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The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

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The Challenges of Navigating Political Discourse at Poly

Politics play an undeniable role in our everyday lives — from the laws governing us to the societal structure we exist within. The increasing polarization of American politics has led to political beliefs playing an even larger role in everyday life, according to Pew Research Center. Schools are no different. Although considered by many to be a liberal school, Poly Prep is a vibrant landscape of diverse political beliefs. Every day, we coexist with students, teachers, and staff with various beliefs spanning the political spectrum. 

The 2024 presidential election promises to be perhaps the most divisive of our lifetime, with political emotions running at what feels like an all-time high. A study by the Public Religion Research Institute revealed that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe democracy is “at risk” in the upcoming presidential election. 

So, how is this dynamic navigated when politics are brought up within a classroom? While many teachers encourage free and open discussion of politics in our classroom, students have mixed feelings about how to respond. It appears that the faculty leading our political discussion recognizes this divide.

The 2024 election has already been a frequent topic of discussion within the Poly Prep History Department. Upper School History Teacher Beth Eby said, “It’s been a lot of collective brainstorming and trying to understand what our role is as a department in these conversations.” 

History Department Chair Virginia Dillon notes, “I think this next election is going to be one with a lot of questions in the air, not only in terms of what the process looks like and what the results will be, but what will happen after the election.” 

When asked if they think politics should be discussed in the classroom Eby, Dillon, and Timothy Shea, Upper School history teacher, each began their response with the same word: “Yes.” 

When I asked Emily Gardiner, the Upper School deans department chair and director of college guidance, she said, “I think there are subjects that you’re teaching where bringing up politics might be strange.” 

How do students feel about this? Junior Jane Littleton shared, “I think a beneficial and respectful discussion would present information to students, both about the election process and the running candidates, so that we can take that information and come to form our own viewpoints.” 

“I think people, including myself, want to be respectful and avoid conflict —leading to a tension around discussing politics at school,” added Littleton. 

Junior Gianna Denis said, “I feel like it gets awkward when politics are brought up in class in most scenarios.” Similarly, freshman Emma Lattinelli shared, “I feel awkward sometimes having politics discussed in the classroom, and I don’t always feel comfortable sharing my opinion.” 

“I think it is important but it can be hard to talk about. Teachers should talk about it in an unbiased way and more about informing students rather than opinion,” said junior Oakley DeCristofaro. Freshman Emily Nuñez said, “I think politics should be discussed in a classroom because it can educate us about what’s going on around the world and how to take part in change.” 

Dillon explained that when politics are brought up in her classroom, she grounds it in facts to conduct the conversation. “The need here is actually to return to sources, return to history, return to facts, to have a legitimate discussion of different points of view. If they are grounded in reality, I think a lot of times what ends up happening is wider discourse.” 

Shea shares a similar strategy, often referring to documents and structured lesson plans. “So maybe we look at something very specific. And we try to talk through what it means, and talk through how people react to it, and what that means for them,” he explained. 

Eby said, “It’s about the students. It’s about getting a sense of what it is that they want to know more about and crafting lessons, reading syllabi, etc. around what students really want to learn. And sometimes that might not align with how others might feel things should be taught. But for me, it’s really about fostering and caring for the students and what they want to know.” 

An article by the National Education Association states, “Neutrality is itself a political choice and is one that bolsters the status quo. What results is a classroom that potentially ignores the fears, interests, and concerns of many students.” If neutrality is a statement in itself, can politics be discussed in the classroom without the teacher sharing their views?

Dillon argues that neutrality when discussing politics “isn’t fully possible.” Eby said, “Political issues tend to revolve around one’s values and in our core beliefs. And so at times it can be challenging to talk about a politically charged issue and not necessarily offer some ideas about what you might believe.” Similarly, Shea said, “I have talked about my own feelings. Because I don’t think that it’s useful for me not to be a person in the class; we’re all people.” 

Gardiner added, “You have to make sure that if and when you’re expressing your own opinions in your classroom, it’s not going to silence other people’s opinions or make students feel they have to ascribe to your beliefs in order to do well in your class.” 

A study by the Peabody Journal of Education found U.S. high school students felt more respected in a political discussion designed as a deliberation — where the goal was to reach a consensus — than in a group debate, and their views also moved closer toward agreement. This method supports the approach of encouraging open political discussion which many Poly teachers have adopted.  

Poly offers History Talks, time during school, organized either by teachers or students to discuss historical or often political topics. History Talks occur during lunch or flex blocks, when students are often either eating, meeting with teachers, or doing work in the library. Freshman Celia Camara added, “I study and do homework always during my flex blocks so I just don’t see when I could be going to History Talks.”

“It’s true that one really interesting thing about elections is that every one brings up its own set of vocabulary,” said Shea while discussing Poly’s future response to the 2024 presidential election. Dillon, who was a teacher at Poly during the 2020 and 2016 election, said, “I actually feel like things are sort of better. I think classroom settings are actually really good places to discuss tough issues, because you’ve already built up a level of trust.” 

The 2024 election promises to be one of intense political beliefs and, as Shea recognized above, a brand new set of challenges and concepts to work through. It appears students are unsure about discussing politics in the classroom; however, Poly’s History Department says they are ready to navigate these challenges. 

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About the Contributor
Lucia Zaremba
Lucia Zaremba, Online Managing Editor and Social Media Manager
Lucia Zaremba is the current Online Managing Editor and Social Media Manager of the Polygon. Lucia joined the Polygon family her freshman year as a staff writer. The Polygon was the first club she joined as a new student at Poly Prep, and it will certainly remain on her resume throughout her time her. Lucia is also a member of the softball team, a Blue Key ambassador, Deputy Video Editor of the Morning Devil, Submissions Gatherer of the Poly Records, and a member of the Student Service Board. In her free time she enjoys hanging out with her family and friends and trying new food. She looks forward to her third year on the Polygon in a new and exciting role!

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