Addressing the Activist in the Classroom

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There are many opinions regarding the situation of partisanship and politics in general, and its role within academia. Some regard it as an “infiltration”, others as an obvious example of “the smart people being on our side”; however, they miss a fundamental issue which impacts every student in Canada, the United States and beyond. First and foremost, it must be established that there is empirical weight to this discussion. According to Verdant Labs, Democrats (those who vote for the Democratic Party in U.S elections) occupy 87% of High School teaching positions, with similar numbers in all other educational sectors. It is clear that there is an undeniable majority of political opinion in our schools, high schools especially. What is not clear, is how that affects their ability to teach.

From a psychological perspective, this distribution is to be expected. Drawing on the conclusions of popular psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, the personality traits which define a left-leaning person and those which define a teacher are extremely similar. This is not to say that one must be a leftist to be a teacher, there are plenty of conservative educators, that is certain; instead, this should be viewed largely as a byproduct of a natural sorting mechanism. Rather than one’s position in a society being assigned to them based entirely on class and lineage, it is based more so on interest, passion and aptitude. That is to say, in Prussia, there may have been an almost monolith of nationalistic, monarchic thought among professors. But, this was not due to the lack of left-leaning people. While there were significantly less, due to social pressures and such, one’s nature (which greatly influences one’s political beliefs) cannot be completely overruled. Prussia did not have this selection of teachers because “that was the natural distribution”, they had this because it was imposed top-down by the government. There is also the tendency towards a higher concentration of right-leaning persons at the top of the economic hierarchy; which led to their children who, at least somewhat, inherit their thoughts being the majority of those able to seek the education to become a teacher.

Under the system we enjoy in the West now, however, it is much more accessible for those who may not have the inheritance which for so long controlled their livelihoods. This is not to say your class has no effect on your outcome, but that the effect of class has been mitigated to a large extent. In today’s society, we can see a much more natural distribution of thought in different fields, hooray for meritocracy. Likewise, as a society, have we recognised that this distribution may lead to bias, which the conservatives, libertarians and even liberals (at least, in this day and age) are none too happy about. It is for this express reason that there are rules and regulations in place to secure impartiality among our teachers. Of course, you get your odd radical professor from time to time, however, the reason that the public (or certain areas of it) get so up in arms about it is that it is not the norm. For the most part, our institutions have done an okay job at securing impartiality. Our teachers are stressed to preach the facts, not their opinions. Speaking from experience: in this region of Canada, a teacher is not allowed to endorse any specific political party, or reveal whom they may have voted for in any election. So the question remains, why is there a problem? Is it simply a propaganda point without merit, or is there something else which lurks in the dank, grey areas of our educational system?

There is a problem, but it is one which is seldom deliberated in these discussions and finger-pointing sessions. Briefly, it is that false pretence on which many teachers begin their train of thought that leads to them being, in all fairness, accidentally biased. So many of these educators are trapped in an ideological bubble, padded by their colleagues (many of whom share their inclinations) and the media which they consume. This bubble leads them to the false conclusion of a general consensus on certain ideas. To illustrate this in a way which is understandable and digestible to most, we will use the example of Donald Trump.

A controversial character begins his bid for the US Presidency, and a strong divide quickly forms among those who support him and those who do not. Each group stereotypes the other and relegates them to a position of idiocy and ignorance. After a divisive, sensationalised, widely-covered campaign, Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States of America. The anti-Trump sentiment among his critics is so strong that many of their views become corrupted by misinformation; this the media latches on to and spreads, especially among the left-leaning partisan organisations, who bleat these ideas most loudly. (Again, that is not to say the Trump supporters did not have their own special brand of misinformation, they are just unimportant to our story) These teachers hear, through their friends and family who often share their views, through their chosen media outlets, that Trump is this universally hated, inherently terrible man. A politician who only deplorable racists, sexists and bigots could support.

The dehumanisation of the Trump voter was so complete that the average person on the left could no longer imagine a regular person being a Trump supporter in 2018. This all culminated into the pivotal moment, the choice which sparks our whole problem: the assumed consensus on the hatred of the President of the United States. Ergo, the next time they were at school, teaching English to 30 or so teenagers, they threw in the odd anti-Trump joke and the students laughed. Many because they agreed and many because it was the natural thing to do to avoid ostracisation. It was not that they wished to push their point of view, to win these young minds to their side (though, a minority of teachers may have this unscrupulous goal in mind); it was that they did not know there was another point of view. In their minds, this was the only side.

Fortunately, there exists a straightforward solution, divorced from launching accusations, demanding forced ideological conversion or enforcing purposeful indoctrination. (These methods will only lead to further divides and more dehumanisation and dissociation from both sides) As a society, we must make clear to these educators a pivotal point: unpopular opinions, no matter how vehemently one might disagree with them, are still opinions. We must make certain that we educate our teachers, professors and the like, that they must acknowledge their own bias and stop assuming consensus. Of course, it is a fool's goal to remove bias entirely, just in the same way that it is impossible to eradicate bullying. The goal, however, is not complete eradication, but minimisation to the largest degree possible. Once this is achieved, we may finally have a sense understanding in education. Especially in the High Schools across the West, among those with differing views. Perhaps, with time, we may find a way to once again humanise one another.