Teaching and Political Partisanship
In the days leading up to the election, one of the kids in my 9th period raised his hand and said, "Miss, what's the difference between Republicans and Democrats, anyway?"
I was unsure how to answer. "Well... Republicans tend to vote more conservatively, while Democrats tend to vote more liberally," I tried, feeling awkward. The kids stared at me blankly. Clearly I needed a better approach.
The thing was, I wasn't sure how to answer that question. It seemed pointless to discuss it in the abstract, without specific issues to offer up as examples of Republican or Democratic partisanship. And even to do that seemed not quite kosher: Like the vast majority of young New York City residents, I'm a long-standing liberal voter, but my role as a teacher isn't to indoctrinate the students to my viewpoint; rather, it's to give balanced, non-biased information on any issue, and let the kids think for themselves.
I always wonder, when talking politics with the kids, if I will have the ability to speak objectively about both sides of issues, irrespective of my own opinions. I hope that I do. Last week, I was also interested in re-routing the 9th period class's discussions back to Lord of the Flies--which the kids were evidently trying to avoid--since I knew they were already discussing the election in their history classes. Accordingly, I limited our discussion to a few issues that I suspected the kids would have strong views about--the abortion debate, the economy, and tension with Iran--and attempted to clearly explain the differences between President Obama's and Governor Romney's views on these issues. Since several of the kids, despite stating that they were "voting for Obama" (which is in itself hilarious, since none of my 10th graders is yet 18), then responded, "Oh yeah--that's right!" to various Republican standpoints, it is my hope that I did some justice to each side.
Now, the votes are in, and President Obama has stayed in office. Typically, that was all the students wanted to talk about today--which was fine, since I'd budgeted some time into our lesson to hear the kids' viewpoints on what the outcome of the election would mean for us. In our heavily "blue" city, they also (unsurprisingly) wanted to rag on voters who had supported Governor Romney.
I had considered not revealing whom I had voted for, but the kids assumed (due to my age, my profession, my place of residence) that I had voted on the Obama ticket. So instead of feigning non-partisanship, I told them about the hardest lesson I've learned from voting in the past three elections: That people you love very much will vote in completely opposite ways from you, ways you might find incomprehensible. And, though maddening, part of maturity is learning to respect a different worldview from your own--even if you don't agree with it. Sometimes the issues we teach best are the ones we most need to internalize; in struggling to do better with this myself, I hope I've at least given a good example to the kids, if not a stunning display of political acuity.