Thursday, May 17, 2012

Week 1 Entry

The Kelly article discussed four different perspectives on holding discussions.  While all perspectives had benefits and drawbacks and different rationales to support them, I found the approach of committed impartiality to be the best.  I don’t think that teachers are capable of being neutral on political issues, nor should they be.  I think it is healthy for students to know that their teachers are civic participants and think about complex and controversial issues; in this way, teachers become models for their students on how to be appropriate civic participants.  Exposing students to their personal views also offers a window into the ‘humanity’ of the teacher, if that makes any sense, and can help foster personal connections.  However, in discussions teachers should never indoctrinate students, and they must express their views in a way that presents it as only one perspective in a chorus of voices.  They must allow and encourage dissent, and dialogues in which teachers find themselves debating students must be conducted with the utmost sensitivity and respect for the students’ viewpoints.  Otherwise, the class becomes little more than a soap box for a teacher’s personal vendettas, a violation of the Code of Ethics and any basically moral teaching philosophy.

This approach has a tremendous impact on social studies education, as it models appropriate, passionate, and well-articulated civic participation, if done correctly and respectfully.


  1. I must respectfully agree with you good sir. Indoctrination is never a good thing. I also agree with your assertion that teachers are not capable of being neutral on topical issues. One suggestion is to tell the students flat out, on day one, about bias and how everyone has them.
    Your sentences about conducting the debate in sensitivity and respect for all involved brought about a question in my head, it may or may not have an obvious answer. If you are dueling a student or class on a hot topic and you have a chance to defeat them do you do it? Do you defeat the person or persons on the battlefield of ideas? Do you pull the punch and let it end in a draw, preserving the students self esteem? Or do you teach them the cold hard lesson of life and debating? What are the pros and cons?
    For me personally I would probably go for a draw, unless the defeat is done in a way that is not humiliating, exposes a new point of view and critical thinking, and is generally helpful.

    1. And I only ask about this because ,chances are, you will probably know more about the subject you are teaching, how the world works, hot topic issues etc. than most of your students. This is especially true as the years go by. I am not saying, of course, that we will eb all knowing , all seeing, experts, but that we may know a thing ro two more than our students.

  2. I could not agree more. Exclusive Neutrality seems like a total cop-out to me; if you're completely avoiding controversy in your classroom, it would seem to me that you're not doing much to help your students develop the skills they need to construct meaning from what they've seen and will see in the world we live in. Plus it's just boring from the students' perspective. By the same token, I can't see any redeeming value in the Exclusive Partiality approach. By the time kids are in middle school and high school they will hopefully have a strong enough sense of self not to allow themselves to be indoctrinated by these types of educators, but I would say that the greater danger seems to be simply losing credibility in the eyes of your students by suppressing dissenting opinions. History has shown this approach to be ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. I've also had plenty of teachers who attempted to pursue a position of Impartial Neutrality, and my recollection tells me that I always found it frustrating and a farce when my teachers would pretend as if they had no opinions of their own. I understand this impulse far more than the first two perspectives, but I also believe that kids will see through this kind of facade. I absolutely agree with Kelly that, "teacher's views should be clearly owned, not consistently disguised under devil's advocacy or comprised with excessive humility or repeated qualification" (130). Kids often look to their teachers for answers when attempting to make sense of a baffling modern existence, and while we can't exactly always give them "answers", we should at least give them the dignity of knowing where we stand personally if only for the sake of showing them that not all adults are secretly robots.

  3. Well stated, gentlemen! Very nice arguments, Shawn, and I tend to agree. Craig, that's an excellent question - maybe, like many debates, it has to stop with "well let's just shake hands and agree to disagree."

  4. I agree with your opinion that it is extremely difficult to remain neutral when discussing political issues in the classroom. The danger is, especially if you are my old mentoring teacher, that you will impress your opinion AND ONLY your opinion onto the students, which I do not agree with because it does not allow them to broaden their minds and opinions on the matter. I enjoyed your "soap box" metaphor in that regard. Also, I like how you touch on the personal connections that are established between the students and the teacher when discussing political issues in a controlled realm. I personally loved some of my students because of their foresight and intuition as far as politics go and I certainly connected with them in that manner.