Teachers Should Not Wear Campaign Buttons in Schools

by Christopher Paslay

 

New York City public school teachers should be ashamed of themselves.  It’s one thing to campaign for a presidential candidate among colleagues, and quite another to politick in front of students.

 

Apparently, The United Federation of Teachers, NYC’s teacher’s union, doesn’t agree.  According to a story by the Associated Press, “The Teacher’s union for the nation’s largest public school system accused the city on Friday of banning political campaign buttons and sued to reverse the policy, declaring that free speech rights were violated.”

 

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in a US District Court in Manhattan.

 

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan quickly ruled against wearing the buttons, explaining that teachers must remain politically neutral while on duty in front of their students.  The judge also added that although most students would understand that a campaign button worn by an educator represented the personal views of the teacher only, there would be “inevitable misrepresentations by the minority”.

 

As a public school teacher in Philadelphia, I’m shocked that any educator with a conscience would want to wear their political views on their shirtsleeve in front of their students. 

 

For starters, it’s unethical.  A public school teacher is an agent of the state, and therefore must not show any religious or political bias, one way or another.  Just as teachers are forbidden to pray in front of students during instruction (even if it is for personal reasons), teachers should not advertise their personal politics to their classes by wearing a campaign button. 

 

This in my opinion is intolerable, because students should be taught to make decisions about the world themselves.  They should be given a balanced, objective representation of events, and be given the space to process this information on their own.  Young people in grades K -12 are too innocent and impressionable to be exposed to the spin from only one side of the political spectrum; our children should be at least college-aged before they are politically indoctrinated by educators. 

 

As a teacher, I never push my political views on young people.  When my students ask, Mr. Paslay, who are you voting for?,  I give them my stock answer: I haven’t decided yet.  And when the presidential candidates come up in classroom conversation, I always make it a point to remain neutral and give equal attention to both parties. 

 

The youth of America need to be taught HOW to think, not WHAT to think.  Educators must teach students critical thinking skills, not subtlety bait them into accepting the agendas of certain political parties. 

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3 Comments

Filed under Politically Neutral Classrooms, UFT

3 responses to “Teachers Should Not Wear Campaign Buttons in Schools

  1. Jim McSherry

    Quote: “As a teacher, I never push my political views on young people. When my students ask, Mr. Paslay, who are you voting for?, I give them my stock answer: I haven’t decided yet. ”

    Would it not be more ethical (and honest) to say, “I know who I am voting for, because I have read the positions of the candidates and decided who is best for the country; but that is my choice, and it is private information.” But to feign indecision gives the student the impression that their teacher cannot exercise the critical thinking skills which are expected of the student. (“Gee, Mr. Smith can’t even decide on a candidate, but I’m supposed to be able to plan out my life career in advance.”)

    It is not ‘pushing my views on the student’ to say that my opinions are my business, or to explain that I prefer to keep my political opinion separate from my professional work. But I might be just as honest if I were to engage the student in an honest discussion – probably at lunchtime or after classes are over – if they were interested in how a particular candidate for mayor or governor might impact their school situation. Lunch programs? Property tax funding? Residence requirements? All these are valid topics for discussion with a student of voting age or close to it.

    Pretending that I have no opinion, or that I couldn’t decide, is not only disingenuous; it subverts the growth we want to see in our students.

  2. phillystyle71

    Jim,

    Very good point. I will consider this approach in the future. I often have very passionate and analytical discussions of current events with my students during class, and I always try to remain objective. I make it a point to show both sides of an argument as equally as I can. But you’re right; it might be better not to feign indecision and just explain that my political affiliation is personal information.

    Thanks for commenting.

    –Chris Paslay

  3. Cathy5

    As a public school teacher in Philadelphia, I’m shocked that any educator with a conscience would want to wear their political views on their shirtsleeve in front of their students. >>

    This is something on which we disagree. An employee is wearing a button/T shirt for him/herself, and not as an agent of anything. One of our faculty members was chastised for wearing a button, which prompted me to check out the situation, in our handbook. A SDP employee may wear such articles if they are not advocating for the school, for the SDP, or selling or promoting anything.

    I wore a button while in a high school, and the principal was pleased that so many students became engaged, as a result of it. At no time did I focus discussion on my candidate, but guided some thoughtful discussions on the political process, and platforms.

    One student who had not been coming to school, began attending regularly, and graduated with his class. He told me how much he was going to miss these lively discussions, and me.

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