As teachers return to the classroom this fall, especially social studies teachers, they face a serious problem. How do you teach about the Presidential election in a responsible way when you know that one of the major party candidates makes statements that are biased, incendiary, insulting, and so out-and-out false that many members of his own party refuse to support his candidacy?
I believe our obligation is not to maintain some abstract form of "balance" in the classroom, but to help students become critical thinkers who learn to listen to others, evaluate their statements carefully and respectfully, and support conclusions with evidence. If one of the candidates and his or her supporters are shown to be lacking by this standard, that is the fault of the candidate, not of the teacher. I also think it is legitimate if as part of a democratic classroom discussion a teacher models how to draw conclusions based on evidence by sharing their personal views on the candidates. If you are nervous about this, discuss it with your department and supervisor.
In previous posts I've asked teachers to share ideas and materials.
Cary Waxler, Barrington (Illinois) High School: "I, too, am having a crisis of confidence when it comes to how to approaching this difficult topic. As for the "Day 2" lesson plan, may I suggest the possible addition of an excellent article "Paradoxes of the American Presidency" by Thomas Cronin and Michael Genovese? It is excerpted (I use the article in the Lanahan Readings on the American Polity) from a longer book by the same title. I have found it useful when discussing our conflicting, turbulent expectations of an American President. You can find both a scanned copy and a summary online. The summary works just as well. It is valuable to give students a few of these "paradoxes" first and then let them brainstorm new paradoxes."
Michael Pezone, High School for Law Enforcement, Queens, NY: "My plan is to have students answer the following question in a formal essay: "How would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. vote in the 2016 presidential election?" Choices are: Trump, Clinton, Johnson, Stein, or No Vote. Prior to writing their essays, students will engage in research and discussion to understand and evaluate: the presidency and electoral process; candidate positions on key issues; Dr. King's political position; the role of money in elections; "lesser evilism"; and low voter turnout."
Allison Cannavina, Our Lady of Mercy Academy, Syosset NY: "I also am going to focus on the "big picture": the role of president (can Trump even do what he promises?), workings of the Electoral College, and voter discontent, etc. Some other ideas I will look at in my Government class include Party Realignment/Dealignment. What is the future of the Republican party? Will it hurt or help Republicans if they support Trump (Christie v. Kaisch)? How will Trump affect Republicans in House /Senate elections? "Horserace Journalism: Does the media focus too much on polls? Role of Women: I teach in an all girl school. Why don't women support Hillary more? (ie Albright comment: "special place in hell..."). Campaign Financing (impact of Citizens United) and PACs. Voter Identification Laws/ Voting Rights Act. Role of Social Media: free speech or hate speech? Role of "Late Night": ie SNL, Colbert: funny or biased? Intent of the Framers: You discussed (wonderfully!) the opinion of a very dignified George Washington. This Constitution Day I am going to capitalize on the current popularity/interest in Alexander Hamilton. In his writing, he very prophetically warns against demagogues to seek to gain support based on people's fears. Overall, I am going to emphasize the importance of civil discourse. As both a teacher and a parent, I am disturbed and saddened by the tone of our discourse, and would like to see it raised to a appropriate level: at least in my little world!"
Sally Ackerman (High School of Applied Communication, Queens NY) recommends using the C3 (College, Career, and Civic Life) inquiry design model developed by the National Council for the Social Studies focusing on the question "Do any Political Parties represent me?" She also uses Election Economics and Understanding Fiscal Responsibility found on the website econedlink.org.
