We live, work, and interact in an increasingly politically polarized nation.
In 2017, Pew Research Center surveys found that 33 percent of registered voters are Democrats, 26 percent are Republicans, and 37 percent identify as independents, with most independents leaning toward one of the major parties. When their partisan leanings are considered, 50 percent of registered voters identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, while 42 percent identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP, according to Pew.
Beliefs are often reinforced by the media people watch and interact with. Both sides of the political spectrum believe the other will say and do whatever they need to do to achieve their political objectives.
I am continually surprised at how politically related statements have led to superintendents and other senior-level administrators being terminated. I am also equally surprised by the number of senior school officials who do not recognize that politically related statements will always offend constituents who do not share their political beliefs. As school leaders, especially in the age of social media where anything you say or send can go viral, we must consider all views when reacting to events and statements—in either a personal or professional capacity.
The Media’s Role in Shaping Opinions
While school administrators can have strong personal political views, they must remain politically agnostic in their professional role. I have a strategy that helps me do just that. In an attempt to maintain my health, I jog four miles every day—usually on a treadmill in front of the TV. While I jog, I tune into two networks for 20 minutes each: Fox News, and either CNN or MSNBC.
To say I hear fundamentally different accounts of the day’s news is an understatement. So why do I do this? In my work, it’s imperative that I understand different views for a balanced perspective. To ignore the side that doesn’t align to my views would put me in the crosshairs with some in my audiences. Doing this causes me—and others I know who use this same approach—to realize that neither side of the “news” is fully accurate. Both sides interpret events through their lens that, in time, can become distorted.
What Does This All Mean for School Administrators?
I offer three suggestions:
- Avoid making intentional or unintentional politically sensitive statements by understanding the viewpoint of both sides of the political divide. I repeat: You don’t need to personally accept the other beliefs. But professionally, you must be agnostic. You can only be agnostic by understanding both sides.
- Put mechanisms in place to ensure that your instructional and counseling staff members are not “pushing” their political beliefs on students. They need to remain neutral as well. This is hard to do but is essential.
- Encourage teachers to promote healthy discourse and debate among students while remaining neutral themselves. In this way, students will learn the value of hearing other perspectives, showing empathy, and working through a problem to come to a compromise.
Because the country is so polarized, whatever side you lean toward only represents half of the country—and presumably, only half of the parents and other stakeholders in your school/district.
Public school systems cannot attempt to indoctrinate others with their views. But they can make a difference by helping students see another point of view.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.
You canwith blog contributor and ICLE Founder Dr. Bill Daggett to bring his expertise on systemwide improvement to your school district.