Politics in the Classroom

Dear Administration of my children’s school,

I am writing an open letter in anticipation of another wonderful year at school and with the hope that my letter encourages fruitful conversations amongst parents and educators. With the presidential elections coming up in the fall I want to address the issue of how politics and political issues are taught and discussed at school.

I believe a teacher has every right to express her views to her students. Passion about and commitment to ideas are some of the characteristics of a great teacher. We cannot expect teachers to voice impartiality on issues that are extremely important to them. It’s disingenuous and the kids will know it. Plus, I don’t believe that our students idolize their teachers to such an extreme that they will automatically side with the teacher’s perspective. In my house we discuss ideas from school and decide amongst ourselves whether we agree or disagree.

Some parents and educators feel that students shouldn’t know a teacher’s political opinions but I think that is an unrealistic expectation to have of many educators. I accept my children’s teachers voicing their opinions but my acceptance comes with a caveat. I believe teachers should only be espousing their political positions if they are educated and open-minded enough to explain the opposing position to the students.

If the teacher is pro-gun control and wants to teach our students about that, then she must be educated enough to teach the perspective of the NRA. If the teacher is a proponent of curbing Syrian immigration to the United States, she must be educated enough to teach the perspective of those who are seeking to increase Syrian immigration. If the teacher is pro-Hillary, she must be educated enough to explain the perspective of those who are voting for Trump. If the teacher is pro-Democrat, she must be educated enough to teach the Republican perspective. If the teacher is pro Likud, she must be educated enough to teach about the ideals of Labor. If the teacher is anti-Israeli settlements, then she must be educated enough to teach the perspective of the Settler movement.

If a teacher is unable to impartially teach the opposing perspective, then she should not be discussing her personal political ideals in the classroom. Teachers must be proficient in the subjects they are teaching about. If not, their teaching is a disservice to our children.

As educators we are given a great privilege. Parents allow us to teach values to impressionable young minds. This is a tremendous responsibility that must be handled with the greatest care. We must exercise great caution when teaching our youth and make sure we give them knowledge and tools but never brainwash them into believing our personal opinions are unquestionable truths. To do so is an abuse of power.

Teaching other perspectives, in addition to your own opinion, is challenging. It requires reading about and learning the perspective of the other side. But the greater challenge, which I believe will ultimately create a far more inclusive atmosphere at our school, is to recognize the value and morality in the opposing perspective.

Democrats or Republicans — we all have the same goals. We support laws that protect Americans’ liberties and security and help those who are disadvantaged. As Jews, we are concerned for the well being of Jews across the world and for the Jewish State. How we can achieve these goals is debatable. The debate should come from a place of respect for one’s opponents and their opinions.

I look forward to another year of rich learning and colorful debates for the sake of Heaven.


About the Author
Rachel is a rabbi, teacher, mother, feminist, yogi, political conservative, divorced mom and a Brooklyn-raised New Yorker through and through.