Why teachers cannot remain neutral about the presidential election

The Chicago Public Schools Code of Ethics prohibits teachers from engaging in any political activity while on the clock. Therefore, teachers are expected to remain neutral in their political views so as not to indoctrinate students. We cannot wear political buttons or display endorsements of any candidate. This makes sense. Students should think for themselves and develop their own politics.

But—no—I’m not remaining neutral during this presidential election. If students ask me who I’m voting for, I say fervently, “Not Trump!”

It's absolutely appropriate for teachers to discuss what we believe and who we support and why. It gives students a chance to also voice their opinions. I don't wear my "Vote for Pedro" button at work. That's not cool. But we have to let students see it's acceptable to talk politics and controversial issues.

I make sure not to make my political views THE lesson of the day. To keep us on track if they ask me about my views while we study a political speech, I say, “I’ll tell you right before the bell rings.”

As educators, we need to take advantage of political elections to help students explore and evaluate political agendas and rhetoric. So we walk a fine line. We’re expected to show the good side and bad side of both candidates.

A balanced view isn’t easy during this election. Usually, the typical exercise involves a chart. One candidate’s policies go in one column with rows for immigration, education, jobs, abortion, etc. Students compare and contrast what makes sense to them.

But this political season isn't typical.

Still, people might say that if we show the bad side of one candidate, we have to show the bad side of the other.

In so many instances, Trump’s rhetoric and logic—or lack thereof—should stand clear to students as something unacceptable: his generalizations of Mexicans, his attack on Muslims, his vulgar comments about women.

The controversies that haunt Clinton, her email server, Benghazi, her husband’s infidelities, the emails against Bernie Sanders, can only be explored with a great deal of background information that, honestly, would be difficult to accurately compile. (I only have so much time to prepare lessons.)

Plus, in English classes, Clinton’s controversies don’t align with our study of writing and rhetoric.  Those are conversations about policy.  That’s why I haven’t used any text with Clinton or Trump in the first five weeks of school.

This year, about 98% of my students selected Chelsea Clinton’s speech at the DNC as more effective than Ivanka Trump’s at the RNC.

The deciding factor became the video about Hillary Clinton’s political career in her daughter’s speech. Without that, Ivanka Trump’s would have been superior. I would have let that decision stand based on our focus question: which speech better establishes the candidate’s credibility?

Clinton's daughter’s speech aligns with my politics. But I’m not indoctrinating students.

One student who decided Ivanka Trump's speech was superior received a low grade--because his explanation didn't effectively incorporate the rhetorical elements we looked for.  Students who chose Clinton's and also failed to incorporate these elements in their answers received low grades, too.

Critics of Hillary Clinton might challenge me for allowing students to see her campaign in a more favorable light.

But in light of what we study in English about the use of reason, emotion, and argument—Chelsea Clinton’s speech was more effective.

So here’s the other thing that must be clarified—just because teachers help students recognize the weakness or ugliness in Trump’s political strategies does not automatically mean we’re telling students to endorse Clinton.

We’re so polarized these days by antithetical debates that we think if we show the bad side of one candidate, we automatically support the other.  Not everything has a hidden agenda.

I don't incorporate the libertarian or green party candidates because I don't have the time to gather, preview, and prepare lessons with four different texts.  So I stick with Clinton and Trump.

And I tell students how I think Trump's comments are deplorable.  I haven't met a student who disagrees, and students are usually honest with me.

It’s acceptable for teachers to say Trump’s comments about Mexicans, and Muslims, and women are wrong. If we don’t, we send the message that ideas like this are permissible in our world and in our classroom.

Saying Trump’s comments are unacceptable in our classrooms is not political indoctrination. It’s teaching.

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