that made an articulate, informed argument in favor of positions that we personally opposed.

We call that critical thinking.

What drives me nuts is just how little people really know about the kinds of conversations that teachers are having with students about elections.

The fact of the matter is that the VAST majority of classroom teachers say little to nothing about elections to their students.  That’s mostly a self-preservation strategy.  Read enough stories filled with angry comments calling you a “politically correct lefty narrative teacher” or a card carrying member of a “Marxist/communist/fascist tyranny” and you’d keep your mouth shut, too.  The risk of being misunderstood by the wrong person and dragged head first through the professional mud far outweighs any potential reward that can come from talking to students about elections.

And that should FRIGHTEN anyone who REALLY cares about America.

You see, one of the primary goals of schools has always been to prepare students to be educated, respectful participants in our democracy.  Accomplishing that goal depends on teachers and other important adults — coaches, parents, preachers, neighbors, uncles, grandparents — who are willing to show students what “educated, respectful participation” looks like in action.  After all, “power to the people” is only an effective governmental strategy when “the people” understand how to use that power in positive ways to move our nation forward.

So what SHOULD teachers tell kids about elections?  

We should start by telling kids that the first step towards being an educated, respectful participant in our democracy ISN’T identifying candidates or parties that you believe in.  Instead, educated voters identify the causes and issues that matter the most to them.  For example, I care most about the economy, the environment, education and equality.  Those aren’t the ONLY issues that matter in an election, but they are the issues that I will use as a lens for focusing my study of the candidates that are running.

Then, we should tell kids that becoming educated about the issues that matter to them depends on studying a wide range of sources.  The saddest truth about the digital world that we live in is that it is all too easy to find content that is heavily slanted in one direction or another.  In fact, it’s darn close to impossible to find content that’s NOT slanted.  Kids need to be able to identify bias in the sources that they are studying and have a plan for countering that bias when working towards making important decisions.

Finally, we should tell kids to remember that people we disagree with are reasonable, rational people too — and that instead of demonizing them, we should sit down and talk to them.  Being educated means fully understanding what people who disagree with you feel about the issues that matter the most to you — and accepting that there are elements of truth that are worthy of consideration and respect in the positions of people who see things differently than we do.

If we could use election season conversations to convince our students that studying politicians and parties should ONLY happen after a voter has a clear sense of the issues that matter the most to them, has sought out unbiased information on each of those issues, and has had substantive conversations with people who see things differently, we’d leave our kids AND our country in a better place than it is right now.

#enoughsaid

 

If teaching students about managing information, thinking critically and engaging in collaborative dialogue resonates with you, check out Teaching the iGeneration — Bill’s book on using digital tools to introduce students to essential skills like information management, collaborative dialogue and critical thinking.  

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Related Radical Reads:

The Curse of Our Online Lives

Pushing Against Incivility

Bill’s Resources on Teaching Kids about Collaborative Dialogue

2 comments

    • Bill Ferriter

      No sweat, Kristen!

      BTW: I sure appreciated you going easy on me through the drubbing that the Bills Pats game was last week!

      ; )

      Hope you are well,
      Bill