Mike Kalin is an English and history teacher at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, MA. These comments are excerpted from an op-ed posted on the Boston NPR website Cognoscenti. Kalin wrote: "With the election season in full swing and a new school year approaching, educators will soon confront a difficult question: should we share our own political views with students? As a current high school and former middle school teacher, my answer to this question has always been informed by own experiences as a student. Taught by left-leaning teachers and professors in New England who often made demeaning comments about conservatives, I vowed to never insert my opinions when discussing current affairs in my classes. But the ascendancy of Donald Trump during this presidential campaign has challenged this commitment. Trump's vitriolic rhetoric, and his history of demonizing marginalized groups, obligates teachers to reconsider their beliefs about how to approach civic education. The overtly racist and xenophobic statements that Trump has made throughout his campaign should compel educators to speak up and denounce the remarks . . . Educators must indeed uphold their duty to invite diverse perspectives into student discussions and to avoid suppressing the free exchange of ideas. But we also need to recognize the grave consequences of allowing Trump's rhetoric to go unchallenged . . . Let's be honest: A student who frequently made racist and sexist remarks about classmates would end up in the principal's office, maybe even find himself suspended. We can't assign Trump a detention, but at the very least, teachers can explain to students that he's broken the class rules."
Jonathan Gold, Moses Brown School, Providence, RI: I wrote a similar piece for Teaching Tolerance. I am interested in trying to spread the message, following your argument and mimicking the similar line of thinking emerging in the media, that the discourse of the 2016 election makes it necessary to put aside notions of neutrality, which I actually believe are outdated and misapplied to begin with, and embrace teaching for justice, morality, and rigor. I'm actually excited for this fall because I think this election makes that approach more imperative and justifiable than ever before. Howard Zinn cautions that, in studying history, "it is impossible to be neutral . . . neutrality means accepting the way things are now." My ambition is for students in my class to want to make change and to develop strong moral views -- which means we teachers can't pretend that we don't have them. By owning our morality and demanding rigor in our classrooms, we can knowingly, mindfully and progressively develop students' abilities to articulate and assess the human experience. In an article in Medium, I note, "Many teachers feel trapped behind the prevailing assumption that '[c]onventional wisdom and common sense dictate that teachers keep their partisan politics out of the classroom.' But there is a difference between 'partisan politics' and anti-racism and anti-bigotry, not to mention between 'partisan politics' and scholarly expectations of reasoned logic, use of evidence, and academic rigor. When one candidate's platform violates the norms of classroom culture and the expectations of academic discourse, it's incumbent upon teachers to speak up and teach, just as we would if presented with similar behavior from one of our students."
Rachel Roberson, San Francisco: "I'm a long-time teacher and currently work as news education manager at KQED in San Francisco. KQED and the National Writing Project are relaunching a project called Letters to the Next President 2.0 to give a national platform to teens to speak out about issues that affect their lives. The Letters to the Next President youth publishing site will launch soon. On it, teens can upload text, video, audio or visual letters that are issue-based, not candidate- or party-based. There are other, similar projects going on right now through PBS Election Central, Rock the Vote and other organizations dedicated to getting young people involved in civic life. You probably are familiar with most of these, but I think it's important to let teachers know about these resources. As your blog so aptly pointed out, this is a tough election year to be a teacher. Making sure teachers are aware of the many ways their students can make their voices heard will help build participation and confidence among educators, as well as get students excited about the election."
Paul Oren, Journalism Professor, Valparaiso (Indiana) University: I'm teaching a course entitled "Media and the 2016 Election." I thought I'd chime in with the two books I'm using. For the bulk of the course I'll be using "Political Campaign Communication" by Trent, Friedenberg and Denton. The book seems to be a good overview in why many things happen from a communication standpoint. I'll also be using the classic book "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business." I plan on using this book after the election is complete and wrapping up the semester with Neil Postman's book. As for assignments, I don't have the first clue yet what I'm going to have them do. Any ideas you've seen anywhere would be greatly appreciated!
Election resources worth checking out:
From the Singing History Teachers "Trump vs. Clinton (It's Gonna Be Me) Election Parody"
5-minute Electoral College song with lyrics from Musical Media for Education.
Globalyceum Election 2016: A free suite of 21 high-quality active learning activities meant to help your students stay engaged and informed this upcoming election season.
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