By Tyler Conrad ’17
With the presidential election in full swing, government teachers say maintaining an unbiased classroom while promoting student activism can prove challenging, especially with an election as unique as this one.
“I think it’s definitely difficult to walk the line of creating an environment where students don’t think they have to feel pressured to represent certain beliefs and they feel comfortable to represent their own beliefs and recognize that it’s a safe space,” said AP Government teacher Mr. Will Rutt ’08.
Fellow AP Government teacher Ms. Kelly Guffey said she strives to educate students so they can support and understand their values.
“I prefaced everything on the very first day of class, that this class is about students learning about the process, and why they have the beliefs they have,” Ms. Guffey said.
Ian Burke ’18 said that learning about U.S. government and politics has allowed him to develop his own individuals opinions.
“I think that the class has given me a better understanding of the way our government works and through that I feel my views strengthening,” Burke said.
Mr. Rutt said he encourages students to express their beliefs and engage in discussion, but does so while also trying to keep his opinions on current topics mostly confidential.
“For me, I don’t think it’s that hard to keep my views and beliefs out of it, in the sense of abstaining from sharing,” Mr. Rutt said. “I think what is hard is I read a lot of current events in my class and I personally read a lot of liberal publications, so sometimes my information is left leading as opposed to right leaning, which sometimes I think is the hardest part.”
Mr. Rutt said he does his best to let students know the biased nature of some sources and publications before sharing an article from them.
Ms. Guffey also makes sure she can advocate for student involvement without giving her views away.
“I’ve been doing it for a very long time, and my whole spiel is that I don’t tell students how I lean, and I purposefully try to make it difficult for them to know, I always play the devil’s advocate,” she said.
Burke said Mrs. Guffey does a great job maintaining this objectiveness.
“I think she does a great job of being very unbiased,” he said. “She almost never shows her opinion on political matters, she usually just gives us facts/information and let’s us make our own inferences.”
Mr. Rutt said he emphasizes the reality and gravity of issues being debated, and how students—and also politicians—often overlook that they are dealing with the lives of real people.
“I hear stories that because of Obama Care, someone’s dad who is a doctor saw their salary get cut in half,” Mr. Rutt said. “On the flipside, someone else might have a family that is just now getting health care because of Obama Care. It get’s personal and serious, and it affects people’s lives.”
This being said, Mr. Rutt explained that students are encouraged to take a stance and participate in active change.
“If there is something that draws or sparks a student’s interest, whichever stance you take, that is what brings change and progress,” Mr. Rutt said.
Michael Winter ’17 is in Mr. Rutt’s AP Government and Economics, and said he is grateful for the openness of the classroom, despite some trepidation.
“I have my views and other classmates have their’s, and that is fine, I just hope it never leads to anything that could cause an issue outside of class,” Winter said.
Michael also appreciates for Rutt’s unbiasedness as a moderator.
“He really does a good job explaining trends and concepts without interjecting his political opinions,” Winter said.
Regarding the specific ongoing presidential election, Mr. Rutt said the beauty of teaching government during this time is the comparisons and evolution of the system can quite easily be seen.
“I think its really fun to put this election up against what historically has happened and historical trends,” Mr. Rutt said. “I think when you’re talking about government you’re really talking about as a society what is the system in play, how has it worked, and how is it currently in work.”
Mrs. Guffey also said that this election could be a game-changer in the future of American politics,
“If Trump wins, and he didn’t really ask people to fundraise for him, and he really went off the cusp and changed his mind on things, then that will signal to future candidates that it is the approach that works,” she said.
However, the mudslinging nature of the current election makes it difficult to understand and learn the true issues being discussed, according to Mr. Rutt.
“It seems likes there is more noise in this election, more distractions and things taking away from conversations about policy and the stance of the different candidates,” he said. “It’s hard to teach that because I have to sift through all the junk and understand what the candidates really believe and what are they really saying amidst all the fluff that we keep seeing.”
Ms. Guffey agreed that the unique nature of this election makes incorporating it into the class a challenge.
“This election cycle is making it very difficult, because it by every measure is so different than what normally happens,” she said. “It’s hard to teach students who are probably paying attention to an election for the very first time.”