Around New England

School Officials Confident Political Bias Won’t Bleed Into New School Civics Requirement

November 27, 2018

When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill earlier this month requiring that civics be taught in public schools, it was only after language was added designed to prevent political bias from becoming part of the instruction.

Will that be the reality?

School officials told reporters recently that teachers’ political opinions do not manipulate classroom discussions of public matters.

“Our teachers are professionals at every level and they understand that it’s not their job to say, ‘This is right or wrong,’ but to have thoughtful citizens at the end of the day,” said Derek Smith, principal of Hingham Middle School, according to the Brockton Enterprise.

An assistant principal at Hopkinson High School, Joshua Hanna, told the MetroWest Daily News:  “Our teachers are so expert at framing lessons and prompts in a manner that is free of partisanship — it’s just not even something that comes up.”

Governor Baker didn’t seem so sure when he demanded that the word “non-partisan” be added to the legislation before he would sign it.

Here’s an excerpt from the governor’s message to the state Legislature requesting an amendment to the bill, which legislators adopted:

“While I welcome efforts to facilitate student participation in our electoral processes, we must make certain that such efforts are conducted in our public schools on a non- partisan basis.”

Here’s another:

“This bill also introduces new strategies to strengthen and standardize civics education in our public schools. An informed citizenry, fully exposed to a wide variety of ideas, is critical to our democracy. Accordingly, we must be thoughtful as to how we approach the instruction of civics, always ensuring in our classrooms that differing points of view are afforded impartial consideration. When opposing positions are raised, our students should be expected to engage in a civil discourse that is both appropriate and respectful. Furthermore, while we want to encourage the development of critical reasoning skills, we would never want students to feel forced to engage in student-led civic projects in the public sphere that advance positions contrary to their personal convictions. Schools, therefore, must make alternative opportunities readily available.”

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