Saratoga Springs

Let teachers be free to teach

Connecting the present to the past is an effective way to make history relevant
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PHOTOGRAPHER:

Our schoolchildren shouldn’t be taught from a political point of view.

But that shouldn’t preclude them from learning about political points of view.

That’s a distinction some conservative parents in the Saratoga Springs school district didn’t seem to grasp as they challenged the use in the classroom of political cartoons depicting President Donald Trump as Hitler and Mussolini.

The parents claimed that by using these particularly harsh depictions of the president, that the teacher of the class was somehow imposing his own personal political philosophy on their children.

They demanded the district apologize for the use of the cartoons and even went on national television to complain that the use of these cartoons in a classroom setting was evidence that the lesson being taught was biased against conservatives.

They’d have a point if the teacher was indeed imposing his own political philosophy on the students. But that doesn’t appear to be what the teacher was doing.

Just because the teacher used liberally biased cartoons as part of the lesson, it doesn’t automatically mean that the lesson itself was being taught with a liberal bias.

In its teacher’s defense of the use of the cartoons, district officials said the cartoons were appropriate for the lesson being taught, which was about fascism as a political movement in the context of World War II.

The lesson, according to district officials, included a student debate on whether the media was biased and whether the portrayal of the president was fair. Students were instructed to research fascism from a historical context and to take a position on the question of bias. The teacher, district officials said, moderated the debate from a neutral position.

The use of the cartoons from today’s political atmosphere allowed students to view fascism and its portrayal in a contemporary situation, giving them an opportunity to relate their studies of the past to the present.

Connecting the present to the past is an effective way to make history relevant — something many of us can recall was lacking in some of our own history lessons.

By inviting debate, the teacher was challenging students to not only recall the material they’d researched, but to interpret it, which builds critical thinking skills — a skill sorely lacking among many adults today.

Had the teacher not used these particular cartoons, an essential element of the lesson would have been lost.

If the conservative parents had thought this through more carefully, they would have welcomed and encouraged a debate on the issue of media bias, as the cartoons actually reinforced their argument that there is bias against conservatives.

If teachers are prohibited from demonstrating any evidence of political bias, then how can they effectively teach it? We must be careful not to use our own political biases to discourage teaching about them.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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