In a country divided with so many strong opinions swirling around, it’s increasingly difficult to create a safe space in the classroom to discuss politics and election results. Here we offer tips on how to handle this subject matter in a respectful way.Nov 08, 2022
America is in a fragile place of political divisiveness. As educators, the reach of our daily work is emphasized as we model the empathy and openness that we hope to see in our future lawmakers.
So as intimidating as it may feel to approach a topic like politics in your classroom, it’s essential for our students’ future development as productive citizens. Here we offer some tips to keep in mind as you plan a discussion of politics and/or recent election results with your students.
Mandate a Classroom Culture of Respect
Our classes are a melting pot of geographical roots, values, and belief systems. It’s important that, regardless of what we believe or the way we vote, we respect our peers and work to understand and empathize with their perspectives.
This is challenging because it’s your responsibility as the teacher to establish a classroom culture that values these things, and to never accept less. Before initiating a conversation about politics or the election, you should clearly establish (and for younger students, model) a norm of respect — even if it’s already embedded in your classroom culture.
Don’t Force Anything
Don’t force a formal conversation, and absolutely don’t force students to take sides. Maintaining an informal discussion format may help students feel more comfortable voicing their thoughts. And the focus of the discussion should be on student experiences and ideas, rather than political positions or sides. This is a great opportunity for students to practice listening and empathizing, as well as hearing perspectives that may ultimately drive the way they vote as adults.
Be Intentional About Your Place in the Conversation
Let your students drive the conversation, while you provide context as needed. It’s your job to maintain focus on talking and sharing, and to veer it back in that direction if students begin taking sides or pointing fingers. Additionally, when you contribute, always maintain a neutral stance that doesn’t reveal your personal opinions or the way you voted.
Lastly — and perhaps most importantly — expect disagreement! Don’t shy away from it, as this is an essential piece of our governmental system. If tensions begin escalating, remind them of the importance of disagreement, but also help them take a step back to consider how their individual perspectives shaped their reactions to the issue at hand.
Remind Students of the Power of Their Voices
Facilitate a classroom discussion about why voting matters, and how your students can get involved. This point is particularly applicable for teachers of high school students who are at or near voting age. If your students express anger about election results, that’s a good opportunity for you to remind them to vote (and to encourage their friends and families to vote) next time around.
Consider How Policy Relates to Your Content Area
Political conversations shouldn’t happen only in social studies courses; students need to have the opportunity to engage in discourse in every subject matter area. For example, science teachers may choose to discuss national vaccination policies, whereas health teachers may want to discuss federal school lunch policies, and economics instructors may focus the conversation on income tax increases.
Want to Continue the Conversation?
Hear directly from Arizona teachers about how to approach and welcome civics-related conversations in your classroom with these two episodes of 3Ps in a Pod: