Is THIS Okay?

It’s not easy to be a social-studies teacher these days. We are supposed to inspire our students to love history and to become active citizens, but we’re not supposed to dictate political beliefs to students. We are encouraged to share our own biases and political commitments with students, but we’re not encouraged to tell students what to think. Our job is to help form moral persons—real empowered humans—but we aren’t hired to cram our morality down anyone’s throats.

pa liberal indoctrination

Civics ed? Or sinister indoctrination?

Given all that, we ask today: Did this Philly school teacher go too far? The chair of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party says yes. He says a flyer handed out by Philadelphia Central High teacher Thomas Quinn crosses way over the line.

The flyer encourages students to vote. Nothing very controversial there. But it also tells students to support Black Lives Matter, abortion rights, and to oppose the “Trump regime.”

It will come as no surprise to SAGLRROILYBYGTH that I support this whole platform. I would love it if every student voted this way. But that’s not the most  important point here. The real question is about the proper political role of a good teacher.

What do you think? Should social-studies teachers encourage students to vote a certain way?

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  1. Agellius

     /  October 4, 2018

    I don’t think teachers should be imparting values that are at odds with what parents want imparted. If we’re saying this should be allowed, on the ground that students need to be exposed to views that make them uncomfortable or whatever, then we should also allow teachers to endorse a certain religion. To say that teachers can endorse the Democratic Party but not Christianity, I find quite galling.

    As I’ve said before, if parents could choose to send their kids to any school they wanted, in other words could choose a school that imparts the values they want to impart, then we wouldn’t have to argue about stuff like this. There could be arguments within each school community about what values should be imparted in that school, but they wouldn’t have to be society-wide arguments.

    • What if the students disagree with their parents’ values? That is, who gets to pick the values that will be taught?

      • Agellius

         /  October 4, 2018

        The parents of course. Who else? Am I missing something?

      • Well, I mean, what if a student grew up in a super-progressive household (or the reverse), but herself holds the opposite view? Does a good teacher have a moral right to respect the beliefs of the student? Or of the parents? Imagine, for example, a teacher at a conservative Christian school who has a student who strongly and publicly disagrees with the content of the curriculum. Does a good teacher have a responsibility to help that student find her way? Or does a good teacher simply repeat the official curriculum?

      • Agellius

         /  October 4, 2018

        “Does a good teacher have a moral right to respect the beliefs of the student? Or of the parents?”

        Well, now you’re talking about “respecting” views, whereas I’m talking about endorsing them. It’s possible to endorse one view while also respecting another. Or to respect all views while endorsing none. I think public school teachers have an obligation to respect all political and religious views, that is, neither endorse nor condemn any of them, rather than endorse one that is at odds with those of the parents, which puts him in the position of competing with the parents’ values.

        Part of the problem is that a teacher is an authority figure, and a kid is in a position of having to please that person in order to do well in his class. When the teacher is grading the kid, it’s not neutral ground.

        Whereas if parents could choose what school to send their kids to, then certainly, the teacher could endorse political and religious positions, because the parents send their kids there specifically to have those positions reinforced.

        If the kid disagrees with them, that’s fine. My son went through a period of skepticism in high school. My response was to answer his doubts as best I could. A teacher in such a school could do the same thing. You help him find his way by giving him the best answers you can. I wouldn’t have a problem with a teacher informing him of the best arguments on the atheistic side, as long as the teacher was not *endorsing* those arguments. He doesn’t have to say they’re wrong, he can just present them and help the kid to think through them. The same goes for the arguments of the political parties.

        It’s the endorsing of a side that opposes my values that I would have a problem with; though again, I might not have such a problem with it if my side, the Christian side, were not hamstrung from doing the same thing.

  2. Patrick Halbrook

     /  October 4, 2018

    Is the biggest problem that a teacher is encouraging students to adopt his political views, or that through this flyer he is perpetuating misconceptions about Republicans? Teachers are supposed to tear down stereotypes, not reinforce them.

  3. The teacher should discuss issues, but avoid being seen as taking sides. And, of course, that’s a very difficult thing to do.

  4. Jessica Way

     /  October 20, 2018

    I just wanted to make sure that you knew that this story is not true. The teacher in question hung this flyer on a bulletin board in the History Department lounge alongside several other pieces on both sides of the political spectrum including pictures of Ronald Reagan. It formerly house a Make America Great Again calendar. He never “distributed” this flyer to students. He is an extraordinarily balanced teacher, and he registered hundreds of Philadelphia high school seniors to vote. This story came out one week after he won “Philly Citizen of the Week” for his voter registration efforts. Coincidence? I think not.
    Please note his response:


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