Sep 27, 2012

Is Teaching Political?

Every day, in one way or another, I stand and deliver. I influence the natural patterns of thought of my students.

That’s what learning is all about.

On one hand, I try to avoid being political. I try to keep my own beliefs in the background. I try to bury my bias. My goal is not to sell an ideal but to encourage critical thinking.

On the other hand, I strongly and vocally encourage social justice and the pursuit of cultural awareness. I strive for my students to be active citizens and critical of authority.

This may come as a surprise to many, but I’ve got opinions. I’ve got many opinions on many subjects. Not only do I have opinions, I like to share my opinions.

What job do I ultimately have? To be my authentic, opinionated self, while maintaining a healthy grip of objective reporting, much like Murrow and Cronkite or to be devoid of personality, a list of facts and figures with no bias?


I’d like to say this post is not about what’s happening in Ontario where there is a showdown between the Ontario Liberal Party and teacher unions. I’d like to say that this is a reflective post about the nature/value/danger of my opinion in my classroom.

But it is.

It’s important to know what their teachers are facing. It’s important for students to understand the climate of the school. It’s important for students to understand that regardless of what is happening, their teachers are there for them, despite potential withdrawal of extras.

Does that make students the pawns of both sides?


I also think this post is questioning the rhetoric that what the unions are “fighting” for are the “democratic” collective bargaining rights. I’ve seen it said, “We’re fighting for everyone, not just teachers.”

Yet, I’ve asked colleagues who were teaching during the Harris years and after, did the labour dispute make them overall more political active and the answer was no. Unless the issue was affecting them directly, they were unaware.

If we are railing against the loss of “democratic rights”, why aren’t we up in arms about the federal government’s use of omnibus bills to pass ill-supported legislation?


I suppose at the end of the day, I’m curious, is the nature of teaching political?


  • Teaching is certainly political. There’s a tremendous amount of research on the political nature of the school itself, let alone the opinions that teachers carry. Teachers instill the prevailing political framework of our society, whether that be acceptance, racism, freedom, responsibility or any other political viewpoint.
    As far as why teachers unions have taken on the issue of collective bargaining rights rather than the inappropriateness of omnibus bills, its the same reason that Greenpeace hasn’t taken on child poverty. It’s not that they aren’t aware of the issue, it’s that they are best prepared to handle different issues.
    Teachers unions have a long history of supporting other social and environmental causes, which is partly why you see the word “solidarity” so prominently in the material that OSSTF sends out. But the unions will expend the largest share on their resources in the areas that they were built for.

  • Sheesh, that is a BIG question in a little post. I love that you are grappling with this so publicly! Of course, I always side with sharing opinions and encouraging people to disagree (critical thought) – but you already knew that 🙂
    It’s not easy, what’s happening right now in Ontario. I hope you can come out the other side still filled with optimism and with colleagues who feel the same way!
    p.s. the site is looking spiffy these days – nice work!

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