Teacher Political Disclosure as Parrhēsia
by Wayne Journell — 2016
Background/Context: The traditional stance on teacher political disclosure within K–12 education is that neutrality is the only morally appropriate approach for teachers to take when broaching political or social issues in their classes due to their role as state employees who serve a particular community. A number of recent high-profile cases of teachers intolerantly disclosing their political beliefs in their classrooms have only served to reinforce the belief among the general public that teachers too often use their positions of authority to proselytize to their students. However, both theoretical arguments made by scholars and empirical data from K–12 classrooms suggest that disclosure may be beneficial to students’ learning experiences and civic development.
Purpose: This article seeks to better understand the benefits and limitations of teacher political disclosure by framing disclosure around Foucault’s conceptualization of parrhēsia, which can loosely be defined as the ability to speak the truth in spite of danger or fear.
Research Design: This is an analytic essay/theoretical argument. As a way of scaffolding the discussion, I incorporate vignettes of data collected from my research in high school civics classrooms. Of particular interest to this argument is Mr. Monroe, a teacher I studied during the 2012 Presidential Election.
Conclusions/Recommendations: An analysis of teacher political disclosure using a parrhēsia framework suggests that educators should rethink the conventional wisdom that supports non-disclosure. Although disclosure carries inherent risk, it also offers democratic and interpersonal benefits for students. Both in-service and pre-service professional development, then, should present teachers with a complete picture of the risks and benefits of disclosure, and teachers should determine whether to engage in parrhēsiastic acts by strategically balancing those risks against the potential of disclosure to support their pedagogical goals.
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