It was in my junior English III class during third period when I observed two junior girls, on fundamentally opposite sides of the political aisle, engaging in a debate about America’s role in international affairs.
They argued. They defined, dissected and redefined the meanings of words such as “global citizen” and “best.” They supported their claims with evidence. Other classmates chose sides. Then, at the most climactic moment of the discussion, one of the girls said to the girl on the opposing side: “Huh. You know, I never thought about it like that. You make a great point.”
The bell rang, they exited my classroom, and it was over. In fact, they sat next to one another in the cafeteria at lunch just 40 minutes after this episode occurred.
As a high school English teacher, my job is to be a facilitator of discussion in my classroom. I am tasked with the critical responsibility of posing questions which encourage my precious students—who frequent all sides of the complicated political spectrum—to reflect on their own beliefs, as well as the beliefs of others.
It is my hope that I, in some small way, contribute to their sense of self-awareness, their self-confidence in expressing their opinions, their ability to become critical thinkers and the expansion of their worldviews. This is done by creating a safe environment where all opinions have value and all voices are respected.
After all, political dialogue has become so polarizing and overheated, and because of this fact we have lost the ability as a society to see things from multiple viewpoints. Our job as teachers is to develop critical thinkers who can see all sides of an issue so that they can find the nuanced solutions needed to solve today’s complex problems.
Regardless of the positions that I take on political matters in my personal life—most of which are fueled by my daily experiences with children—in my classroom, I have a responsibility to ensure my students can think critically and see multiple viewpoints of an issue. This cultivates empathy and prepares them for real-world discussions. I actually state this fact often in my classroom so that students can hold me accountable.
I, along with countless educators throughout the country, find it insulting that Donald Trump Jr. would question my ability to make a clear distinction between personal politics and professionalism.
In a speech at his father’s pro-border wall rally in El Paso on Monday night, Trump Jr. had a message for “young conservatives.” “Keep up that fight, bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it.”
Trump’s comments assert that my students are capable of being indoctrinated, and that they are not the brilliant, responsible human beings that I have come to know and love, capable of making competent decisions for themselves. The implication is that they aren’t currently “fighting” to make their opinions known, and that they are passively digesting whatever it is that their “loser” teachers are telling them to believe.
My classroom proves how false his statements are. I have the pleasure of witnessing, on a daily basis, the most conservative and the most liberal of students engaging in meaningful class discussions where they respectfully challenge one another’s perspectives and ideas and—GASP—perhaps even find common ground!
On days when I’m feeling particularly ambitious—yes, even “loser” teachers have moments of determination—I select a particularly polarizing conversation topic, and then I sit back in complete and utter wonder at how politely they agree and disagree with one another, participating in civil discourse free from juvenile name-calling.
These experiences in my classroom give me hope for the future of our country, as they juxtapose the polarizing practices and rhetoric that so many adults in power—not to mention adults with access to Facebook and Twitter—so frequently engage in.
If these young minds, both conservative and liberal and everything in between, are a testament to what our future holds, I can attest that the future of our country is in good hands.
Make no mistake, these young minds that will someday be future leaders are free-thinking, and they give me such hope for the future of our country.
Their “loser” teachers have educated them about the techniques of persuasion, and they are equipped to recognize propaganda such as name-calling, assertion and pinpointing the enemy.
They are not the vapid, passive, automatons that you imply. Nonetheless, if you don’t believe me, I would welcome you to come and spend a day in my classroom.
Education is the foundation of our democracy. When we celebrate and support our teachers and students, there are no losers.