A Path for Political Discussions in the Classroom at West Bend


According to definitions in “The Political Classroom,” West Bend is a politically diverse community [1] (Hess, Mcavoy, 2014). What that means is there are different points of view of sufficient magnitude from the community and parents to detect political bias in schools and the political power to stop it. As you can imagine, “Like minded schools” had no trouble implementing politics in the classroom as only one point of view was allowed, and parents who do see bias do not have the political power to allow different points of view. So, the nice thing with being in a politically diverse community is multiple points of view are available, the challenging part is dealing with political bias.

It is a psychological fact no one is unbiased (Haidt 2012). [2] Since we were infants, we develop biases of what and who is harmful through emotional reasoning – in a flash we see friend or foe. And that’s a good thing, it protects us from harm, and helps us protect others from harm. The problem with emotional reasoning, however, is it prevents us from rational reasoning. Rational reasoning starts around 7-10 years old and is necessary to solve problems. Some things in the world trigger the harm response through emotional reasoning, but if we can process the harm response (let us call it a “bias trigger”) and get past that, our rational reasoning can identify that there is no actual harm present, and our rational mind can then process a point of view.

The term social justice was originated by Luigi Taparelli, a Catholic philosopher. The idea is basically all people have dignity, and that care of people should be made at the smallest level possible (subsidiarity). If we understand the “bias trigger” we can understand why the first sentence of this paragraph can lead to emotional reasoning such as angry emails from parents and labeling others who use the term because for some people, any reference to religion in a public school hits the “bias trigger” and emotional reasoning takes over. The emotional reasoning goes like this: social justice is religious and anything religious is harmful in a public school, therefore social justice is harmful, and we must not let students be exposed to harm. Is this rational? Does a point of view about human dignity and subsidiarity from a Catholic philosopher harm? For some parents and students, it really does because the “bias trigger” is activated and psychological harm is felt.

So how do we get past this knee-jerk, bias-trigger harm response of not only parents but ourselves? Parents must be included versus excluded because they have best interests of students in mind and have a “veto” power of what goes on in the classroom. So as a first step ask your parent what “Politics in the Classroom” means to them and if there is a “bias trigger” ask them why they feel it will harm you. Get past the “bias trigger” and identify what the perceived harm is.

There is an entertaining and informative lecture by a professor and viewpoint diversity advocate to high school students at the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale University. In it there are two schools of thought on how a student can process the harm (political bias) when presented with different points of view. Here is a link to the lecture.

You can view the entire lecture (I would recommend watching it with a parent), but in sum one school of thought is different points of view are necessary and make students stronger, while the other is different points of view are harmful to students and should be avoided.

Do your parents think you can process political bias with strength and emerge not only unharmed, but stronger? Can they? If so, there is a real path for political discussions in the classroom at West Bend.

Jeff Camlin, Class of 1991

[1] As defined by Hess, Mcavoy, (2014). The Political Classroom. New York, NY: Routledge. A community is diverse if less than 80% of the community voted for the same political party.

[2] Haidt, (2012). The Rightous Mind. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

(Top image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

The Current welcomes submissions from all students, faculty, administration, and community members, but reserves the right to edit for length or content.  Any column, editorial, or letter to the editor expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the entire staff.


Filed under Community, School News and Features, Viewpoint

2 responses to “A Path for Political Discussions in the Classroom at West Bend

  1. Caitlin Marsch

    Thank you, I really appreciate that you took the time to write an eloquent and insightful response(?) to my article, that compels action and tears apart my reasoning in a way that makes sense.

    (The massive political geek in me is also happy that someone cares enough to engage, so I also appreciate that, thanks!)

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