Opinion: Kids Shouldn’t be Scolded for Their Politics in Classrooms
Middle school teacher Brendan Stanton asks his students the same question every day: Who do you admire the most? This question, meant to help the students reflect on people’s influence in their own lives, quickly became too personal for the teacher when one of his students named Donald Trump as the person he admires most.
The 10-year-old student said that he “admire(s) Donald J. Trump because he is making America great again. And because he is the best President the United States of America could ever, ever have.” This statement led Stanton to kick the boy out of the virtual classroom chat followed by a scolding directed at the minor.
“The example that was shared in the chat, which I went ahead and erased for us, was not appropriate right?” Stanton said to his students. “Especially as that individual has created so much division and hatred between people and specifically spoken hatred to many different individuals, OK?”
Whether Stanton agreed with his student’s response or not, does he have the authority to publicly scold the child in front of his classmates based on personal political beliefs? After all, the boy answered the question truthfully just as the teacher had instructed, so there was really nothing to scold him for. Besides this fact, he was also telling his other students what to believe, saying that the boy’s answer was “inappropriate.”
Most likely, this boy was speaking based on what he’s overheard at home. After all, at such a young age, most children will mirror their parents’ opinions on most topics, since they aren’t old or mature enough to formulate their own. Is this necessarily wrong? Not really, given that parents have legal custody over their kids and are allowed to teach them what they consider to be right. As children mature, they will develop their own opinions and ideas that usually are heavily swayed by the influence of their parents.
If anything, Stanton should have taken up his complaints with the boy’s parents, instead of completely humiliating him in front of the whole class – even if it was virtual — for stating who he thought was an admirable person. Although I personally don’t always see eye to eye with some of President Trump’s decisions, it doesn’t take away from the fact that I am allowed to admire him for the things I do believe he has done right. By scolding his student and stating in a matter-of-fact way that Trump is “not someone they should admire,” Stanton is instructing his students on what their opinions should be, which is not part of his job description as a middle school teacher.
Is it okay for teachers to intervene when students are saying vile, nasty or vulgar things about other individuals? Absolutely. Is it okay for teachers to intervene when students are promoting violence or hate? Absolutely. Is it okay for teachers to intervene when a student is simply stating his answer to a question, in an unharmful way? Absolutely not. A line needs to be drawn on how much a teacher is actually responsible for. This comment did not harm the other students in any way, nor did it incite violence or arguments among them, so it was Stanton, actually, who acted inappropriately.
Not to say politics should not be a part of the classroom. A book titled “The Political Classroom” summarizes it well by saying that classrooms should be political places, but not partisan ones. Discussing political issues that affect society and history is beneficial for students and is also part of the education process. Stanton, however, did everything but educate his students. In humiliating and belittling his student’s statement, which was not even meant to be political in the first place, he actually did what he blames Trump for doing, which is crippling democracy.
Classrooms must be a safe haven where information, based on hard facts or in the case an opinion, can be shared and where students are allowed to answer questions truthfully without being shunned for their opinions. Teachers must remember that it is their job to educate their students on certain topics, while at the same time giving them the freedom to decide what they think or believe on their own.
In humiliating his student in that way, Stanton actually opened his other students’ eyes to a reality that is far worse than anything Trump has ever done while in office, the reality that America is quickly becoming a country that preaches freedom of speech but often stifles the free speech we hold dear. When Stanton bullied his student for holding a view different than his own, he failed at being what he was trained to be: an educator.
Rosa Elias is an Opinion Writer. Follow her on Twitter at @rosaeliasnajri.