Pop Quiz – I’m Not Allowed To Tell You What I Think
As a preface to a larger post on the educational implications of the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum, this week I’d like to ask about how divisive political issues are handled in your school or college or university.
Next September, Scotland will vote on whether or not to leave the UK and become a fully independent country. This referendum is obviously major, all-consuming news over here at the moment and the topic is particularly popular with young people. Our usual voting age is 18 but the age has been lowered to 16 for this specific event. There are many conflicting viewpoints as to why this is the case and I’ll go into some of those in more detail next time. Nevertheless, the lowered age means that a fairly large proportion of high school students will be eligible to vote in one of the most dramatic elections our country has ever seen.
Obviously this topic has been the subject of a great deal of discussion in schools. Pupils have shown a keen interest in the issue, especially if they’re going to be able to take part directly. They’ve also displayed a great deal of curiosity about teachers’ views and the topic of independence has worked its way into many lessons.
A couple of weeks ago, my local authority sent out an interesting email. It essentially banned all teaching staff from promoting one particular side of the debate over the other, regardless of their own personal views. We are still allowed to discuss the topic generally and neutrally, and we have been encouraged to do as much as we can to help pupils understand the processes required to register to vote. Actual discussion of our own views is off the table, however.
While I can understand the point of this decision on one level, it still seems very counter-productive. Students will be asked to vote on a complex and emotive issue and they will need to use all the critical thinking abilities at their disposal to wade through the partisan and exaggerated rhetoric coming from both sides of the debate. Our job is to educate these young people and to help them become successful citizens, and I think we’re doing them a disservice by hiding our own views. I want to be able to speak to my classes about why I hold my views and about how I came to them. I want pupils to challenge me and force me to justify myself. I want to help them to explore both sides of the issue critically. I don’t believe that expressing my own political opinion to curious teenagers will cause them to follow me like sheep. I believe that they will be intelligent and mature enough to decide for themselves.
This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this. Our General Elections are nothing like the US Presidential ones and it’s quite rare that there’s such a clear-cut, two-side political issue of such magnitude over here.
Have you ever experienced a situation like this at your educational establishment?
If you’re from the US or anywhere else which features powerfully divisive political events, how are these events dealt with in schools or colleges?
Have you ever frankly discussed your own political views with students? Do you feel that doing so would influence them? Would it help them to form their own views?
Have you ever debated with a student who holds political views that strongly conflict with your own?
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons (ET).
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