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Avoiding politics while teaching about the system
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The toughest tightrope job in Manteca Unified classrooms in today’s political climate might just be teaching history and social science.
“We do not teach politics and religion,” stressed Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer. “We educate about the systems and institutions.”
The district will field complaints occasionally from parents that believe teachers are either overstepping boundaries or are imparting their own political views — inadvertently or otherwise — by indicating, as an example, one candidate appears to them more supportive of public education than another.
In such cases the district has a complaint process in place that assures the concerns will be looked into and the parent making the complaint advised of the findings.
Manteca Unified Senior Director of Secondary Education Clara Schmiedt and Senior Director of Elementary Education Cheryl Meeker make the following points about how district teachers are expected to approach social studies and history:
uTeachers are expected to keep their own political viewpoints to themselves during school hours unless they are fairly representing both sides of an issue.
uStudents begin learning to distinguish or discern fact from opinion at an early age.
uStudents are taught to write essays which compare and contrast various subjects.
uWriting goes hand-in-hand with social science/history lessons when teachers strive to develop students’ critical thinking skills, ability to discriminate between fact and opinion, respect for others, and understanding the tolerance of diverse points of view.
uCurriculum integrates civic values, rights, and responsibilities. As such it would be appropriate for an English teacher to use a political speech or a current evet that is tied to history-social science for a writing assignment.
Messer noted that lessons are age-appropriate to the grade level.
“People expect educators to teach about our political system, but not politics,” Messer said.
Messer said it is “absolutely appropriate” to use examples from current politics especially with older students as long as it is presented in a balanced manner.
Deputy Superintendent Roger Goatcher pointed out using “primary source” is appropriate at the high school as well as seventh and eighth grade levels. A teacher, as an example, may use an Andrew Jackson speech as a primary source and simultaneously use other work to contrast it with.
The board policy regarding controversial issues notes the educational program “may sometimes include instruction related to controversial issues that may arouse strong reactions based on personal values and beliefs, political philosophy, culture, religion, or other influences. Instruction concerning such topics shall be relevant to the adopted course of study and curricular goals and should be designed to develop students’ critical thinking skills, ability to discriminate between fact and opinion, respect for others, and understanding and tolerance of diverse points of v view.”
A snippet of the board’s directive for social science-history notes the following will be taught using age appropriate instruction at each grade level:
u“Knowledge and cultural understanding including historical, ethical, cultural, geographic, economic, and sociopolitical literacy.”
u“Democratic understandings and civic values; including an understanding of national identity; constitutional heritage; and an individual’s civic values, rights, and responsibilities.”
u”Skills attainment and social participation, including basic study skills, critical thinking skills, and participation skills that are essential for effective leadership.”
In addition, the Manteca Unified history-social science curriculum incudes a “multicultural education component designed to teach students to respect an appreciate cultural diversity and different points of view while also developing their understanding of commonalities and collective experiences. The curriculum shall reflect the experiences of men and women and of various cultural, ethnic, racial, religious, and social groups and their contributions to the history, life, and culture of the local community, California, the United States, and other nations.”