MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Monday, January 31, 2022

Politics and teachers’ moral dilemma


From Moaz Nair

Education, in essence, is to nurture citizens to think critically and resolve problems that are either political, economic, scientific, or otherwise. Politics is a societal realm that touches all citizens and embraces teachers and students.

How non-political should teachers be in the classroom can be a contentious issue. Teachers may face this moral dilemma when it comes to classroom teaching if they are allowed to be active in real politics, as it may lead them to have biased views that can influence their approach to teaching and at times propagandise students with their personal political understandings.

Parents, students and teachers have varied backgrounds, biases, and beliefs. Parents and students look up to teachers as role models.

As for teachers, they are the authority who holds the power to influence or coerce students to align with their views.

So, what most parents fear is when teachers’ political orientation, ideological and value systems become the only standpoint students receive in classroom teaching. They may fear that teachers would impose their political views or beliefs of any kind on students.

If teachers bring their personal views on politics into the classroom in the teaching process, then this is didactically unethical. It breaks the foundation of the elementary principles of impartiality in pedagogy.

When teachers are strictly linked to a political ideology, they may end up teaching politics simply by being who they are and delivering the curriculum in the way they prefer.

A strict adherence to neutrality may not be possible when teachers are trapped in active politics outside the classroom.

It’s not uncommon for teachers to be told they should keep politics out of the classroom. However, education, at its core, is inherently political. Teaching is a political act but there is a difference between being political and partisan.

In a way, education itself is not neutral. It’s tinkered with politics.

Schools are governed by policies set by the education ministry. They are indirectly dictated by politicians who have political interests in what is taught in schools. Textbooks adopted are decided by the ministry and they have to be politically favourable to the incumbent government.

Obviously, subjects such as history, religious and moral studies and even languages taught can be tinkered with political elements. A neutral history textbook, for instance, would tell the full history, that serves as the authority and apolitical view of history.

But this may not always be the case. Textbooks can be political. Teachers have to understand textbooks are chosen through the massive political process of textbook adoptions.

Unbiased and objective

To reconcile pedagogy with politics in democratic education requires curriculum designers to take into consideration the plurality and diversity of the society. Students have to learn to deliberate on political issues affecting society based on this democratic premise.

For this to happen, the educational process should be unbiased and objective where the dialogue space is created for all voices to be heard. The teaching also has to involve critically reflective tools for students to come to their own understanding of politics outside the classroom.

When a political issue or debate arises in the classroom, teachers have to let it evolve naturally, as long as it is respectful and can provide students with new knowledge and skills.

Intrinsically, politics is part of the classroom teaching to empower students to justly dissect and encounter rhetoric, comprehend and distinguish democratic ideals, and be dynamic citizens to serve humanity. These moral duties have to start in schools and would not be effective if politics exist only outside the classroom.

Schools are a part of a larger political system and keeping politics out of the classroom is simply impossible. So, what can be done is for teachers to be neutral when imparting knowledge and ideas to students.

Students have to think for themselves. They need to build critical-thinking skills and be taught to identify racially, socially, and morally unjust political actions. This is so that these students can see the need for a more socially-conscious and just society.

Education expects students to become innovative critical thinkers with exemplary
communication skills. If silence or neutrality is their only means to approach differences of opinions, they will be left ill-prepared to become informed, rational thinkers and future dispassionate decision-makers.

That is why students have to be presented with a multitude of perspectives on political and social issues in an impartial manner to enable them to see the real-world connections with the education they receive in the classroom.

It is thus important that schools address topics that are politically-linked social ills in society, such as corruption, poverty, racism, violence, discrimination, civil rights, and gender equality, among others. These topics should not be censured in schools.

Students have the right to know what is happening outside the classroom, as long as those topics are addressed fairly and by adapting the issues to their mental age and the community characteristics at large.

A non-partisan approach to teaching is when there is a culture of impartiality in the classroom. Teachers, with whatever political orientation they adhere to in real life, have to remain unbiased so that students can form their own opinions.

This is by encouraging students to not be afraid to express their opinions on real-life issues.

For instance, debates during class can be about politics where students are trained to become critical thinkers and develop the capacity to exchange ideas and to engage in discourse argumentatively. This creates inclusive spaces in which all students feel comfortable sharing their opinions.

Teachers follow students through each pivotal stage of their mental development. They, therefore, have to treat political issues with extreme care maintaining, at all times, a neutral position in the classroom.

They are supposed to guide learners, not think for them. Not to dictate to students what to think and accept but rather to present them with challenging political issues affecting the society.

In the process, they should not openly ratify any particular political point of view in the classroom, but discuss issues openly in ethical terms to allow students to differentiate between what is morally right or wrong. - FMT

Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.