So now we deal with the last debate of the semester. And what did I think during the pre-vote? Yes, I totally think teachers have a responsibility to fight oppression and promote social justice. The problem many have with this, however, is that teachers could be at risk for being vocal about political issues. For example, if we look at Ontario right now there is a snitch line in case a teacher talks about “inappropriate topics” such as sex education or same-sex relationships. These are topics that need to be addressed, but with new legislation in place, teachers may potentially lose their jobs for being vocal.
Before the debate began, it appeared that the majority of the class also agreed that educators have the responsibility to be vocal about social issues. Now let’s look at what Jesse and Daniel provided for the debate.
Jesse was tasked to argue that educators do have a responsibility to promote social justice and fight oppression, and he focused on three main arguments:
- Staying Neutral is Problematic
- There are Risks of Staying Silent Online
- Teachers have a Responsibility to Use Technology and Social Media Effectively
One thing we have to remember is that education is inherently political. Everything about education is political, from the textbooks to the curriculum and so much more–all of these aspects are already influencing a student’s education politically, so why are teachers expected to remain neutral? In reality, neutrality is not an effective teaching tactic as it leaves behind marginalized students in the classroom. If we look at Trump and his policies and behaviors, he is openly offensive and oppressive toward marginalized communities, so to purposely stay quiet about it in the classroom you are siding with his comments and beliefs whether you want to or not. A powerful comment made by multiple Teachers of the Year sums it up perfectly:
As teachers, we welcome all children into our classrooms, regardless of the color of their skin, how much money their parents make, or their religious beliefs. That notion of equality is at the heart of what it means to be an American.
Children are watching. They are listening. They are learning from the example we set as their parents and teachers—not only from what we say and do, but from what we accept when it comes to the words and actions of others. We have to show them that hatred, sexism, racism, disrespect, and threats of physical violence are not okay. They’re unacceptable at any age — for a kindergartener, a high school student, or a presidential candidate.
It’s also important for us, as educators, to not only teach digital literacy but to lead by example. We have to remain active online with proper digital literacy skills so that students can see what is and what is not appropriate. Politics is included in this discussion. Again, in order to properly avoid being neutral, we must model this both inside and outside the classroom. If we say one thing in the class and then do another online, are students really learning or gaining any political perspectives?
Many feel that the main issue with teaching about politics in the classroom that it is all opinion. That is not true. Talking about equality or all people is not a controversial statement, and it is not an opinion either. Saying that vaccines are beneficial is not an opinion–it’s a scientific fact. Saying that Pluto is a planet is not true. We have to stop thinking of political beliefs and ideologies as just opinions because those beliefs and ideologies shape that way our world is today.
Now, let’s look at Daniel’s video where he argues that teachers do not have a responsibility to promote social justice.
Daniel also provided many relevant points, his main arguments being:
- Teachers are Under Constant Scrutiny from the Public
- The Education System is Political
- Students are Easily Influenced
- Teachers Should Allow Students to Think for Themselves
One issue Daniel initially brought up is how often teachers can be scrutinized for sharing their political beliefs. He used the example of James Keegstra to explain this point. Of course, Keegstra is quite an extreme case, and Daniel himself admits that, but Keegstra lost his job due to sharing his beliefs. However, I have some major issues with this being brought up.
Keegstra was an anti-semitic, point blank. It wasn’t that he just denied the Holocaust (which is an action that many other neo-Nazis do), he denied it because he believed Jewish people made it up so that they could gain sympathy. Not only that, but he made wildly hateful comments about Jewish people, claiming that they were trying to abolish Christianity (which, mathematically, is basically impossible but I digress), that they were evil, that they killed children, and so on. He was also heavily associated with Ernst Zündel who was an open neo-Nazi, publishing works such as The Hitler We Loved and Why and Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth At Last. Keegstra was promoting hate speech in his classroom–he was not just simply “stating a belief”. According to the Charter of Rights, we do have a freedom of expression in Canada, but what that means is that we can say what we want without being attacked by the government or be denied jobs. However, and I cannot stress this enough, freedom of expression does not include hate speech, which is what Keegstra was promoting. He was committing a crime and thus was fired and charged (and rightly so). This isn’t an example of a teacher being fired for saying something that morally should be said, like a teacher talking about same-sex relationships in the classroom. This is an example of hate propaganda that was spread in the classroom and should never be tolerated.
The second issue that Daniel brought up was politics, specifically the inclusion of religion in the classroom. In one case, a teacher was fired from her position at a Christian school because she was involved in a pre-marital relationship where she and her partner were living together, which was not allowed according to her contract. I tried to do some digging to see if this violated anything in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and there is a clause that prohibits employment discrimination against
race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.
So, what does that mean? Well, in the contract the school explicitly states that you cannot engage in “any sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage,” meaning that this school is going against the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is illegal to not hire someone based off of their sexual orientation or marital status–so, for this school to state that you must be in a heterosexual relationship in order to engage in sexual activity directly attacks those in same-sex relationships, and may possibly be illegal. However, the teacher in question was not in a same-sex relationship, and because of that, it may be hard for her to use the Canadian Human Rights Act in her favor (at least that’s what appears to be the case according to the little I know about the Canadian Human Rights Act). Regardless, this action is discriminatory, and should not be permitted within the classroom.
In the end, Jesse won the debate. I can’t help but relate to Daniel, as I too had a very difficult side to debate. Differing from our other debates, however, I find it hard to find a middle ground in this situation. Being a neutral teacher is doing more harm than good for our students, and I think they are the most important factor in this equation. Relating back to my own experiences, I have heard discriminatory statements from students that directly harmed me and my sexuality. I had to sit in the classroom and attempt to defend myself while my teachers sat there and allowed other students to say offensive comments. I felt more and more discriminated against. It’s not about trying to get a student to vote for the same candidate as you–it’s about teaching students that discrimination is unjust and wrong.