A Social Science Teacher’s Dilemma-1 Year Later

A year ago after the election of D.T., I posted a message on Facebook in the Human Geography teacher’s page. It wasn’t well received by some. Under pressure and some feelings of guilt that I did something wrong, I deleted the post.

Now, exactly one year later, I think about that post a lot and wish I hadn’t deleted it. I shouldn’t have felt guilty. I was criticized for being too political and accused of throwing bias into our “safe-space” for Human Geography teachers.

While I wish that I had the ability to bring that post back, I can’t.

As I remember, it was something along the lines of:

“After the election, I am truthfully torn about how to approach my course content. There are issues that we discuss in our outline that are now challenged and questioned by the people who run our government. Are the things that I teach in class now a lie? How am I supposed to present information to students when our government says it is fake?”

Some people didn’t like it. They said, “Who are you?”, “How about you teach to the course outline?”, “I thought this was a place where we didn’t have to talk politics and instead about teaching the materials of the course!”

I must admit, I was a bit crushed. Not because I was called out with a clear intent on embarrassing me as unprofessional. I was a bit knocked off my feet because I realized that not everyone in the room appreciated the dilemma that I was toiling over for a weeks, night and day. I was losing sleep over this!

Of course, I don’t think or expect people to value or empathize with anything that I say. Who am I anyway?  I’m just a high school teacher who wants to positively contribute to the geography community in my own way.

And yet, I still feel as though my dilemma is legitimate, after a full year, I still struggle with the basic fact that there are concepts in my course outline that conflict with the ideas of our current leadership in America.

  • Fossil fuels and human activity the culprit of global warming? Fake.
  • Free trade a cause of neocolonialism? Fake.
  • Building walls will solve our immigration problem. Trust me.
  • The opioid and gun crisis is a problem has nothing to do with manufacturers, advertisers, lobbyists, and distributors. Believe me.
  • Diplomacy for geopolitical solutions is shunned and peaceful solutions are an embarrassment.

My question persists. How am I supposed to teach about these concepts when the leaders of our country, our supposed role models for our children, tell us that science and historians have/are lying? Don’t they remember why we teach about propaganda? Don’t they remember why it is illegal in Germany to deny the Holocaust? I am paralyzed still.

Instead of doubling down in my conviction, I apologized.

“This site has been a great place to chat with some geography-minded people who teach the same content. I thoroughly enjoy the conversation, banter, and yes even the teaching tips. I just wanted to see if anyone else was feeling/experiencing the same thoughts. I actually think I do a good job at being impartial and teaching to the course outline-I wasn’t really expecting tips but of course, always welcomed. But I still feel that the course can be more than just the course outline. Sorry if you felt it was too political.”

I am so mad at myself for being so weak.

One year later and my feelings have not changed. No one can tell me to “get over it.” Every day I walk into the classroom I try my damnedest to be impartial-to a flaw. My poker face is good. But there are topics that kids ask about that cross the line. When does it become my responsibility as a social science teacher to teach 15 year olds about being a citizen of this country?

Do I embrace the hate speech and tell the kids that racist chants against minorities is OK and a God-given right?

  • Should I tell students that those who fought for the confederacy are heroes and perpetuate the ideas that contemporary efforts to secede should also be viewed as heroic?
  • Do I tell them to ignore indigenous groups and their rights to land?
  • Should I tell students that questioning authority is mute and not appreciated?
  • Should I keep teaching students about the importance of the 1st amendment, and that sometimes, the press is right?
  • Should I tell them that gender inequity is overblown? That sexual assault is OK as long as you have money and prestige?
  • Should students think it is OK to vilify the press and call for soldiers of the 2nd amendment to find solutions to the opposition? Because our president does.

One year ago, I was hoping to share a common feeling/dilemma that other social science teachers must certainly feel. I was searching for camaraderie, empathy between social science teachers, someone to tell me to hold the line and tell kids that it is still inappropriate to spout hate.

Some saw me. Some did not.

And that is when, for the second time in a month, I had the wind kicked out of my lungs. I realized that there are social science teachers who won’t open their mouths and tell students that hate speech is wrong, who will tell kids it is OK to appropriate groups at the expense for personal gain, and that outsiders should not have basic human rights that are awarded to citizens. All in the name of being impartial.  Sheep.

No thanks.

I am angry that I deleted my post, that I crumpled under some guilt by my peers.

I am upset at myself, yes. But I am also upset at those who criticized my idea that a social science teacher is naturally confronted with this dilemma. I am ashamed that we have teachers who don’t see the inherent problems created by the current situation and think there is no dilemma at all.

Whatever your political position is, at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to our future. You can choose to keep your mouth shut and vilify others for questioning a professional or personal dilemma, but know that YOU are part of the problem. As George Washington poetically said, “If the freedom of speech may be taken away— dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

In the meantime, I will remain impartial, until it comes time to tell kids that hate speech is wrong, that the press and justice system needs to be protected, and that fear of others wreaks hate. That is my duty as a social science teacher. And if that makes me biased-sue me. It’s what our president would do to you.


2 thoughts on “A Social Science Teacher’s Dilemma-1 Year Later”

  1. I remember your post well because I felt the same way. I did not respond because I was afraid to feel the way I did. I was shocked and angry after the election, but I felt it was better to keep my mouth shut at the time.

    The past year has been hard. I agree with you wholeheartedly and sorry I did not say so last year.

  2. Thanks so much for writing this! Appreciate the difficulty is speaking truth to power. It can seem like a lonely job – we need to support one another.

    You are not the only one looking to find a path through all of this. I get the chance to work with lots of teachers in a wide variety of schools – others are also struggling to support human rights and the Bill of RIghts while rejecting hate, racism, and sexism.

    This is why social studies teachers exist – training our students (and apparently other educators) to think, ask questions, be empathetic, and to open their minds to see different perspectives.

    So hold the line! Hate speech is wrong. A free press is absolutely critical. Injustice against one is injustice against all. These are things that we should never be ashamed of teaching.

    Thanks for all you’ve and are doing. Together we can do this!

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