Teaching Through Tensions: Covering Current Events in 2020

Let’s take a journey back in time, way back to the Pre-COVID era of 2012, back to a time when children filled classrooms all around our country, huddled together as they worked collaboratively, with no fear of contracting plagues. Aside from being a glorious time without fear of a virus raging through our country, it was also the last time I, as an educator, felt comfortable covering Presidential elections.

In 2012, my class was filled with fifth graders who were so excited by current events that my mini unit on the election process ended up turning into a deeper dive than I ever could have envisioned. The kids cheered when it was time for Social Studies, eager to learn more about this process. I have always been very politically engaged and interested in current events , and I loved bringing this enthusiasm into the classroom and watching my students share the same enthusiasm. We had charts, we followed polling data, we analyzed predictions and charted them in math class, we researched politicians’ lives through articles and books, working to create our own articles about their political journeys for writing, and we knew the process inside and out. The kids had their own maps for election night that they could color code as the results came in, and keep track of the electoral college votes- we were amped! I never feared teaching this- it was the most relevant and engaging way for me to teach the world they inhabited at that time.

Even back in 2012, I knew my role as an educator was to be impartial. I never, and I mean never, shared whom I voted for. I never shared my thoughts on a current event, a politician, a debate, or any other event. Instead, I’d turn it to the kids. I’d ask what they thought. I’d send them articles from various sources that showed both sides. We’d analyze political ads that were running on TV by both sides and see how they showed bias. I kept my bias outside the classroom, and for years, this way of teaching worked.

Now, today, in 2020, I fear that the political environment in our country is so divided that things that were once just norms are no longer such.

Every aspect of the political process has become politically charged, leading to an environment where often the safest choice for teachers is to make the decision  not to cover what is happening in the world around us.

Certain aspects of American history used to  be norms that we all agreed upon. They weren’t matters of debate; they were facts. For example, the electoral college has become a recent topic of hot debate. Should it still be used to decide elections, or is it an antiquated system that favors one party over the other? What was once a simple fact is no longer such. The same goes for the Supreme Court. For years we have taught children there are nine Supreme Court Justices. Will that still be true in the coming years? And what will the political ramifications be of such a decision? When we cover the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is just as much a part of the Bill of Rights as the Third Amendment. I never fear for my job security when I discuss quartering soldiers in homes, yet the discussions on the rights to bear arms can now put a teacher in serious trouble. Choosing to discuss this once-a-simple-fact-now-turned-political-hot-topic puts teachers in a vulnerable position.

Often teachers are told to “stick to their curriculum and leave these decisions and discussions for home.” Such a statement, and system of beliefs, is founded on the idea that these discussions are taking place in homes. That all parents are teaching their children how the system works, and not just discussing their own favorite candidates.

Yet, somewhere around 2016, and certainly in 2020, even teaching how the system works opens teachers up to a vulnerability for pushback, accusations, and “stay in your lane” reprimands.

There are many things I miss about teaching in 2012. I miss teaching kids who aren’t in masks, I miss teaching in a school full of children instead of in a corner of my children’s bedroom from home, and I miss feeling I could teach kids about the world, in a factual, unbiased, way, without fear of ramifications. I miss a world where teachers could cover the election without wondering if they’d be brought to task by an angry parent or an administrator. I miss teaching the next generation how this system works. Because the truth is, as the old cliche goes, the children are the future. If we don’t teach them, who will? When did teaching facts become political, and where do we go from here?

Stephanie Cardoso is a fifth grade teacher in Edison, New Jersey. She is the 2015 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year Finalist, has been named a "Teacher who Makes Magic", and has been honored on ABC World News as the Person of the Week.





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