One of My Most Conservative Students Shares What It’s Like to Be in My Class

May 29, 2018 12:00:00 AM

by Tom Rademacher

My learning this year has been greatly assisted by a number of students willing to be honest with me. One of them, Alec, is the kind of kid teachers love to have. He will take a random idea or comment or side-reading from a lesson and go home and research and reflect on it. He comes in at lunch to talk about ideas, to challenge and be challenged. He is open to new ideas and uses discussion and debate to deepen his understanding of them. Also, he was the kid this year who, on hat day, wore his bright red “Make America Great Again” hat with pride. I disagree with Alec on just about everything politically, but that doesn’t mean he should feel unwelcome or silenced in my room. Alec and I have been talking all year about what it means for him to have a ridiculously liberal teacher like me, a teacher whose politics are pretty Google-able and apparent, and who talks about things like race and current events and culture and politics in class constantly. I check in with him now and again to make sure he still feels welcome and safe in my room, and he checks in so often to tell me what his brain is working on and how it relates to my class. We started a Google Doc this week so I could have him put his answers down in writing to the kinds of questions I often ask him. Does it bug you when your teachers are super liberal? Teachers are rarely openly political and when they are there aren’t too many problems. It’s when teachers say they won’t share their opinions and are passive-aggressive about it. When they are passive-aggressive it makes you feel judged and makes you feel like you can't share your opinion, because if they were open they wouldn’t be worried about offending their students and they focus on understanding more than offending. For example, if a student says Trump isn’t racist, a teacher shouldn’t reply with, “He hired an entire Cabinet that is racists.” Instead, give them a chance to figure out why people would think so, a chance to be challenged in their beliefs. It shouldn’t matter what your politics are as a teacher, so long as you teach what’s right or wrong, and instead [pullquote position="right"]let kids figure out their own beliefs.[/pullquote] In sixth grade, we were watching CNN in class and people asked our teacher who she was voting for. She told us she shouldn’t share that but she will say that she doesn’t want a person who will never be able to set foot on European soil to rule us as a dictator. What she did is just as bad as saying I’m not racist but I don’t want my kids growing up with Black kids and being influenced in a life of crime with them. By not being direct, I think she did more harm than good. When did you figure out I was super liberal? Honestly I can remember the very first time I even heard about you I was on my way back from the state fair with my new MAGA hat and shirt. I sent pictures to one of my friends, and he said, “Dude, you should wear that on the first day of school. The new language arts teacher is a leftist to the extreme.” I can say I am glad I did not decide to do that. And I know my friend wouldn’t tell me to do it now because you’re his favorite teacher just like most kids, including me. And you’re a pretty conservative guy. Can you talk about your politics a bit? When did you start caring about the political world? What defines your political beliefs? When I started hunting that was a big factor, because in school I had been leaning liberal. My mom was liberal and my dad didn't talk about it much back then, but then I went hunting with 14 other guys and their politics varied from a centrist who leans right, to Republican, to a leftist. Even though we didn’t talk about politics much, the conversations were just different. It was a completely different environment. They talked about a lot of different problems that I didn’t hear much about before, because they weren’t problems liberals focused on or addressed differently. All of it made more sense to me. I went hunting thinking I was a liberal but came home from it not knowing truly what to believe. So I started asking questions and studying, and that's when my dad started talking about it. Learning and understanding a side that I didn’t understand or really, truly know helped me find what made more sense for me. I think though to truly understand a political opinion you need to be in an open discussion and not listening to the media. I live by morals, common sense and what I believe will help future generations of America. I believe that our rights shouldn’t be taken away unless you are taking them from an individual as a consequence. I believe a nation should puts its own people first before others. One thing I recently learned and has kept me up at night is these organizations like the Food and Drug Administration, Internal Revenue Service or the Department of Corrections have way too much power and aren’t going through standard ways to make a law, and have very little government oversight. I strongly believe they should have a citizens council that has a majority of the power over them, because, for instance, if you have a person on parole and he does something wrong there's nothing the government can do and I think that is ridiculous. What do think has worked well this year in my class? You’ve generally said you feel comfortable in my room, but we do talk about political and social things quite a lot. In that aspect of things I think it has worked pretty well you always listen to what each student has to say including me and you never really put words in their mouth. You also have an interest in getting each student to learn and do their best although sometimes it backfires. One thing you have done really well is making everybody's voice equal. In past years, teachers have been overly guarded about making sure the BLM (Black Lives Matter) group of kids is heard so they don’t feel excluded because of race. But then the teacher doesn’t include the other kids and it really isn’t any better. You do not do that, and I think you’re one of a few that doesn’t. Another thing you do well is make everybody uncomfortable or at least try to and that helps kids understand reality, and once they learn that then they will be ready to understand what is really happening and discussions that will change people's lives will start happening. Anything else you really want to say about this? What do you think teachers, who are mostly liberals, need to understand about the conservative kids in their rooms? The worst part is that they’ll talk about stereotypes, during or before this conversation and then go and generalize about White men, especially conservative men. I don’t think accusing the other group is right especially when they’re being hypocritical about it. I think that it is up to teachers to learn and understand this so they can teach their kids this. Another thing teachers could do is help the kids who have liberal parents and live in a liberal community understand the other side by challenging them with it. I think that these students aren’t being challenged enough and are being reinforced with their liberal views everywhere they look from their family to a huge portion of the media to their teachers and peers so they’re are going to think they are always 100 percent right and they need to be contested so they can have an informed opinion. Something else that teachers could do better is quit being so soft on kids when it comes to politics. Teachers need to dig to the bone and ask them why and have them answer with not just emotion but evidence. We all need to be challenged, and we shouldn’t ignore the rest of the world just because we’re in school.

Tom Rademacher

Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called "IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching."

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