Horace Mann, whig politician and a 19th century member of Massachusetts state legislature, is credited in history for being the forefather of modern day public education. Mann famously characterized education as “our only political safety.” Mann’s assertion is rooted in the commonly held belief that the backbone of a functioning democracy is a well educated electorate.
The oft-quoted 2014 Pew Research report on political polarization found that “43% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats now view the opposite party in strongly negative terms.’’ Such deep divides are the product of fear, not of the effects of specific policy, but of malicious intent of the opposing party.
The difference between these two is notable; disagreements about the solution to a mutually acknowledged problem results in political factions. The belief that an opposing political party has malintent suggests that they are inherently evil, which results in an inability to be empathetic to their beliefs. Educating and exposing people at a young age to varying political beliefs informs the population that each issue is complete with a diverse range of policy solutions. The acknowledgement and study of the policies of varying political factions and parties establishes the fact that the views of different people are legitimate in their own regard and that opposing political parties each hold the same goal in their sights: the improvement of the lives of the American people. Ignorance to opposing opinions creates mystery over intentions, which results in fear, an emotion which has no place in dignified political discussions.
Educators hold the responsibility of exposing the electorate to the range of political opinions present in our democracy. Teachers have the duty to provide the youth of America with an unbiased view of American politics and history. Imposing bias and fear when students’ brains are malleable can have a long lasting impact on their political beliefs and prejudices. While it is impossible for teachers to avoid making any remarks that are politically charged, providing information on both sides of an issue proves to students that opposing opinions are dignified and valuable. The refusal of educators to allow for dissenting opinions in the classroom imposes the idea that those opinions do not deserve consideration or respect. Such actions lay the foundation for deep-seated fear and prejudice. The discussion and acknowledgment of varying opinions creates mutual understanding of one another's beliefs, as opposed to fear, which is the first step to quelling our nation's ever-widening political divide.