POV: Political Discussion

Marie Brockhoff, Copy

    In October 2020, a teenage student in France beheaded his teacher, Samuel Papy, who had shown a political cartoon portraying the Prophet Mohammad during a class on the freedom of expression. While events in America are rarely so extreme, the current polarized political climate has sparked discussion as to how current events are discussed in schools. Some believe teachers should remain neutral, while others believe that personal opinions inevitably creep in and teachers can mindfully express their views. 

“I think everyone has political bias, because . . . you have your own opinions,” says seventh grader Owen Koederitz. “I think it’s okay for teachers to express what they believe, but they shouldn’t try to force the kids that they’re teaching to believe that way.” 

Sophomore Pancho Metz believes that Seabury’s close-knit community enables teachers to engage in more political discussion. “Teachers know the students and the classroom environment, and we know the teacher very well, so you can already trust each other,” says Metz. “If [teachers] want to talk about something, they can say, ‘Look, this is my political viewpoint; this is where I’m coming from.’” 

    On the other hand, junior Summer Hartzler believes in not overstepping topical boundaries at school during discussion. “I believe there’s a time as long as it’s factual, and teachers say it’s their own opinion,” says Hartzler. “Some things are inappropriate to discuss at school; it’s important to discuss things at the right time.” 

    Prioritizing student comfort, sixth grader Lucas Sherwood believes teachers can mindfully voice their views. “I don’t think [teachers should express] so much that they make students feel bad about their beliefs,” he says. Sherwood feels comfortable sharing his opinions, “but some students might [not], if they have a different opinion.” 

    Koederitz feels at ease while discussing current events, but he recognizes that some students may have a different experience. “If you’re discussing anything political in a classroom . . . you just have to make sure everyone is ok with it,” he says. “Not everybody feels comfortable discussing their beliefs.” 

    Interestingly, faculty member Sara Asher, who largely teaches sixth and seventh graders, avoids overtly sharing her own views in the classroom. “I really strive to be neutral on political topics, because I don’t want to shape [students’] political views,” says Asher. “I want to lay the facts out for them and let them start to make their own minds up.” 

    Creating an open environment for discussion is a common priority. Hartzler believes in the importance of “enforcing that all opinions are valid and not saying that there’s a wrong thing or right . . . I believe that listening to other people’s views is the most important thing,” she says. 

“It’s important to have a civil discourse and a civil conversation about [politics]; to state my beliefs but not just immediately assume theirs is wrong before they’ve even made their points,” says Asher. “Creating dialogue like that in a classroom is sometimes difficult to do, but I think it’s super necessary.” 

    It is difficult to separate human rights issues from their political associations during classroom discussion. Asher, for one, believes in the necessity of education on social justice issues. “When you talk about those things in a safe environment like a classroom really is, then that allows kids to have the lightbulbs turn on,” she says. “I think social justice issues are apolitical.” 

    Sherwood agrees that education on human rights issues, especially with regards to history, is crucial. “If we know what happened a long time ago, we can fix those errors later on,” he says. 

    As Americans wrestle with deep political divides, how current events should be discussed in this educational community remains an ever-present issue. Regardless, compassion and understanding remain at the forefront. “We’re all human, you can’t avoid that,” says Metz. “Of course it’s hard when someone else has a different opinion . . . but that’s not bad.”