A room in Javits Lecture Hall. With election day on Tuesday, Nov. 5, political debates in class revolving around social issues have become more frequent. EZRA MARGONO/STATESMAN FILE

With Election Day approaching, political debates are becoming more frequent in schools. Class debates revolve around social issues, current political topics such as abortion or gun control, or their opinions on certain candidates. Fiery discussions should be encouraged in a classroom as they allow students to develop their critical thinking skills and express themselves in a mature manner. These debates, however, should only voice the sociopolitical opinions of students and not teachers.

Although classroom debates can get heated, teachers should moderate while maintaining a neutral stance. Everyone involved in the debate should realize that it’s okay to agree to disagree when it comes to their classmates’ opinions. Problems begin to arise in student debates when their openness to vulnerability is eliminated, particularly when teachers decide to voice their own political opinions.

Many teachers agree that remaining impartial provides a safer environment for their students. They manage to keep the focal point of a debate at hand, giving the students the attention and information they need to vocalize their political opinions. In the classroom, a teacher should serve only as a moderator in developing the ideologies of their students.

When learning or debating about a controversial topic, a teacher should remain unbiased so their students could form their own opinions. Once a teacher voices their opinion or discourages a certain side of an argument, discomfort arises within the classroom among those who disagree with the teacher’s views.

Teachers who push their political agenda can also affect the students with little to no political knowledge. A teacher is an authority figure in the classroom; when they are strong-minded about their politics, it is normal for the students to share that attitude since that is what they are being taught. Once politics are introduced, things get tricky. If a teacher shared his or her political views, the students who are not politically educated will most likely associate the teacher’s opinions as “correct” and not have the ability to figure out their own views.

Teachers who force their students to agree with their opinions or ridicule them for disagreeing is extremely detrimental to a student’s confidence. Students who are on the dissenting side of an argument feel like their opinions are highly criticized and may become afraid to share their opinions in the classroom.

I went to a high school where many of the students, teachers and faculty shared the same political opinions; they were all extremely outspoken about their views. Most of my teachers made it clear that it was wrong to disagree with what they believed in. If you opposed the accepted mentality, you were subject to mockery, ridicule and scolding from the teachers. The small number of students, including myself, that disagreed with the majority were berated for deviating from the accepted mentality and became outcasts.

An extraordinarily toxic political culture formed where it was okay to not have respect for other people’s opinions. The students that agreed with the teachers’ ideologies began to mimic their behavior towards students who disagreed with them. Instead of promoting an environment where I could respectfully bounce my ideas off my peers, I was forced to keep most of my thoughts to myself.

Classrooms should be a place where debates between opposing ideas are encouraged. Students should be exposed to the exchange of ideas and not be afraid to voice their own opinions. A good teacher should want their students to develop into strong-minded individuals with confidence in their opinions.

When teachers take this freedom away from students by voicing their political opinions, students are unable to grow or expand their ideas because they may be too caught up in staying on a teacher’s good side. Restricting a student’s ability to think for themselves defeats the purpose of education by disregarding freedom of thought. Classrooms are places where students learn about facts, not absorb a teacher’s opinions.

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