Teacher's demonstrating. Sarahmirk via Wikimedia Commons

Should teachers be political activists? 

Responding to the article “Thomas Broderick, middle school teacher, activist,” my answer would be “no.” 

When discussing the issue of political activism by teachers with the former vice principal of Ridgefield High School, her opinion was that students should not even be aware of their teacher’s political stance. She has since been appointed to principal of one of our elementary schools, but her opinion still makes sense.

Educators like to claim that it is part of their job to teach critical thinking. Now, more than ever, that is an important skill for all Americans to have.  We are an ideologically divided country. Young adults need to learn how to distinguish facts from opinion. They need to be taught to research facts from many different sites and to recognize censorship when sites only put forth one side of an issue. A free and viable republic can only survive with an informed populace.

Broderick seems like a likable guy and certainly “with it” or “cool” or whatever the current word is today that describes someone kids can relate to. We also know that middle school kids are very eager to fit in and not stand out as different. (I know, I’ve raised three of them and taught middle school American history and civics.) 

This makes an activist teacher all the more problematic for kids who should be learning how to think for themselves. The more insecure the child, the more likely he or she is to follow the teacher’s opinions.

The affordable housing issue in Ridgefield is a hot topic. Ridgefield is an historic town, settled before the Revolutionary War. We have many large old homes from that era that gives the town its charm. As a member of the Architectural Advisory Committee and Historic District Commission for several years, we worked to keep out neon signs, ungainly architecture, box stores, etc. that would compromise the town’s unusual character. Yet, still, hundreds of multifamily units have been built in the last several years as developers in league with the state government seek to turn our semi-rural community into a city.

Certainly the issue is a good one for class discussion, but both sides of the issue should be researched. Should the state control a town’s zoning laws? How do septic systems, wells, and lack of public transportation impact the issue? Is there a need for low-cost housing in Ridgefield? How do lower income sales staff get to work from elsewhere?  How do the majority of townspeople feel about adding as much as 18,000 multifamily units to our town (Fair Share now part of SB998 passed in the middle of the night.) What is the proper role of Connecticut’s legislature vis-a-vis town government? 

The opportunity for developing real critical thinking and evaluating skills is tremendous here, IF the teacher maintains a neutral stance. Otherwise his opinion becomes one side of an issue…. otherwise known as propaganda.

Linda Lavelle lives in Ridgefield.