Not Just a Mock Debate: A Teacher Introduces Election Ethics

Americans seem to believe that if we assign more social responsibilities to our schools, and call on our teachers to take on even more roles, that somehow the nation will be prepared and able to withstand any and all tests. We have big ideas about education and its uses. Think about it. Since our beginnings, we have regarded schools as laboratories for citizenship. We have engraved onto school missions stringent requirements to build moral character and to pass on ethical values.

At no time are these assumptions more tested than during elections in our democracy. So...because it is election time in America, we decided we should go to a high school, talk with a teacher and ask some big questions: 

Are there ethical aspects to how a school treats elections? And equally important, how should a teacher offer a primer on election ethics? Are schools still good places to deal with controversial political questions, many of which involve ethical dimensions? And finally, how should schools and teachers be trained to teach kids to be civically-minded and mindfully civil? 

Consider that schools today are not only segregated, but partisan. Many have exclusive affiliations, from religion to subject matter. We can imagine that in some districts, it might be difficult to convince a student to take the role of either President Obama or Mitt Romney at the high school's traditional mock election debate. Schools have been one-party gerrymandered and students as microsegmented as the voters targeted by savvy political operatives.

Yet, in our let's-cover-it-all conversation with Tammy Shreiner, history and social science teacher at Ann Arbor Greenhills School and research associate at the University of Michigan School of Education, we were struck by the continuing power of the enduring insights and the appeal of the new ideas she offered. Tammy convinced us through research and example, that indeed, schools ought to renew--and to--revolutionize their responsibility as critical thinking sanctuaries where: partisanship of all kinds is accepted and compromises are celebrated; respect is given to people with different views; issues are researched from many different perspectives; new and controversial ideas are tested; and aspiring to truthfulness and the truth of all things are the highest values.

Now...if only we could teach political operatives to be truthful and get politicians to learn the value of the truth. Of all things!