BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- Hearing that a Louisiana schoolteacher is under fire for making derogatory comments about President Obama’s re-election -- the instructor allegedly showed up at an elementary school wearing all black to mourn "America’s funeral" and was heard saying the president would make the United States the new China -- is quite the change of pace from what I’m used to.
Here in the president’s extremely blue home state, it’s often the other way around with Obama considered a political patron saint and Republican candidates and positions referred to in demonizing tones in classrooms and hallways by the left-leaning unionized staff.
I see this because I visit schools in my area with some frequency, and I read most of the materials my kids bring home for projects. In a sixth-grade packet my son was given to complete an election-related assignment, his instructor included two teacher-created reference items about health care in America.
The sheet for Obama was a 600-word excerpt from the speech the president delivered as he signed his health care reform bill into law. "Today, after almost a century of trying; today, after over a year of debate; today, after all the votes have been tallied -- health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America," read the first line.
The first line on Mitt Romney’s sheet said, "Health care is a very tricky and awkward issue for Governor Romney." It went on to note that the "lack of an alternative health plan, beyond sporadic campaign rhetoric" has "gnawed" at his campaign.
You might agree or disagree with either of the above statements, but it seems pretty clear to my independent voter eyes that the facts have been presented in a partisan manner.
A friend recently told me that the intolerance for non-liberal views in public schools manifested itself when parents and staff at his kids’ school had a conniption after a Republican politician came in merely to talk to the students about his experience working in the state capital.
Such is life in Illinois public schools where 64 percent of one local high school’s faculty and staff voted for Obama in their mock election, compared to 30 percent for Romney, though the school sits in a reliably Republican county. According to the Pew Research Center, only 38 percent of registered voters consider themselves Democrats -- I fear Pew undersampled the Land of Lincoln’s teacher corps.
I joke because I have to. Whether I like it or not, my sons attend schools where the teachers seem to be there not so much to advance the understanding of math or science but to mold soldiers to march in the war for social justice. I’m hardly exaggerating -- the mission statements of the two largest teaching programs in my area feature language referring to their "commitment to social justice," and certainly this was the core principle of my own teacher preparation program and my husband’s.
There’s nothing wrong with "social justice," of course, but the political aspects of it shouldn’t seep into the classroom any more than the "religious principles" that some teachers in the South seem to get in trouble for letting slip into their lessons.
But it’s really far more absurd than that.
For every teacher who has told students that they could be arrested for saying negative things about the president (this happened in a Spencer, N.C., high school last May) or likening a Romney campaign T-shirt to a Ku Klux Klan outfit (this happened at a high school in Philadelphia in September), there’s some yahoo telling students the president isn’t fit for the office because he’s a Muslim (a junior high school in Mississippi).
Honestly, we need to do better than this for our public school students. The aforementioned examples are merely the ones that were so egregiously political that they actually got parents upset enough to raise a stink.
The subtler forms, like slightly biased teaching materials, might be a lost cause even though they cast doubts on a school staff's ability to remain open-minded at a time when education policies and reform schemes have brought bitter politics straight into the schoolhouse.
That’s a real shame -- partisanship has no place in our classrooms. If we’re lucky, once this election season’s wave of passion subsides, school administrators will take the time before the midterm elections to ensure that teachers understand the difference between information and advocacy.
Esther J. Cepeda's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group