With the upcoming presidential election, politics are on everyone’s mind and seem to make up most conversations. However, in schools, teachers are discouraged from voicing their political opinions or bias, so most avoid the topic altogether. Still, it is difficult to avoid politics in this modern American moment.
Another issue to address is what topics are inherently political. Should racism, LGTBQ+ rights, women’s rights, and other current issues be considered political? Should teachers be allowed to discuss them in a classroom setting? The American Civil Liberties Union provided the following explanation of limitations on political speech spoken by educators:
What you say or communicate inside the classroom is considered speech on behalf of the school district and therefore is not entitled to First Amendment protection. Certain types of speech outside the school might also not be protected if the school can show that your speech created a substantial adverse impact on school functioning or that your speech was made in accordance with your job duties.
As revealed in the previous ACLU analysis, teachers can attend rallies and protests outside of school. Still, if that outside-of-school speech substantially impacts school functioning, there could be consequences.
Most political topics are essential and can be spoken about within a classroom setting, but because teachers represent the school district while at work, they cannot state their opinions on them. Teachers are better protected when they can draw connections between the curriculum being taught and the introduction of these political ideas.
Although teachers are discouraged from stating their political opinions, in a poll conducted on UHS New’s Instagram, out of 143 Ukiah High students, 93 (about 65%) have experienced a teacher sharing their political bias in their class.
Politics may be discussed, and in some cases should, as they can be beneficial for tying learning material to current situations, but teachers actively sharing their opinions can be problematic.
UHS News spoke with several Wildcats who have experienced a teacher sharing their political bias, and the majority of those students disapproved of the practice.
Ukiah High Junior Katrina Bergmann said, “I think [teachers not being allowed to share their political beliefs] is a good thing; students should be able not to feel uncomfortable about their own political opinions”. She said that even though students don’t have a say in politics yet, an influential figure like a teacher could make them feel uncomfortable about their beliefs.
Olivia Kubin addressed the hypothetical of a student expressing outwardly racist views towards their teacher. She thought that “if a student was outright racist to their teacher, then I think it is okay for the teacher to express their opinion and address it.”
Bergmann agreed with Kubin’s analysis, putting it simply, “ it is [a teacher’s] job to create an unhostile environment for students.”
Even though teachers are discouraged from sharing their political beliefs, many Ukiah High students have experienced a teacher expressing their opinions. It is essential to recognize that teachers CAN and DO talk about politics regarding the curriculum at hand. Every subject taught at the high school level can nudge up against politics. Teachers must create an environment where students can understand the political spectrum as applied to their discipline and students should not jump to conclusions. When a teacher brings up politics without demonstrating overt bias concerning the curriculum being taught, that teacher is helping students navigate a complex political world, not showing bias in a classroom.