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Former High School Teacher Paula McAvoy Talks About Politics in the Classroom

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Paula McAvoy is a former California high school social studies teacher and co-author of The Political Classroom.  In today’s polarized, partisan America, what’s the right way to bring politics into the classroom?

McAvoy and her co-author, Diana E. Hess, have high school teaching experience and work at the Spencer Foundation in Chicago, and Hess is professor of Social Studies Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison.  They conducted a 4-year study covering 1,000 students and 21 teachers in 15 schools of different populations.

The results offer insight into different teaching styles and the management of classroom discussions to promote dialogue and avoid isolating students with views that are different from the majority.  In some cases, teachers will present views they don’t agree with in order to foster debate.

In discussing the controversy over America’s use of torture on prisoners, we talk about the ways that teachers frame the topic, the extent to which they share personal views with students, and how to deal with the conflicts between morality and policy.  We discuss debate teams, mock trial, and other programs that help students develop critical thinking, personal opinions, and respect for conflicting views.

MacAvoy argues that no topic is too controversial for high school students, and the importance of facilitating their expression as they develop their political attitudes.