The taboo topic: politics’ role in education


Politics is inherently embedded in every aspect of our culture, so why does our education system make the conscious decision to stray away from the topic in classroom discussions?

For sophomore Tananya Prankprakma, this question is one that has filled her mind since even before high school. 

“I think that in school, one of the skills that you should learn is how to share ideas,” Tananya said. “In English class, it’s not about who’s right or wrong because there are so many different factors that go into it; it’s just [learning] how to discuss things with other people. I think a lot of people might struggle with that, and that plays a lot into how they discuss politics.”

In her opinion, open conversations about politics serve to reduce their otherwise “taboo” categorization. The area between integrating politics into the curriculum and teaching with bias, however, is somewhat grey and undefined. 

“If Mr. Manders is teaching a government class,” Tananya said, “then obviously I don’t think that he should be putting his own political views into it because [that’s] adding bias to general information. I don’t think that [teachers] should always have to restrain their opinion, especially if someone says something super disrespectful.” 

Alex Shier, a junior who actively participates in PACE (Political and Current Events Club), shares this same belief. Although he appreciates the discussion of politics in his history-heavy schedule, filtering out bias is essential to a more open-minded curriculum. 

“I do like it when [teachers] keep it unbiased, because if they’re adding their own opinion then there’s really usually only one right answer,” said Alex, who began participating in PACE Club in tenth grade. “But if they’re open [to] having an open political discussion within the class, I think that helps [teachers] enrich and connect to students on a personal level.”

Teachers like this, who possess the ability to combine opinion and options, have a special kind of talent that is not to be overlooked, she says. History teacher Steve Labenz is a prime example of this, with his emphasis on the importance of having a political opinion and being able to back it up. 

“I think it’s important to talk about [politics].” Labenz said. “[Students] have got to start understanding where they are on an issue; I know it’s probably not a nice phrase to say, but it’s not cute to be ignorant. I’m not here to tell anybody how to think with right or left or wherever they are, but I want them to have a good understanding of why, have an opinion, and know how to back it up.”

Tananya, who, despite being a sophomore, took Labenz’s AP US History class last year, states that political discussions in school spark conversation and awareness surrounding differing viewpoints. 

“I think that it’s good to have that exposure [to political discussions] because it makes us able to relate more to history,” Tananya said. “It’s important that even though it happened in the past, we see that the past isn’t always completely in the past and that the issues that might seem like they might be resolved are still mirrored in today’s politics.”

Labenz, she states, has the perfect demeanor to bring up such a subject.

“Having those discussions in Mr. Labenz’s class were really useful,” Tananya said. “Especially since he goes so calmly about it. He’s a good teacher, and that’s his personality; he doesn’t try to provoke anyone into being angry.”

Although Labenz says that he has avoided sharing his own personal political affiliations because the topic is so “incendiary” and “decisive,” his overall goal is to do just that: spark discussion. 

“I always like it if kids are still kind of arguing with each other as they go out the door, but not something that’s going to [cause] hurt feelings or are going to be regretted later on,” said Labenz, who has kept a keen eye on the political scene since his sophomore year of high school. “It would be good if teachers could talk about [politics] or if society could talk about it and maybe keep it on an issue-level rather.”

Is it possible, though, that this lack of common ground inherently stems from our lack of creation of common ground in highschool? In Alex’s opinion, avoiding political discussions actually harms student’s abilities to discuss such topics in the future, especially in more formal settings. 

“If [students] don’t have the rational discussion now and they don’t have the reasonable discourse of ideas in a civil manner, a lot of kids grow into a world where [politics] becomes a very emotional topic,” Alex said. “Often, discussion becomes very personal and damaging, which is why I think a lot of families don’t like talking about politics. If we could all practice talking about our ideas and hashing it out in a respectful manner in school, I think we could have reasonable discussions when we grow up and go out in the world.”

In our comfortable “FHC Bubble,” so many of these opinions, Tananya says, stem from our surroundings instead of factual information. 

“A lot of times people share things and pass things on without really researching it and looking into it themselves,” Tananya said. “I feel like sometimes [in Forest Hills], we only get to see one side of things, and a lot of times people might form an opinion based on the one side that they see if they’re not watching or reading the news and staying informed of what’s happening outside.” 

Could it be purely our age that keeps teachers, and sometimes even adults, from sharing their political beliefs? It can’t be a coincidence that, after high school, as students continue to pursue a higher education, the level of exposure to these kinds of subjects increases along with our age. 

“Some professors are going to be very open about [their political beliefs],” Labenz said.  “I think sometimes professors do feel like they can be a little bit more open because they don’t necessarily have to care too much about parent backlash. I just don’t know if people are as comfortable talking about [politics] just because it’s so polarizing, and I don’t know if they necessarily want to deal with it. Some kids really just like to argue.” 

Alex, despite having two more years until he becomes a college student, says that he is sure that professors will be much more willing to share their opinions and that discussions surrounding politics will be more common than uncommon. 

“I think students in high school are more susceptible to influence,” Alex said. “I think a lot of teachers recognize that and don’t want to unduly push them in a way that they shouldn’t be going. I don’t think professors are nearly as much as teachers as they are researchers who also share their research with other students, so I don’t think they’re as worried about influencing students because they’re just saying what their research is that what they found.”

Overall, this issue in general is one that stems from our very own education system and branches all the way into our higher government. If we choose to solve it at the root of the problem and begin with education, then perhaps we can avoid another generation of close-minded voting-age adults. 

“I think that the way politics works in America with the party system and the way that people share and repeat things without forming their own opinion,” Tananya said, “people might default to a certain side without really thinking about it, and they can react on instinct based on [if] an opinion is more liberal and democratic, or more Republican.”