In-class political bias leads to some disagreement over its appropriateness

On Nov. 10, 2016, Mountain View history teacher Frank Navarro found himself being asked to leave the school after a parent sent the school an email expressing their concerns over Navarro comparing President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. Navarro, a Holocaust expert with more than 40 years of teaching experience, says that the school refused to read the contents of the email to him, ABC News reported.

This incident, however, was not the only incident within the Bay Area of school faculty members being put on leave after expressing anti-Trump remarks. ABC also reports that Milpitas High School Principal Phil Morales was excused from the school after using profanity when referring to the president during an on-campus student protest.

When it comes to teaching politics, it can be difficult for teachers to leave their own political biases out of the conversation. While teachers adding their own political opinions to a classroom discussion—particularly those widely held by students—may not be in the front of a teacher’s mind, do these biases have an effect on students?

According to the Political Activities of Employees section of the Carmel Unified School District Code of Conduct, teachers and faculty are prohibited from endorsing specific political parties or candidates in the classroom or on school grounds. The CUSD code states, “District employees shall not use district funds, services, supplies or equipment to urge the passage or defeat of any ballot measure or candidate, including any candidate for election to the Board of Education.”

CHS Principal Rick Lopez notes that CUSD policy also states that teachers are not permitted to endorse their own political parties or candidates in the classroom. However, Lopez adds that CHS is a public high school, and therefore a part of the government. With this in mind, he says, schools should allow free speech for teachers and students alike.

“Teachers are allowed to make political comments,” Lopez says. “However, it has to be directly connected to the course. We encourage our students to engage in political conversations with their students, but at the same time, we ask teachers to let go of their implicit biases during these discussions.”

Meanwhile, teachers at CHS note their coverage of both sides of the political spectrum during class time, rather than focusing on specific party or candidate.

“I think that political opinions will be there, it’s just human nature,” AP World History teacher Brent Silva says. “You have to take out the bias and cover both sides equally. As a teacher, you have to present all of the conclusions, and let students go from there.”

Silva, who discusses current events with his classes weekly, notes the Charlottesville white nationalist riot as an example of a situation in which some students may not have all the facts before speaking.

“There’s the basic facts that people have, namely that a car drove through the crowd,” Silva says. “But it’s the little things, like what the rally was for, what two groups were there, whether it was a rally or protest. Was there a permit gained? When you can learn all of the facts, you’re able to learn clearer and form a stronger opinion.”

Some students note their concerns over expressing their own political opinions in the classroom.

“I know I’m personally sometimes afraid to express my political opinions in the classroom,” sophomore says sophomore Brian Porter, who identifies as right-leaning. Porter cites California’s liberal voting history as a reason for this, with most students identifying as liberal.

“I’m glad that we all have free speech,” sophomore Marcus Lo says. “I hope to keep it so that we can have civil discussions, which isn’t always possible.”

Lopez also notes that the concern for political conversations often stems from the parents of students as opposed to the students themselves.

“I have been involved in parents being uncomfortable with classroom discussions,” Lopez mentions. “There are some parents who don’t like what we have to teach in California…for instance, not teaching sex education in schools.”

However, Lopez goes on to note that these classes are mandatory, at that it’s ultimately up to the state what students learn.

Nationally, political bias may also take shape in the form of speakers who are invited to speak in classes, with right-wing speakers often being silenced through protest.

“Disavowing right-wing provocateurs isn’t a suppression of free speech,” Colby College professor Aaron Hanlen was reported saying in The Washington Post. “It’s a value judgement in keeping with higher education’s mission.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Young America Foundation, political journalist Ben Shapiro describes the disinviting of right-wing speakers as “disappointing, but unsurprising.”

Shapiro, who was blocked from giving a speech at University of California, Berkeley, blames the school’s political biases as being the reason.

“We want to have this event,” UC Berkeley vice chancellor Dan Mogulof says. “We want to support the students’ right to invite speakers of their choice.”

Because of the diversity within CHS, the administration stresses the importance of civil disagreement and the allowance of all voices to be heard.