School should be a safe, welcoming environment where students can share their political thoughts and ideas in a respectful manner. The exposure to these perspectives allows everyone to learn from one another, and gain better insight into new beliefs. However, I personally have had teachers be blatantly obvious about their political positions to their students, influencing our own. In fact, some teachers have even made opposing views unwelcome in their classroom. Whether done subconsciously or not, this issue needs to be addressed. So, I wanted to share the opinions and experiences of fellow classmates who are aware of this issue and want to bring about change.
Michael Swinney, a junior, is one of these students. When asked if students and staff at WHS are good at listening to other people’s ideas, he quickly responded “No.” He advises teachers to “Stop putting your opinion in everything you say. Just tell me what’s going on and let me make my own opinions.”
An anonymous Washington graduate can also attest that this toxic atmosphere not only exists, but is not a new problem. As a Republican at Washington this person had to be careful who they talked to about their political views, both in and out of the classroom. They received bad grades on projects several times because they supported political ideas through their work that they knew their teachers disagreed with. They also got into conflicts with other students because of their opinions, most of which rooted from misunderstandings and quick judgements. This shows that instead of being a positive atmosphere inclusive of differing ideas, at Washington students can ruin relationships with teachers and friends for simply voicing their political views.
I firmly believe that the animosity between political parties has gotten so out of control, not only at our school but in society at large, that siding with one party ostracizes you from another. The labels of “Republican” or “Democrat” are creating a bigger division than ever before, to the point where the words’ meanings have changed to “right” or “wrong” depending on which “side” you are on. Now, we are beginning to see how this has affected our youth. In our highschool, a supposedly safe environment for learning and growth, people whose political views are in the minority are known by name, and I have personally seen friendships broken because of something as trivial as being “outed” as a Trump supporter. It is as if people with unpopular outlooks in our school are put on a blacklist where people can no longer respect them. Because of this, students fall silent and stop exploring their ideas. However, the moment people stop sharing their opinions, no matter how controversial, is the moment our country’s democracy turns into a facade.
Swinney shared his own strategy for creating a more positive atmosphere in our lives. He said, “People are allowed to believe what they want to believe. But if you’re going to start attacking other people for their views, that’s ridiculous. My motto is: ‘Let people do whatever they want, until they start disrupting other people.’”
I’m calling Washington’s staff and student body out to embrace his advice. Help foster a better learning environment by providing platforms for students of all beliefs to speak and share their ideas, without feeling intimidated or coerced into silence. We will always have different opinions from the people beside us, but that’s no excuse for shutting our minds to their viewpoints, nor will it ever be an excuse for silencing their views, which are just as valid as our own.
So, let’s all come together and agree to disagree. Let’s choose to respect our peers, listen to them, try to understand them, even share ideas with them. When you hear someone say something that surprises you or that you disagree with, instead of arguing right away, ask them questions, not only so that you can understand their thought process, but also to make them think more deeply about their own beliefs. If we can spark positive, civil discussions like this, it will empower us as a community to solve issues that may have been too hostile to be discussed previously. The bottom line is this: respect others, because, as Confucious once said, “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”