Back to School with Political Talk

Academic Freedom, Education, Political Viewpoint, School Libraries

By: Kate Lechtenberg

Going back to school this fall means talking about politically charged issues with students. For school librarians and teachers, it will be impossible to discuss current events, brainstorm lists of topics for inquiry projects and argumentative writing assignments, or make connections from history to today without wading through some pretty thorny political terrain.

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The volatile events of the summer and the mainstreaming of hateful and intolerant agendas have compounded an already hyper-partisan atmosphere to the point where avoiding politics would mean avoiding talking about contemporary life altogether.

Politics in the classroom isn’t new, but it does feel different this year. The violence in Charlottesville coincided with the back to school rush, and our nation’s violent partisan reality looms as a silent force in many teachers’ and students’ minds.

I wrote about my efforts to avoid “political seepage” in my own classroom shortly after the election. As I head back to school this fall, I’m filled with disgust and outrage for the acts of intolerance and violence that have dominated our news —acts which too many people in power have empowered through their refusal to speak out or through coded support.  

While it would be easy to fall back into the sarcasm and offhanded comments that can poison a classroom or library culture, I need to channel my disgust, outrage and fear to make deliberate choices about how to discuss current events and political issues in the classroom.

So here’s my list of go-to resources for making deliberate choices to support tough talk about controversial issues in classrooms and libraries. Take a look, try them out, and add your own ideas in the comments!


Kate LechtenbergKate Lechtenberg is a doctoral student in Language, Literacy, and Culture in the University of Iowa’s College of Education. After working in public schools for fourteen years as a high school English teacher and school librarian, her doctoral research now focuses on text selection, multicultural literature, educational standards, and equity initiatives. Kate teaches a young adult literature course in the College of Education and a school librarian course on print and digital collection management in the School of Library and Information Science. She is also a member of the AASL Standards Implementation Task Force. Find her on Twitter @katelechtenberg.

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