I think the majority of people would agree with the following statement, or some version of it: “Teachers should be politically unbiased when teaching their students, and not try to promote an agenda in the classroom.” But this simplistic statement runs into three problems:
Some people may claim that the teacher is promoting an agenda when he/she is only telling the facts. Likewise, some people may claim that the teacher is only telling the facts when he/she is promoting an agenda.
Some issues are, by their very nature, fence-splitting and divisive.
Many people like bias in education when it favors their side, but say “Let’s keep agenda out of the classroom” when it’s the other side’s opinion getting preferential bias by teachers. Or, it may be an even more overt, “My bias is for a good cause; the others side’s bias is for a bad cause. So let’s keep the bias I like and omit the bias I don’t like.”
So, is it a good thing, or even practical, to require educators to avoid political bias/agenda in the classroom?
I’d prefer the standard to be teachers should be dicouraged from teaching biased information. I don’t think it’s a realistically enforceable standard.
I want teachers to teach students the planks of the major political parties. As these are regularly updated and rewritten by parties with a biased agenda I have no idea how a teacher is supposed to teach an objective lesson on pieces that read like propaganda for each political party. The option ends with students being ignorant of our political system or students being taught about information that is indeed biased. The teacher should do thier best to specify this is the stated beliefs of each party.
A good teacher draws widely, inviting students to compare and contrast and come to their own conclusions.
But there is no way to be robotically neutral while still building an environment of trust. Some level of candidness is needed to encourage students to open up. The best teachers I’ve had have been open and honest about their beliefs on a personal level, while creating an open space for people with other beliefs and encouraging people to decide for themselves.
See, with evolution, climate change, and vaccination, we’re in the territory of objective fact.
What constitutes a “civil right,” is not objective.
(Note that climate change is factual; the extent to which such change is anthropogenic is a matter that may fairly be disputed, as long as we can agree that neither “none,” nor “all,” are factual answers).
But why should you get to define the boundaries of what a civil right is?
As a third grade teacher, I teach different civil rights differently.
When I’m talking about racial discrimination, I’m agin it, and my students know that. This is a settled issue.
When I’m talking about same-sex marriage, I give both sides of it, to the best of my ability. But I don’t shy away from explaining how court cases are going.
When I talk about ISIS and their imposition of their religion on nonbelievers, again, I’m agin it, and my students know. It’s possible I’ve stepped so far over the line to say that ISIS are bad guys.
As a general rule, if 95% or so of Americans agree on something (racial segregation in schools is bad, ISIS sucks, etc.), I don’t feel particularly compelled to pretend to neutrality on the subject. If it’s a matter of settled fact (anthropogenic climate change, evolution, vaccines), I teach the facts (which where I live is mostly a danger with vaccines–and of course I’m careful not to say, “If your parents don’t vaccinate you they’re idiots.”) If it’s a matter of values, and it’s a matter of controversy in the US, I do my best to explain both sides.
I think this is a reasonable approach.
As to why I should get to make this decision: I’m an agent of the state, specifically the agent of the state responsible for teaching kids about civil society. I might not always make the best judgment, but I sure try to do so, because it’s part of my professional obligation. My teaching objectives include:
Exemplify how citizens contribute politically, socially and economically to their community.
Apply skills in civic engagement and public discourse (school, community)
I gotta do it.
It is really sad how biology was turned into a political issue when it was not, and it should not be.
It is curious that independents subscribe to the theory of evolution at over 60% like the Democrats do, the problem is indeed on branding evolution as an agenda when it is not, but there are groups that do want to describe it like that and push the Republican party to follow their opinion.
Is it a “good thing” to teach facts instead of lies? Why, yes, personally I think so!
This is not usually a complex issue. At the level of science taught in public schools it’s not usually ambiguous what the facts are, and what is generally supported by a broad scientific consensus. Ditto for history and its support by historians.
The “problem” for the most part is an entirely artificial one created by science-denying revisionist lunatics, who are shocked when, completely out of the blue, their kids start talking about recycling or global warming, or mention something good that was done by a politician who was a known dirty socialist lib’rul.
What straw man? There have been lots of stories of parents outraged that their kids were being conditioned to be environmentally conscious, or that they were being taught evolution without the “balance” of “the other side”. There have been specific proposals to rewrite science textbooks to reflect that, or rewrite history textbooks to provide a more favorable view of conservative contributions. I don’t have all the cites at my fingertips but these are all real things. No straw here at all. And no subtlety, either. A lot of this was in Texas and elsewhere in the south, IIRC.
I think this whole issue is, to some extent, overstated. A substantial amount of subjects, particularly math, science, spelling, reading and writing have either objectively correct answers or disagreements that are non-political in nature. History class usually sidesteps the whole issue by never covering current or even recent events and focusing on the distant past that adults don’t care very much about (apologies to any professional historians). The extent to which politics needs to be involved in K-12 schooling is fairly minimal, and thus the debate over it always seems like splitting hairs.
In my classroom I try very hard to separate my personal political views from the facts of the lesson. But I teach American Government. That makes it very difficult. So I tell the students from the get-go what my political positions are, assure them that disagreeing with me and arguing with me will not damage their grades, and then bend over backwards to make sure that happens. When I feel the need to rant about an issue, I purposely step away from the lectern (and make sure the students know that I’m about to rant). They know that when I am off to the side, it’s personal opinion. They appreciate that, as do their parents. It has prompted a large number of free-wheeling discussions over the years. In fact, one such discussion back in 92 or so completely changed my opinions on gay rights. So it has been a learning experience for everybody.
The worst thing, IMO, is to hide your opinions as a teacher. You really can’t help but project your opinions onto your lessons, and the students need to know what those opinions are.
My classmates and I were often monolithic in our thoughts about one topic or another. Good teachers could argue with us even if they agreed with us. I think we learned better this way. This was relevant in history classes, maybe starting in middle school, and in college classes that dealt with policy (economics, education, etc.)
Yanno, Diane Ravitch is really awesome and terribly smart, and The Language Police is an excellent book. And you’re right; textbook content and language manipulation occurs on the left as well as the right. (Whether the degree and impact of those manipulations are comparable is another discussion entirely.)
But dude, Bricker, really, that review is a complete piece of shit. I mean, seriously and utterly crap.
The examples I cited were motivated by political ideology or religious wingnuttery in order to falsify facts.
The example you cite is merely an example of political correctness, which I admit drives me nuts sometimes, but which is intrinsically politically neutral and doesn’t seek to falsify established facts, like evolution or climate change, for instance.