Aug 22, 2017
The reasons political neutrality is important for educators and how to direct the current conversation for academic growth.
Today’s political climate is spurring more conversation than ever in and out of the classroom. With all of the news around current events, access to information, and social media, students are fired up and discussion is rampant. Yes, things can get easily heated, but one academic upside of the current conversation is the increased engagement being seen in students. Educators can take advantage of this interest by fostering healthy discussion to promote learning. At the same time, it’s important for educators to remain neutral in these discussions. Read on to learn more about the importance of staying neutral and how to promote healthy discussion and debate to strengthen learning.
We all have opinions -- it’s simply part of the human condition. With something as charged and personally relevant as politics, leaning toward one side or the other is largely inevitable. Especially as the back-to-school season approaches, it’s likely that you’ll be faced with students who want to discuss the political landscape. This is a wonderful opportunity to work on discussion and debate skills with your student. At the same time, educators should remain neutral and objective as they approach this topic. But why is staying neutral important?
Influence: Educators are authority figures and students trust their words. They are, after all, the people that students learn from. Expressing personal political opinions can mean students accept them as truths. Remaining objective is important to mitigate the possibility of influencing student beliefs and helps students learn to produce and articulate their own ideas.
Polarization: Learning environments should remain supportive and free of judgment, allowing students to realize their full potential without feeling stifled. It’s much more difficult to effectively teach students when they experience fundamental disagreements with educators. Discussing personal political views creates an environment where students with opposing views feel polarized and potentially even negative towards their teacher, creating an ineffective learning environment.
Disruption: The goal of teaching is to enable students to learn, and educators should strive to ensure this is what they are doing when they are on the job and interacting with students. It’s one thing to discuss politics as part of an academic debate, but it’s entirely another to introduce personal opinion in an education setting. The outcome can be disruptive to learning, derailing the educational objective and discouraging academic growth.
An essential function of education is to teach children how to formulate their own ideas and express thoughts articulately. Schools and other academic settings have long employed discussion and debate to assist in this endeavor. Luckily, there are certainly opportunities to utilize today’s political climate in advantageous ways to foster and promote learning in this way. Try shifting gears away from personal opinion and apply the following tactics:
Exercise reasoning skills: Political discussion can often become heated and sometimes get out of hand. It’s a good idea to communicate the importance of logic and reasoning when dealing with politics. Use the subject as an opportunity to teach and practice reasoning skills, such as playing games that require critical thinking or asking students “why?” often to encourage elaboration.
Set up debates: Whether you work independently with students or teach classes, forming debate sessions can be a great way to encourage learning both sides of an argument. Provide a question and have your students try arguing both sides, ensuring they are required to research and present pros and cons of each. If you work with students one-on-one, play the other sides during your debate.
Answer questions objectively: Encourage your students to ask you questions about politics, but ensure your answers are free of bias. Focus on providing factual answers and, if you don’t know the answer, collaborate with your student to find it through unbiased sources. If your students begin asking largely subjective questions, encourage them to answer it themselves, allowing them to practice critical thinking.
Practice effective research: Set aside time to teach your students how to properly research topics. Emphasize the importance of identifying unbiased, fact-based sources and equip them with the skills needed to research all sides of an argument before making decisions. Then, teach them how to organize and present their findings clearly and in an articulate manner.
Fact check: Perhaps most importantly, check your facts before communicating with your students. With a topic as hot as politics, the last thing you’ll want to do is provide incorrect information. Even if it means forgoing an answer to their questions, err on the safe side with regards to this point.
Today’s political landscape has sparked an enormous amount of discussion both in and out of the classroom. This has created an opportunity to encourage reasoning and debate skills with your students but, while it may be tempting to share your own personal views, it’s important to remain neutral as an educator. When the academic conversation is focused on politics, there exists a fine line between engaging in healthy political dialogue and attacking an opposing view. Part of your job is to encourage and direct discussion towards informed conversation in order to promote learning and academic growth.
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