In Democracy Education, published by The National Council for Social Studies, Diana Hess, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, explains four separate approaches often taken to educating children in P-12 classrooms in regards to controversial subjects. The first, Denial, is the approach when the educator does not believe, or refuses to admit that an issue is controversial, which then allows them to teach their opinions as truth.
The next approach Hess discusses is Privilege, where the teacher realizes his/ her role as the classroom leader and uses it to outright encourage children to adopt the answers he/ she feels are correct. When teachers use this approach, it usually includes statements that also influence students to discredit other sources of information the children may be susceptible to, much like the act of parental alienation. This indoctrination approach is perhaps one of the most dangerous ways to educate children, as controversial subjects often have many sides that may remain completely unspoken.
Avoidance is the approach taken when educators are either afraid of outrage from the community about teaching controversial subjects, such as abortion, or they realize they cannot teach the material neutrally without expressing their views. In these cases, they choose to just leave it completely out of their curriculum.
Finally, Hess discusses an approach of Balance, which involves educators actually teaching about the controversial subject, but with many or all of the different perspectives surrounding it. Teachers who teach a balanced curricula feel it is important to provide students with options so they can make their own decisions regarding how they feel about the topic as well as it demonstrates to growing children successful ways to handle the diversity of the real world.
With all these different opinions about the role of controversial subjects in the classrooms, what are the facts? Should public school teachers use their classrooms to discuss their own religious or political beliefs? According to the Anti Defamation League’s website,
In sum, there is a critical difference between teaching religion and teaching about religion. While it is constitutionally permissible for public schools to teach about religion, it is unconstitutional for public schools and their employees to observe religious holidays, promote religious belief, or practice religion.
In regards to political discussions in classrooms, while there are basic national laws set in place to govern our educational system, it is up to the individual states for specific mandates. Ohio Senate Bill 24, which passed in 2005, states:
Faculty and instructors shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.
Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.
It also states:
Faculty and instructors shall be free to pursue and discuss their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, but they shall make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own through classroom discussion or dissemination of written materials, and they shall encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate, and the critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.
What do you think? Is it okay for educators to express their political and/ or religious views in your child’s classroom? What approach do you think would be best for teachers when controversial subjects arise? Please take a minute to express your opinion below.