If there is one thing that both liberals and conservatives can agree on, it’s that the 2016 election will go down in history as one of the most polarizing in recent memory. From Hillary Clinton’s emails to Donald Trump’s sexual assault allegations, the controversies just keep coming.
The question for Hale teachers: how do you take a balanced approach to the election in class when a candidate’s platform is radically opposed to your beliefs and morals? It’s not a question with an easy answer and there are a variety of opinions among our staff.
For English teacher Sarah Fraser, discussing the election in the classroom is necessary.
“It’s something that has to happen, especially since issues of race and economics are really important to the eleventh-grade humanities block…To shy from it would be cowardly,” she said.
Fraser’s teachers at Chapman University never discussed politics in the classroom, which now affects how she approaches controversy.
“The morning of September 11, 2001, I went to take a math test. This was like 30 minutes after I had found out that the [Twin Towers] were falling down and my teacher just gave us the test and that was it,” Fraser said.
The lack of discussion left her feeling lost, but Fraser said she understands why they didn’t bring it up during class.
“It was a time of confusion. I think a lot of people were afraid and it’s hard to find clarity on issues. I know that now,” Fraser said.
She thinks that now is also a time when many of us lack clarity.
History teacher Doug Edelstein described the educational dilemma that faces so many teachers across the country.
“It’s very difficult, because we are required ethically not tell students who to support, but at the same time Mr. Trump’s platform includes overtly racist rhetoric against students in my classroom,” Edelstein said. “This is a man who has mimicked and ridiculed the disabled, who has called Mexicans ‘rapists,’ who has characterized an entire world religion as a terrorist organization…[A man] who is irresponsible, irrational, and as malevolent a threat as anything we’ve seen since the days of George Wallace,” referring to the populist politician during the 1960s and 1970s who ran on a platform of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
“The point of view I’m advocating for is critical thinking, about everything,” he said. “The left needs to be critiqued and the right needs to be critiqued. The problem today is the question of degree. The right wing has ventured once again into racism and race baiting, misogyny [and] immigrant hating.”
History teacher Tony Renouard takes different approach.
“In general, I try very hard to keep any of my politics out of the classroom,” Renouard said. “One of the things we talk about in our meetings is simply posing questions and letting students come to their own conclusions on it, and I think that has worked pretty well so far,” he said. And he’s not alone in his approach.
Fellow history teacher Tim Ames shares a similar opinion.
“I don’t ever try and bring or layout what my bias would be,” Ames said. “I don’t think that’s a teacher’s job. In government, we are examining all the candidates in the same way that I have in every presidential election that I’ve ever taught.”
Renouard and Ames’ approach boils down to the idea that students will come to their own logical and moral conclusion. The teacher’s job is to simply give them the facts.
“I will talk to [students] about how I voted and what my thinking was after the [election is over],” Ames said. “Not to make them think like me but to pattern and show my thought process in terms of how I go about informing myself as a voter.”
“I’m here to teach you how to think, not what to think,” Ames said. Edelstein agrees with that idea.
“I believe that students exposed to the facts will make rational decisions. The radical part of it comes in which kind of facts you present to students,” Edelstein said. “There are perspectives and storylines that are never heard in the political scene. Points of views of African Americans, of working-class Americans, of young people, of women, of environmentalists whose perspectives don’t get represented very often.”
Edelstein and Renouard both describe benefitting from a wide range of perspectives in high school, Edelstein attended Nathan Hale and Renouard went to a Jesuit school. Both try to provide a similar experience to theirs for Hale students.
During college, however, Renouard noticed that many professors brought their own politics to the table.
“And I think that did influence me as a teacher to say ‘I didn’t take this government class to learn your politics, I took the class so I could learn how to develop my own,’” Renouard said. “If your teacher is blatant about their politics then [they] just shut down kids that don’t agree and that should never, ever be our goal. Seattle is a very liberal place to begin with and if you’re a kid with moderate or conservative values, you feel shut down enough.”
Neither Fraser nor Edelstein know if any of their students are Trump supporters.
“The most important thing… [is that] I would hope that we could have a dialogue,” Fraser said. “I would want to approach it from a standpoint of inquiry… I think that I’ve expressed a little bit of my concern and confusions but I hope that I haven’t come down too hard.”
Edelstein would tolerate any student’s political views but he said, “I am not going to tolerate racial hate speech in class.”
Fraser remains uncertain when it comes to taking such an absolutist stance on Trump’s campaign in the classroom.
“I think it’s…necessary to not put forth any untoward biases,” Fraser said. “However, it’s complicated because, with issues of morality and ethics, I feel like I have to take a stand at some point and sort of champion what I feel is right.”
“My approach has been sort of hesitant and somewhat bumbling. Ultimately, I just feel like I’m not doing it right,” Fraser said with a laugh.