September 26, 2017 7:15 AM
We have not solved the debate about whether prayer belongs in schools and we have moved on to a new debate, does politics belong in schools? Recently, River Ridge High School in Cherokee County reversed the imposed disciplinary action for two students. A high school teacher expelled the students from her class for wearing “Make America Great Again” shirts. Subsequently the teacher was disciplined for her decision because it was not in line with the school’s dress code and because she discussed her personal political views with the students.
I feel guilty for even thinking of the idea of politics in schools because our schools are already tasked with so many responsibilities: reading, writing, arithmetic, typing, handwriting, communication skills, technology, bullying, exercise, health, science, history, how to stand in line, appropriate voice volume in various situations, college prep, and so much more. This week schools sent home notices about an anti-bullying and decision making seminar and another about hearing and vision testing at school. It is unclear when math and reading are taught, however, they are doing such a good job with all the other issues that we should consider allowing our schools to teach politics.
How one participates or fails to participate in the political system by voting, volunteering during elections, or running for office, is an important decision that we should encourage every single American to make at a young age. Georgia is one of thirty-three states that does not have same day registration for voting. It is widely settled that the states with same day voter registration have a higher voter turn-out. Georgia’s legislative opponents to same day registration allege that their opposition has nothing to do with suppressing votes. Democrats in the Georgia General Assembly proposed very sensible and reasonable legislation in 2017 that the Republican leadership cannot present sound reasoning for not supporting. That debate aside, maybe there is another way to increase the participation in voting despite the unnecessarily difficult obstacles put in place by elected leaders. Let us put politics in school.
Imagine if you will a class that explores topics such as: political civility, basic voting rules, political demographics, and political communication. The class would primarily reinforce voting as a right, privilege, and duty of every American. Before anyone blows a gasket about the government take over, I am not sincerely proposing this as a solution. However, I do not know if I trust all parents to give a historically accurate, balanced, and thorough political education to their off spring. Meeting people with strikingly different political views from their parents is as intriguing a study as a Rabbage (the hybrid result of cabbage and radish). If parents were doing their American duty sufficiently we would have one hundred percent of the eligible voters at the polls, in the inbox of their elected officials, and at their city halls, the State Capitol, or in Washington D.C., advocating.
It is unfortunate both the teacher and students were disciplined. It is an interesting philosophical discussion when attire and politics collide. Schools monitor clothing that is too short, too revealing, shows profanity or criminal activity. A shirt displaying POTUS’ campaign slogan likely means something very different to a teen. Particularly when it is likely that the teen can’t articulate on his or her own what makes America great without regurgitating what they hear from their parents. The best part of America for most teens is that driving privileges begin at sixteen. What a missed opportunity to create a discussion, essay contest, or debate club topic, rather than punishment.
It should be okay for a student to express himself by wearing school appropriate clothing including his MAGA shirt. However, it is also an opportunity for him to learn that the phrase has other connotations and meanings around the country. This will help the student make an informed decision about where and when he wants to wear that shirt, or any other political statement, in the future. A lesson many parents need as well. Recently, two students chose to wear their MAGA shirts while walking through the campus of Howard University, a historically black college and university in Washington D.C. There was no doubt those students intended to invoke comments as they had no other business on the campus. However, the River Ridge student may not have had that intent and high school is a great opportunity to learn how to express your positions while also learning that one may have a first amendment right, but others also have the right to respond.