The Bar-On Brief: How to facilitate controversial discussions

Existing board policy must be followed

The Bar-On Brief: How to facilitate controversial discussions

By Shauli Bar-On , Columnist

The Bar-On Brief: A weekly column
The Bar-On Brief: A weekly column

Over the years, I’ve had numerous political discussions with my teachers outside class time. In those discussions, I was made aware of their political party affiliation and ideological leanings.

There is no need to criticize such exchanges. A teacher can have a conversation with me after class so long as both he and I are comfortable with sharing this type of information with each other.

During class time, though, the rules are slightly different.

This election is over, but the new political season is just beginning, and the existing disagreements are bound to continue. While discussions with clashing viewpoints are unavoidable, it is important for everyone to be aware of the already-existing, concrete guidelines and rules for how teachers should moderate controversial discourse in the classroom.

Earlier today, Assistant Superintendent Tom Avvakumovits sent an email to teachers with an attachment of the district policy on discussing controversial issues. Students would benefit from knowing what guidelines their teachers should follow as well.

The FUHSD non-discrimination policy states that students and staff are not to be discriminated based on several characteristics, including political affiliation.   

There are specific rules for teachers to follow while facilitating discussions on which they have a personal opinion — extending beyond just politics. The guidelines, listed in the FUHSD Board Policy and the Administrative Regulation, specifically address teachers sharing their personal beliefs:

“The Board also expects teachers to ensure that all sides of a controversial issue are impartially presented … without promoting any partisan point of view … The teacher shall not suppress any student’s view on the issue as long as its expression is not malicious or abusive toward others.”

The administrative regulation allows teachers to share personal opinions “if he/she identifies it as such and does not express the opinion for the purpose of persuading students to his/her point of view.”

The district faculty has reiterated the level of respect between students and students to teachers. Students are disciplined for disrespecting each other, and teachers are held to a higher standard.

Disagreements and opposing perspectives are vital to a successful understanding of oneself. Debates are important, and discussions are beneficial.

There needs to be a way to make sure the disagreement is respected and discussions allow all students an opportunity to express their opinions.

The district is taking the steps to make this a reality by reminding faculty of the discussion policy. Now it’s just a matter of ensuring the policy is and will continue to be followed.

And with that, I rest my case.

The Bar-On Brief is a weekly column that runs Thursdays. 

Follow Shauli Bar-On on Twitter @shauli_baron