Teachers Are Abandoning Political Neutrality in Schools

Teachers increasingly say they cannot be politically neutral in the age of Donald Trump.

Jon Miltimore | July 12, 2017

Teachers increasingly say they cannot be politically neutral in the age of Donald Trump.
Teachers Are Abandoning Political Neutrality in Schools

Quinn Northup was a senior at Minnesota’s Edina High School (EHS) last November when the world around her began to go a little crazy.

Teachers and students were openly weeping, some uncontrollably. There was hugging. People were offering words of comfort and support to one another. 

“It’s going to be okay…”

“Don’t worry…”

“We will make it through this together..."

Northup, now a freshman at Pepperdine University, said it was perhaps the most morbid scene she’d witnessed in her young life. “It felt like someone had died or something,” she says.

Nobody had died. Teachers and students were responding to the election of Donald Trump.

The scene was more than a little awkward for Northup, a proud Trump supporter who had worn a “Make America Great Again” shirt on Election Day. Some blamed her. She was called racist, both to her face and on social media, she says. 

Between the tears and taunts, it soon became too much. 

“I had to have my mom come pick me up after third hour that day,” she said. “I couldn't stand to walk around a school filled with both teachers and students crying and looking to me through their tears with hurtful eyes.”

Weeks later an editorial was published on the official news site of the high school. It was written by EHS English teacher Tim Klobuchar, cousin to Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and was endorsed by 80 of the school’s teachers.

The editorial urged students to dismiss calls for unity and preached “rebellion against a broken world.” It tied election results to a racist image that had been disseminated on Snapchat weeks earlier, and it suggested  offensive graffiti scrawled on a bathroom door at a nearby high school was the handiwork of “validated” Trump supporters.

The entire editorial can be read below:

Zephyrus editorial

The editorial is an example of a growing trend across the United States: teachers are abandoning political neutrality.

A few weeks before the presidential election, 10 former state and national Teachers of the Year published an open letter saying they could not be politically neutral in the age of Donald Trump:

“We are supposed to remain politically neutral. For valid reasons, we don’t want to offend our students, colleagues or community members. But there are times when a moral imperative outweighs traditional social norms. There are times when silence is the voice of complicity. This year’s presidential election is one such time… .

We believe that Donald Trump is a danger to our society in general and to our students in particular. His words and actions have shown a consistent disdain for human dignity. His behavior goes against everything we teach the children in our care.”

While many teachers may be finding it difficult to keep their political beliefs out of schools, there can still be repercussions for openly bringing them into the classroom.

Last year, a social science teacher in Illinois named William Walker was placed on leave after showing his students an anti-Trump video and saying he planned to vote for Hillary Clinton, according to the Chicago Tribune. Earlier this year, a West Virginia teacher came under scrutiny when she was photographed wearing a "Tuck Frump" jacket to class. The teacher later resigned.

 

 

But most political messaging in schools is not so clumsy. Experts say teachers have a responsibility to not use schools “for their political soapbox,” but the issue ultimately comes down to professional judgment.

“Talking about politics in class is not a problem per se,” says Jason Brennan, an Associate Professor at Georgetown and one of the world’s leading experts on political knowledge. 

The problem, Brennan told me, is that such discussions are often led by people with education or English degrees rather than political scientists and economists trained to analyze politics in a rigorous way.

“An English teacher’s opinions on politics are of no more interest than his opinions on physics and engineering,” Brennan said. “He should stick to his area of expertise rather than bully a captive audience with his uninformed opinions."

In the case of Edina High School, a teacher who was formerly a journalist appeared to be bringing some of his outspoken political views into the school.

Should teachers really be writing editorials that shun unity, encourage rebellion, and create a hostile environment for students who might like the other candidate?

And make no mistake: rhetoric such as this does create a hostile environment for students.

Just ask Northup. “People called me racist to my face and over social media,” she said. “I pretty much experienced public humiliation.”

--

UPDATE: Klobuchar, responding to Intellectual Takeout's request for comment, said he has no regrets about the letter to the editor.

“I stand behind every word. I wrote it as a call to empathy at a very fraught moment in our school,” he wrote in an email, adding that it is not political “to take a stand in the classroom against racism, sexism, and other statements that are intended to harass, bully, or marginalize other students.”



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