Staff Writer, Social Media Editor
The anonymous op-ed. The Primary Election results. Gun control. These events and subjects have captured worldwide attention, yet in classrooms both at Holliston High School (HHS) and across the country they remain taboo talking points.
It’s time to include politics in classroom discussions.
HHS seniors turn eighteen this year, some did before the Massachusetts September 4 primary election — which chose a candidate from each party to run in the general election. Before registering to vote, it is imperative that students have both an understanding and connection to politics. However, when students mention current events in class, they are often met with the phrase “let’s not get political.”
Keeping politics out of the classroom creates tension between students and distances them from the world’s reality. By bringing politics into a classroom setting, students acquire new skills they won’t gain otherwise. Specifically, students can learn how to ask open-ended questions, ask for clarification, politely disagree with their peers, and think on their feet.
“To be able to talk about politics is a skill that people need to learn. And it would be great if it were learned in school because these are great moments in which you bring a group of young people together who are forming their political views. They can really learn to engage across their differences and to start to see that political conflict is a normal part of democratic life,” Paula McAvoy, co-author of The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, said in an interview with NPR.
McAvoy offers an interesting point. Students are still developing their political views, and a classroom — where learning is valued — is an ideal setting for students to converse on their ideas. In English and history classes, students are mainly asked comprehension-based questions on content they are meant to retain. Political conversations can teach students to answer questions differently than their classmates and be confident in doing so.
“We did find that the content of these political issues was really interesting to kids. Especially when they were hearing multiple and competing views… They were really responding to the fact that it’s quite interesting to hear what your peers think about things. And not just that they have different points of view, but what they’re supporting those points of view with,” Diana E. Hess, co-author said, referencing the research she and McAvoy conducted for The Political Classroom.
Not only do political discussions teach students to value the opinions of their peers, no matter how they may differ from their own, they teach students new vocabulary and may spark future career or passion interests. Some students may not have an outlet at home to speak about politics. Time in class — where political discussion would not only be tolerated but valued and accepted — could be a golden opportunity for them.
Political discourse fits best in history-based classrooms, as these classes cover the change in world politics across history. At HHS, six history electives are offered at both College Prep (CP1) and Honors levels: 20th Century Pop Culture, Psychology, Sociology, Women in History, Government, and US on the World Stage. These classes are ripe for current-event conversation, yet in their class descriptions today’s politics are not listed as teaching or discussion points.
In a column from Education Week, H. Richard Milner wrote “so many opportunities for teachers to draw upon these powerful realities as anchors for curriculum and instruction are lost.”
Milner remains hopeful, though: “With appropriate tools, we as educators have an opportunity to build lessons that connect to students’ interests and, perhaps, shepherd them into becoming deeply engaged citizens who work against racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.”
Students are capable of talking about politics, and to deny them the right to practice such forms of discussion is patronizing. Milner suggested that teachers design a classroom atmosphere “that is open to questioning, open to varying perspectives, and encourages discourse.” He also advises that “conversations should logically connect to the in-school curriculum. As teachers, you should prepare students to understand convergence between societal matters and the content being taught.”
To integrate politics into the classroom successfully, Milner recommended that teachers present objective news to their students to spark conversation.“Identify and centralize the facts, based on evidence from varying sources and multiple points of view. Encourage and require students to explore different sources of information and to consider positions and standpoints inconsistent with their initial thinking on topics,” he said.
Every high school student is exposed to politics differently. While one may scroll absentmindedly past headlines on the Snapchat ‘Discover’ page, another may be an avid watcher of the nightly news. Whichever the case, it is necessary that students have political interactions with both their peers and their mentors before they must apply what they know to vote consciously.
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