When the flooding following Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans a few years back, I decided to follow my students’ interest in the disaster and focus our language arts and social studies content around the event. I figured capitalizing on their interests was the best way to engage them.
The plan backfired a bit.
Although I prided myself on not letting my own political leanings influence our classroom discussions, some strange messages leaked to my students’ parents regarding the study. Parents began approaching me about wild stories concerning then-President Bush’s response to the disaster. Granted, the students came to some conclusions regarding the administration’s slow reaction, but nothing was overtly political either way. Luckily, the stories parents were hearing were so bizarre that there was no way they could be believed. That and I backed up my position citing AP reports in the local paper as our primary source of information.
Still, parents were uneasy with classroom discussion dancing around politics. I was no longer in the classroom for the last presidential election which was particularly heated, but I suspect the issues for parents and teachers was the same. There is a fine line between discussing politics and extolling political belief, particularly involving our president. Of course, ignoring the part the president does play in the government is a political act in itself.
How do you handle presidential politics in the classroom? Do you avoid it all together? How do you insure all perspectives are represented without taking sides?
Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.