How to Safely Teach a Divisive Topic: 2016 Election

Teachers are reluctant to talk with their students about the recent election. There is a legitimate fear that talking about the election in class could anger students, parents, colleagues, or administrators.

And yet keeping quiet about the elections forfeits an opportunity for teachers to develop students’ critical thinking, deepen their civic understanding, and help them discuss politically sensitive topics. This election has uncovered a much-needed role for teachers: to help students understand the country they live in and how to communicate effectively about the issues that matter most.

To help teachers navigate the murky political waters, here are some guidelines to help safely address the 2016 election:

  1. Start with issues that are less personal to students, such as the electoral college, the power of the president, the role of the United States in international affairs, etc. Use these issues to teach students the process of inquiry that they can then apply to more sensitive topics.

  2. Be transparent with students (and their parents) about the objectives of your lesson and the sources you will be using. Make it clear that your intention is not to influence students’ political opinions. Acknowledge the bias of your news source and make sure to show both sides of the issue.

  3. Creating a safe space is critical. Have the class come up with a list of rules for discussion. During heated debates, use a bell or buzzer to alert students when they’ve gone too far.  

  4. The ultimate goal is to use inquiry and discourse to help students understand their political system. It is not to convince them of any one side. 

  5. As students research the issues, help them to uncover the bias of their sources. Ask questions like, “What is the agenda of that website/organization? How can we figure that out?”

  6. For discussion and content ideas, check out the Race to the White House text set in the Actively Learn catalog. We’ve carefully selected articles that develop critical thinking while respecting both sides.

ALERT: Google's authentication server is currently experiencing trouble. This is blocking some Actively Learn logins via Google. Google is aware and working on the fix. Stay tuned.