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Fact Sheet: Political Divisiveness in the Classroom

This is the latest in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The previous post in this series discussed how to support inclusion when teaching controversial political issues.


Has the toxic U.S. political climate spread to the classroom? Yes, according to a recent UCLA survey, which asked public high school teachers how the divisive national political environment has affected the classroom environment. Here are a few highlights:

Stress and anxiety. The current political climate has increased stress and anxiety for both students and teachers. Teachers reported that over half of all students have experienced more stress and anxiety. Among teachers, the numbers are worse: nearly 68 percent of teachers have reported more work-related stress and anxiety.

Classroom environment. Polarization, incivility, and fake or unsubstantiated news have become more common in the classroom. More than 20 percent of teachers reported an uptick in contentious or disrespectful behavior during class discussions. Nearly 28 percent said that derogatory remarks about other groups have increased. And more than 40 percent of teachers stated that students are introducing fake or uncorroborated news more often than in the past.

Leadership. Overall, leaders in schools and school districts have done little to temper the current political climate. Only 27 percent of teachers said they received direct guidance and support from school or district leaders on how to foster civil discourse and understanding in school.

Even though political divisiveness has infiltrated classrooms across the United States, the survey also identified some positive trends. Many teachers stated that they are working to promote civil discourse and understanding, demonstrating that teachers are taking the lead to address these issues. The survey also found that the politically divisive climate has made students more politically engaged, which is both an aim and a benefit of teaching controversial political issues. And perhaps more than anything else, the survey has highlighted the pressing need for political and information literacy.

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SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

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