Politics and Teaching

When I was teaching social studies at Hilton Head Island High school a few years ago we had two teachers in the department who constantly argued politics. One of these teachers was about as Republican as you can get. He constantly attacked Bill Clinton and then praised George W. Bush constantly. Another teacher who we will call Bob, would constantly counter and talk about what "those Republicans are doing." We all thought Bob was a poster boy for the Democratic Party. During the 2002 election I was tasked with lining up speakers for our school's election debate. The lady at the Democratic Campaign Headquarters I talked with floored me when she asked me how "that Republican" Bob was doing? My reply was, "you're kidding right?" The Democrat told me she knew Bob for many years and he was always a big Republican supporter. When I relayed the story to Bob he admitted the woman was correct. He then added, "but my personal politics does not belong in the classroom."

A blog post by Marc Lampkin reminded me of the above story. Bob further explained his job was to teach students to investigate the issues for themselves and play devil's advocate to get those students to back up their opinions with facts. Mr. Lampkin reminded me of a story of a New York teachers' union who sued to be allowed to wear campaign buttons after the school district forbid them. The blog post goes on a anti-teachers' union rant but the fact teachers wanted to campaign for one candidate or another disturbed me.

Parents send us their children to be educated not indoctrinated. They should be taught to find facts and determine what they believe is best for themselves. I have my personal political beliefs and I support one presidential candidate over another because after reviewing what both candidates' stances on issues important to me I have made my decision. I even wear campaign items, outside of school. However, once I step on school grounds, the stuff comes off and I am more non-partisan than reporters pretend to be. Last week I assisted with our school's mock election and was thrilled to do it. Once the students started voting, I was having as much fun watching the results come in as I will on November 4th. We even had Bulldog Barks video updates periodically posted on YouTube and a local newspaper's blog. It was all non-partisan and neutral. Hopefully, the kids had fun exploring the issues, debating who was better, and voting for the candidates of their choice. All under the watchful eyes of teachers who remain politically neutral.

For those of you who support Barack Obama or John McCain and believe the country will crash and burn if the other candidate wins, go ahead and knock yourself out showing your support. Show your support until you come to school, then teach the impressionable young minds to make their own informed decisions after looking at ALL of the issues from both sides equally.

I'm Joe the Student: Learning from The YouTube Election

Presidential campaigns have a way of defining changes in media. Franklin Roosevelt made effective use of the radio in his election bid in 1932. Richard Nixon was the first politician to use television to speak directly to voters in 1952. John F. Kennedy showed that preparing for the characteristics of television helped him during the televised debates in 1960. Bloggers pretty much decided the election in 2004. In 2008 it will be the use of YouTube or citizen generated media that has made inroads and I expect 2012 will see its effective use by a candidate.

Both campaigns used YouTube to post campaign commercials. John McCain may have started the rewriting of Fair Use policy when some of his posts from news shows were taken down after networks complained of copyright infringement. CNN and YouTube collaborated on having people video questions for Republican and Democratic candidates during the primaries. Now YouTube, PBS, and GroundReport are teaming up for Video Your Vote which encourages people to video their experiences during the voting process and are giving away Flip camcorders to make it happen. Yet the biggest surprise is how many people picked up a video camcorder of some kind and shot video that made some kind of statement for one candidate or the other because they wanted to. I receive information e-mails from both the Obama and McCain campaigns (I should disclose that my sister is a county chairwomen for John McCain) and while most of the e-mails are asking for money (which Obama can stop because he can't possibly spend $300 million between now and election day) the McCain campaign surprised me with a call for "I am Joe the Plumber" videos.

The thing for teachers to learn from this is that people are finding new ways to communicate that are easy and cheap to do. I could write, shoot, and edit a campaign commercial for either candidate with a $100 to $150 camcorder that would look decent then upload it on YouTube. All this exercise in democracy would cost next to nothing but time. Take a look at what individuals have created on their own by surfing the campaign videos on YouTube. Think about how you can tap into that creative energy with your students. See if you can't create your own "Joe the Student" video that could change the course of history as much as "Joe the Plumber" might in this election.