Education

Joshua English teacher ‘not trying to change the political views of my students’

A Joshua High School English teacher whose political lesson Monday at least two parents felt leaned toward indoctrination said in email Wednesday that he isn’t “trying to change the political views of my students.”

The junior-level teacher, Mike McDaniel, said he was teaching students about political philosophies so they could better understand the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

“I care only that they’re informed enough — as much as a single 40-minute lesson can provide — to understand the issues presented in our readings,” he said by email. “Whether they do that through a progressive or conservatives lens matters not at all to me.”

One parent was concerned that the lesson began with McDaniel asking students to identify themselves as Republican or Democrat with a show of hands. He then went through points outlined in a handout titled “Political Philosophies” that compare liberals to conservatives. Another parent expressed similar concerns. The Star-Telegram is not publishing the names of the parents to protect their students from backlash.

McDaniel said he is not trying to single out students.

“Only one or two per class raise their hands,” he said by email. “If they would rather not raise their hands, I do not require it, nor do I in any way embarrass them or call them out.”

McDaniel said he is also not trying to influence students politically, explaining that for the last 13 years he has presented students with a brief primer on liberal and conservative political philosophies. The 40-minute lesson is given once a year, he said.

“I do not state my political beliefs, nor do I, in any way, suggest that there is one true set of political beliefs,” McDaniel said.

One concerned parent said her child felt uncomfortable with the lessons and noted that McDaniel has a personal blog that contains political posts.

“I have a blog, which deals with some political issues, but also touches on music, culture, sports and training and other issues of interest to my readers and me,” McDaniel said in an email. “I do not advertise it to my students.”

McDaniel said he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans. He said he does not tell his students his political views but does tell them that he believes that the “Constitution is the supreme law of the land.”

Education advocates said the current political climate calls for caution in the classroom.

“I think in this day and age teachers need to tread carefully,” said Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, which represents educators in North Texas. “Emotions are running high.”

Poole said teachers need to be sensitive about controversial topics and keep administrators and parents in the loop.

“That way there are no surprises in the classroom,” Poole said.

A parent who contacted the Star-Telegram said her child felt that McDaniel’s lesson — and one in by another teacher in World History — contained political rhetoric and appeared to be indoctrination.

The history teacher’s presentation on “Revolution and Nationalism” included a slide with an image of Hillary Clinton wearing a Nazi swastika armband and facial hair similar to that of Adolf Hitler.

There was also an image of former President George W. Bush behind bars.

A 16-year-old student who is in the history class said Wednesday that the images were part of a larger lesson on propaganda. The youth said that he understands why some people were put off by the images but that the teacher is very popular and the student doesn’t doesn’t think the teacher was trying to sway his political views. He said there were also examples of political propaganda from other historical periods.

“These tied in with the lesson,” said the student, whom the Star-Telegram is not identifying because he is a minor.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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