Monday, January 10, 2011

Political Stances as a History Teacher

A question I often receive from people is whether or not parents ever get angry with me for espousing my political opinions to my students in class. The answer, for me, is really quite simple: That's nearly impossible since my kids are completely in the dark as to what I really think most of the time. Mind you, this does not mean I do not answer my students questions. To the contrary, I am 100% willing and able to discuss politics with the kids, usually from a Socratic point of view.

Simply put: I question, and question, and then question some more. I never let them make a point without backing it up, and I barely even let that rest. In class, the students have seen me as a border-fence-loving-George-Will-quoting-right-winger and they have witnessed my transformation to a universal-health-care-espousing-Fox-news-bashing-bleeding-heart in only a matter of seconds. In short, what I am trying to get my kids to understand (as any Social Studies teacher should) is the power of words and the value of public debate. But not only that, I am attempting to instill in them that this is how America works and will continue to work, if it is to remain America. Our ideals of Democracy and the Republic can only be carried on by teaching our students how to engage in them.

Lately, I fear schools and parents are either forgetting or simply failing to do this. There is still some great public debate and discussion going on in America, but more an more do we see sound-byte, comment-board, text-message-style argument between ourselves. If you do not believe me, cruise around CNN, FOX News, or youtube for a little while. Find a political story or video and surf the comments. You might read a real thoughtful post once in a while, but my guess is you will learn more about how Obama wants to destroy America or how Palin will bring a Fascist regime with her to the Presidency (either way, either side has a penchant for blaming the destruction of this nation on the other - part of me wonders if Americans are simply so bored that they are wishing for this to happen just to break the monotony).

If destruction of the Republic is to occur, it will not come from either political party (and it is lazy argument to say so). Rather, it will more likely spring from both political parties as these increasingly simplistic versions of real and complex debates combined with an unwillingness of those on either side of the arguments to compromise spiral Americans into more fear and hatred. This nation was built on dialogue and compromise (it's what democracy is). The Founders did not simply all agree on everything all the time, but they worked together to build the best Republic they could given their resources. It takes work to maintain that, and we are failing at that work.

Anyway, the point is that while we all have our own political opinions on a variety of issues, there is real danger in attempting to indoctrinate our children into our own opinions rather than giving them the tools to make their own informed decisions. If we are so confident in our opinions, wouldn't they hold up to the scrutiny of the next generation? Or is it insecurity that drives us to scream our own defense and brow beat those who lack the intellectual capacities we have?

As a person, my own political opinions have wandered since I was in high school. I have have been so far right that I had Gore-hating bumper stickers on my car. I have been so far left that I went door-to-door for Jennifer Granholm for MI governor. These winding paths, along with my experience as a teacher, have brought me much more toward the center (the dreaded center - where Conservatives call you a fence-sitting wimp and Liberals call you a non-participatory slug). And, frankly, if it means getting kids to think and discuss, then I am happy here.

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