Balancing Impartiality and Passion in Teaching Politics
The tricky line in teaching politics, and how you can tackle it
By Dan Murch, Partnerships and Impact Manager
Looking for our lessons with the Anti-Bullying Alliance? You can sign up for early access here!
By Dan Murch, Partnerships and Impact Manager
“Politics, eh?” The look of suspicion was obvious on this parent’s face. It was an open evening, and the next question is one that I had heard many times. “You teach it the right way, don’t you?” This question speaks to a central concern in teaching politics - what is the right way to do it?
Many of you will have either heard that question directly or from colleagues, and it really does speak to a central question. A question that has taken up much thinking time, pub talk and newspaper column inches, and yet has got no closer to a definitive answer. What is the right way to teach politics?
Teaching as a profession and teachers as individuals often face the charge of being biased, highly politicised, and, especially, too left-wing. However, this is not the case. The variety of views in the community are reflected in the teaching staff, yet there remains a widely held view that teachers are overly political.
The Department of Education has also taken steps to limit the political ideas that can be taught in schools, such as the ban on anti-Capitalism in 2020. This raised eyebrows among politics teachers, as it made it difficult to teach Marxist theory from the A-level specification.
However, as educators, our personal views on politics or issues should not be the focus. Our responsibility to the children is to teach them all angles and help them become well-rounded, critical thinkers both in and outside the classroom.
There are a few ways to approach this. Some teachers try to hide their views, while others take the tentative approach. Either way, students are always canny to both approaches. In an ideal world, all teachers would feel empowered to tackle political issues - both small and big “p” - head on, and have courage in their own convictions.
There has been a lot of discussion about this inside and outside the classroom and it comes down to impartiality. Impartiality can seem like the enemy of impassioned debate but that is not the case. In fact as a teacher you can use it as a tool to further the classroom discussions on difficult topics.
As a teacher, it's incredibly difficult to be fully impartial. There will always be topics that reveal your personal views. But, there is a way to use your personal perspective while still providing impartial information on difficult or political topics.
One approach is to be open about your own views, but also explain why. This works well in a secondary school setting, where you can express your opinion and give equal clarity and airtime to the opposing view. There are many issues that are not black and white, and the gray areas need to be considered and explored.
As a teacher of politics, and a member of a political party, I was very aware of how it could appear to parents, school leaders, Inspectors, or Government. And it was a conscious decision to detail why I felt the way I felt and also why others would feel a different way. I spent more time describing the positive sides of issues that I disagreed with than doing the same with my own views.
While that would not meet the strict definition of balance, it does ensure that my own views are not too heavily featured within the lessons.
This article was written by Dan Murch & Georgie Emery at VotesforSchools.
Dan Murch joined VotesforSchools as a Partnerships and Impact Manager after a decade of experience in the education sector, most recently as a teacher of history and politics in a secondary school. He is passionate about ensuring that young people are listened to by those who are in positions to make real change happen, and his knowledge of politics is helping make sure that the voices of young people are heard by the Government.
With experience teaching in the UK and overseas, Georgie's academic background is in English, American & Children's Literature, with a particular expertise in children's books and a passion for young people's literacy. In addition to overseeing VotesforSchools' weekly content, hard-hitting resources and commissions work, Georgie has developed curriculum mapping for England, Wales & Scotland; written guidance for schools on political impartiality, and is constantly working with her Team to ensure what VotesforSchools offers is innovative, engaging and relevant.