Political Neutrality Not An Effective Teaching Tactic, Research Suggests

By remaining politically neutral, 'teachers are enacting the opposite of neutrality by choosing to maintain the status quo and further marginalizing certain groups.'

Artist rendering of Donald Trump
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By remaining politically neutral, 'teachers are enacting the opposite of neutrality by choosing to maintain the status quo and further marginalizing certain groups.'

In the age of Trump, political neutrality is not an effective teaching tactic, according to new Michigan State University research.

Published in the peer-reviewed American Educational Research Journal, “‘I Don’t Want to Come Off as Pushing an Agenda’: How Contexts Shaped Teachers’ Pedagogy in the Days After the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election” shows that teachers across the United States felt intense pressure to remain neutral during the 2016 presidential election.

But according to study authors Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Beth Sondel, and Hannah Carson Baggett, political neutrality is not an effective teaching tactic.

The researchers surveyed more than 700 American educators and concluded that most teachers felt that they could or should not share their political opinions with the students, and that election-related topics were not appropriate for the classroom or related to the subjects they teach. Furthermore, the majority of study participants said that they are hesitant to discuss politics with their students because they are afraid of backlash.

According to Dunn, political neutrality is not only an ineffective teaching tactic, it also further marginalizes certain groups of students. By remaining politically neutral, “teachers are enacting the opposite of neutrality by choosing to maintain the status quo and further marginalizing certain groups.” The researchers add, “Education is inherently political.”

The 2016 presidential election, however, merely illustrates the ineffectiveness of political neutrality, according to Dunn and her colleagues, and teachers should reconsider the ethics of remaining political neutral in the classroom.

“Knowing what neutrality means, and how it can be a disservice to students and to themselves, teachers can think about how to adapt their curriculum leading up to and after the midterms and other major events.”

Study authors conclude that teachers who feel that politics and elections are happening “outside of school” are in the wrong because their thinking “undermines the fact that the classroom is part of the real world.”

neutrality classroom teaching politics
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As of 2016, not all teachers are willing to remain politically neutral in the classroom.

As the Washington Post reported, following Donald Trump’s ascendance, a number of American teachers — including 10 former state and national Teachers of the Year — wrote an open letter explaining why they are now willing to openly take sides, denouncing political neutrality.

The teachers argued that the United States is entering an era in which “a moral imperative outweighs traditional social norms,” calling now-President of the United States Donald Trump a danger to the American society, and a threat to American schoolchildren in particular.