Many teachers completely avoid the subject of politics in the classroom while others feel it is their responsibility to share their political agendas with their students. I imagine most teachers fall somewhere in between. I believe that discussing politics and current events in the classroom is a vital component of a liberal arts education.
My approach is to always express both sides of an issue, sometimes three or four sides. An educator’s role is not to indoctrinate but to enlighten. Our goal should be to teach young people how to research the facts so they can draw their own conclusions.
In my 12th grade Personal Finance class I include a unit called Taxpayer Responsibility. I begin by explaining the general agendas of today’s political parties. I explain that the basic mindset of the Democratic Party is that that government is responsible for taking care of people. Restrictions on business are necessary to protect people and the environment from negative business practices and any negative impact of business on society and the environment.
Our Republican legislators generally support laws that limit restrictions on business. Their mindset is that businesses create jobs and wealth and government-imposed restrictions limit jobs and wealth. Republicans try to reduce taxes on business and individuals and do not believe that it is the government’s responsibility to provide financial support for citizens. They also advocate for a strong military.
Libertarians strive for smaller government. They want to reduce business and individual taxes and social programs. Many Libertarians believe that large countries, like the United States of America, should not be heavily involved in world politics and should limit military and humanitarian aid. They also want to eliminate government restrictions on businesses and also on individuals.
There are a number of other political parties, such as the Green Party, which has an agenda related to caring for the planet. All of these parties have good intentions, they just see the world differently.
I explain to my students that they should understand the motivations of political parties so that when it is time to vote they can choose a candidate that represents their personal beliefs and agendas. I also teach how to locate resources to learn more about candidates. I demonstrate how to use https://www.govtrack.us to see what elected officials are doing. I encourage students to get involved by contacting elected officials and expressing their concerns. I also explain the impact of political contributions on the actions of elected officials and how to research the source of political contributions candidates receive.
Finally, I try to teach all of this without revealing my personal politics so that I do not influence their decision making. I am not here to indoctrinate but to educate and to help prepare the young people I have the privilege of teaching to become the productive citizens of tomorrow.