Teach Freedom

By Angela He (High School Student in LA)

What disappointed me more than the results of the election was the silence in the classroom. On Wednesday, I came to school expecting teachers to lead discussions to help us make sense of this historical election. Instead, they made snide remarks about the results before moving on to the so-called lesson. They cited school policies about avoiding politics because it was potentially offensive. Since when did our government, something we learned about as early as second grade, become a hands-off topic for people who were only a year away from voting? This was in ostensibly liberal Los Angeles. So what’s happening in the rest of the country? In environmental science, we watched a video on extinction. Why didn’t we discuss the candidates’ environmental policies leading up to the election instead? “We would be off-track for the AP exam,” my teachers would have probably replied. Is passing an exam for potential college credit really more important than something that could impact you for a lifetime? While reading Macbeth, why didn’t we talk about the similarities between Macbeth’s rise to power and the candidates’ rises to power? In art history, we could have talked about how images have shaped politics over time. There’s little point in learning all of this if aren’t taught how to use it.

The lack of conversation in classrooms is a serious problem. Where else can you talk to someone who opposes your political views in a civilized manner or even encounter them? Surely not during lunch, because, chances are, your friends have the same political views as you. On the Internet? Face-to-face conversation with real people is important to truly understand each other’s perspectives. It’s a lot harder to be offensive when you see someone’s face. Classrooms are special because they hold a group of people with diverse opinions, so why not make use of them? We need to hear all of these perspectives so that we can make informed decisions.

The other day, I was volunteering at a local elementary school. Out of a group of about twenty fourth graders, only a few knew what slavery was, yet they knew that Abraham Lincoln lived in a log cabin. Is it not more important to learn about history that has impacted millions than a trivial fact? It’s the job of teachers to impart this knowledge to their students so that they grow up into conscious adults and are able to think for themselves with the knowledge of the truth.

America values freedom. And as David Foster Wallace once said, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort.” Many people this election were not familiar with either candidates’ policies. Why? They weren’t taught how to critically think, how to decide what was true and what wasn’t. Instead, they latched onto catchy slogans and rhetoric. I get it, sifting through so much dirt is hard. But don’t relent. Be vigilant. I don’t mind which candidate people choose. It’s how they choose the candidate that upsets me. It seems that these conversations and classes on politics and critical thinking mainly occur on college campuses, but not everyone attends college. We must start conversations in elementary, middle, and high school before it’s too late. School is a place where we’re supposed to learn new ideas, so let’s learn them there. Teachers, teach awareness, empathy, life. Teach freedom. I promise, that’s a lesson of a lifetime.