Magazine Opinions Volume 69, Issue 1

Should Teachers Disclose Political Views?

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, discussion of presidential candidates is naturally on the rise, prompting students to question if teachers should talk to them about their own  political views. How does the school district define political views? And most importantly, should teachers be allowed to impart their personal political views?

First off, it’s important to understand what the current rules are surrounding this topic before forming an argument. The AUHSD Governing Board has a policy defining how teachers are supposed to discuss political views. “Instruction shall be presented in a balanced manner, addressing all sides of the issue without bias or prejudice and without promoting any particular point of view. The teacher shall not use his/her position to forward his/her own religious, political, economic or social biases. The teacher may express a personal opinion if he/she identifies it as such and does not express the opinion for the purpose of persuading students to his/her point of view… In leading or guiding class discussions about issues that may be controversial, a teacher may not advocate his/her personal opinion or viewpoint. When necessary, the Superintendent or designee may instruct teachers to refrain from sharing personal views in the classroom on controversial topics.”

The policy for students discussing their political views is much more lenient. “The Governing Board respects students’ rights to express ideas and opinions, take stands, and support causes, whether controversial or not, through their speech, writings, printed materials and/or the wearing of buttons, badges and other insignia.”  The Governing Board also explains how students’ expression of political opinions relates to their grades. “Students shall be assured of their right to form and express an opinion without jeopardizing their grades or being subject to discrimination, retaliation, or discipline, provided the viewpoint does not constitute harassment, threats, intimidation, or bullying or is otherwise unlawful.”

I completely agree with the Governing Board’s rules on this matter.  There’s a reason why students have more freedom of expression than teachers. When students see a teacher, who acts as an authority figure in the classroom, expressing their political opinion, they might perceive it as indoctrination. After learning a teacher’s political leanings, students may think the teacher’s material is biased, especially if they disagree with the teacher’s leanings. A student may also think that they’re unable to express their own views because they fear potential consequences.  

Of course students are completely allowed to express their views, as long as said views don’t incite violence or discrimination, but you can’t expect students to know every obscure rule. (Trust me. It was really difficult trying to find the written rules on this topic.)  So, for the sake of avoiding the perception of bias or perception of retribution, teachers should avoid disclosing their personal political views.