Opinion: Is it Cool to Talk Politics in School?

Mr. Caleb Martin

In our highly polarized political climate, controversial issues seem to highlight the news every day. It seems as though both sides of the political debate are so far apart that they both are unable and unwilling to hear the other perspective. Students grades 5-12 are continuously trying to find their own political views through consuming media and exploring existing opinions.

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Image courtesy of the BBC.

How should schools, the places designed for learning, help in that process while also providing different and unbiased perspectives to allow for students to discover what they believe? According to Pew Research Center, “A decade ago, the public was less ideologically consistent than it is today. In 2004, only about one-in-ten Americans were uniformly liberal or conservative across most values. Today, the share [of those] who are ideologically consistent has doubled. 21% express either consistently liberal or conservative opinions across a range of issues – the size and scope of government, the environment, foreign policy, and many others.” So, how does this disparity affect schools and students?

The way to arrive at truth is to listen with an open mind and to state opinions with the intention to help students understand their point of view, not to instigate disputes. Students and teachers must practice freedom of speech in classrooms, maintaining a neutral platform that questions all perspectives and allows for objective discussions.

First, students and teachers should balance freedom of speech while maintaining respect for all views. Bageshree Blasius (CVU’s AP Government teacher) stated, “In the class right now, we are covering the First Amendment. We’ve talked about constitutionally what the limits are to people’s right to freedom of speech. We’ve also talked about hate speech and how that category has potentially one of the limits.”

In class, they talked about controversial issues such as the KKK and what constitutes an insight of violence or hate speech. These issues can both unite and divide those that discuss them. Blasius said, “Yes, I think it is important to expose everybody to both sides of the issue using facts rather than opinion or bias.” In the pursuit of truth, facts must be used to support point. This is becoming increasingly more difficult with studies being done with bias and an agenda behind them.

Discussing political issues is a valuable tool to help students develop their own perspective. Blasius said, “School is where we are educated on the various issues where we are supposed to learn the parts of becoming a citizen and how to participate in society. I think it’s important to be exposed to these issues in school because school is where you will hopefully get the facts. It should give you the ability to see things from different sides.”

Students should use school as a place to share their opinion, disagree with others, and rethink ideas once hearing other perspectives. It is when people stop evolving their ideas and are not willing to be in situations with people that disagree with them that radical viewpoints are developed. When there is no one to contradict ideas and show opposing perspective on an issue, radical views on either side are able to fester. These radical views are not progressive or realistic. Compromise is the answer to the problems; to compromise one must be able and willing to hear the opposing side.

Teachers can model effective discourse by maintaining a neutral bias. Blasius said, “It is hard for teachers to stay unbiased in this era where politics are so polarized, It is important for teachers to keep their opinions out of the teaching while striving to teach the facts. School may be the only place where some kids can have these discussions.” In the United States of America, freedom of speech is one of our rights, granted to us by the Constitution. Our founding fathers knew, and it is still true to this day, that it is in the best interest of the individual and the country for people to exercise their right. That is why for the benefit of generations to come, we must promote conversation and disagreement in schools, as well as the search for truth.

School should be a place where one should not be afraid to share their perspective because of social backlash. It is beneficial to all when there is a disparity between views because it stops people’s perspectives from festering into radical ones. It can also make you see your own perspective with more clarity.