Update 1/27/2009: See the teacher's cordial response below.
That's why I wrote the letter below to my child's teacher.
I asked some of my work colleagues what they would do if something like that happened to their child. They encouraged me to personally confront the teacher and give her "what for". I initially determined that I would seek such a confrontation. But the more I thought about it, I realized that such a confrontation would very likely cause me to miss a teaching moment as well.
So for what it's worth, here's the letter.
Dear Miss [Name Redacted]:There. Was I tactful? How would you have responded?
I very much appreciate that you encourage your students to discuss political issues in class. It is healthy for students to understand that, just like there are various religious perspectives in the world, various political viewpoints exist as well, and that it's important to show respect to these varying looks at life. What I don't like is that, in reply to a student who disagrees with your political perspective, you say "Don't listen to everything your parents tell you." You're correct, by the way, that we shouldn't believe everything they tell us, but such a statement is almost always interpreted as mean sounding.
My daughter, [name redacted], tells me that such was the gist of a conversation between you and her this past Tuesday. I would have much preferred if you had turned the conversation into a teaching moment by saying something like, "I'd like to have you go home and visit with your family about why or why not they think President Obama will be good for America. Try to form your own opinion, and come back to our next class ready to discuss 2 or 3 of your reasons."
Had you done this, you, my daughter, and your class would have discovered that
My daughter might still not have formed her own opinion by asking my wife and me how we felt about President Obama, but we would have planted a germ there that might perhaps encourage her to form one, and the next day in class you would have had a marvelous discussion. (By the way, we have talked about it, and if you'd like, I'll encourage her to make a list...)
- I do not necessarily think that Barack Obama will be bad for the country. It depends on whether he has the fortitude to achieve some of his stated goals without buckling under to entrenched interests in Washington.
- I do think that George W. Bush was bad for the country, primarily due to his invasion of Iraq and his hubris with regard to the rest of the world on the subject of terrorism.
- I think that Barack Obama will be a much more inspiring leader than George W. Bush was.
- I think that President Obama has some great ideas (closing Guantanamo Bay, getting out of Iraq, reducing taxes) as well as some that are not so great (man-made global warming, federal control of eduction and healthcare, and bailouts with money that government does not have).
- My daughter's mother has a different opinion (in some ways) of Barack Obama than I do.
- My daughter would have been able to come to class with several reasons to support both the pros and cons of an Obama presidency.
So next time, instead of saying, "Don't believe everything your parents tell you," ask your students to "defend your answer." And then remember that almost any well-thought-out answer to a political question is to be respected as a good answer.
That's when real education happens.
Update 1/27/2009: Here is how the teacher responded. I thought it was a great response.
Thank you for you letter and your involvement and concern in [your daughter]'s education. I agree with your opinions in passing up a meaningful learning opportunity for my students and will hopefully be able to use your suggestion to challenge students to go home and ask their parent's opinions in the future. I apologize if I singled [your daughter] out about her opinions and have let her know that I was not out to get her.
My aims for having this discussion after the inauguration speech was to help my students dispel the large amount of rumors they have heard about President Obama (I don't know where they receive their information but I have had students say some very inaccurate, inappropriate and racist things about the President) and teach them to find the source of facts or opinions before repeating them. I also like to encourage them to think and research to form their own opinions. I did not mean to discredit parents political beliefs and apologize for the language I used.
I also wanted to clarify that I did not have a political agenda as I spoke to my students about this. My objective was to foster a time that allowed the students to think, question and form opinions, if they choose, about government. To be honest, I am still largely undecided on where on stand on many political issues and politicians. What I do know is that it is very important to me to form my opinions based on education and facts. In encouraging this discussion I hoped to teach my students to open up their minds to the variety of information out there, rather than taking the opinion of a forwarded email, friend or even family member.
I hope I have not caused trouble at home, or lost your respect for me as [your daughter]'s teacher. I appreciate your response and criticism. Please contact me in the future with any other concerns.