Should teachers give their own beliefs on sensitive political issues?

Seeing that question in the title, some would say “never!”  But even people who believe they should—or will, even unknowingly-
-know the question is a sensitive one.  Teachers from Santa María Tzejå, the case study village in my book Seeds of Freedom: Liberating Education in Guatemala, have given careful consideration to the question and come out on the side of the truth, including with politics, as they see it, even with sensitive and “hot button” topics.  In an earlier blog I described Enma’s
conviction that students in her sixth grade class should get the accurate history of how the village was destroyed by the

Emma with sixth graders

Emma with sixth graders

Guatemalan army.  She noted her observation that official history texts (in 2007)were “full of distortions.” Magdalena said she believed that children in the older grades were old enough to understand the hard truths of history, including the way the Guatemalan army served the interests of the rich oligarchs.  One teacher told me they got push back from men in the community when they spoke up against domestic abuse (a continuing problem in the village), but continued to awaken in both girls and boys the need for full respect across gender lines.  These teachers were concerned to be both accurate and honest.

A legitimate concern for parents everywhere is that teachers with controversial political positions will manipulate young and vulnerable students to their convictions.  But when parents and others seek to drain the curriculum of all content they disagree with in the name of having a politically neutral educational process, they may succeed in draining it of dynamic interest for the students.  The result is a curriculum more boring and less relevant than it should be for the students.  Ironically advocates for politics-free education use politic pressure to make curriculum fit their agenda.  And, in fact, they don’t make it politics-free at all, but rather tip political influence scale in favor of the economically powerful who know how to disguise their political influence.
Liberating educators, by contrast, embrace the reality that education is willy-nilly, inescapably political and believe that their charge is to inspire students to be citizens committed to working for a more just and inclusive society.  To achieve that they see the need to be honest and open about all aspects of life including political forces that marginalize and oppress the poor and people of color.
Clearly there is a difficult and perplexing problem here.  On the one hand there is agreement that teachers are out of bounds when they manipulate young and vulnerable minds to accept their views. But should there not also be agreement that everyone in society should have the support and resources they need to realize their potential in the fullest way possible?  There are definitional issues here and differing values and economic interests will lead to conflicting beliefs.

Liberating educators see that the key to avoiding teacher manipulation lies in the teacher’s success in giving students ever

Lucia supporting fifth grade students

Lucia supporting fifth grade students

growing confidence in their curiosity, critical thinking, analytic skills and public voice.  Such confidence develops when students are given the skills to research their doubts and questions on their own and to draw conclusions based on good evidence.  As they gain the kind of confidence described here students develop the capacity to dialogue with, and learn from, their teachers without giving up their own independent judgment.  At times they will find themselves in agreement with their teacher, while at other times feeling they must challenge their teacher’s position, at which point the teacher will engage them in honest dialogue, always with the belief that her/his position might need to change based on the argument of the students.  In an environment with this kind of dialogue teacher and students can examine difficult issues.

Is this kind of learning-teaching likely to raise conflict in politically diverse communities?  To be sure, but nothing of great value comes without a struggle.  Let the debate begin/continue!

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