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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at

Education Opinion

Should Teachers Be Responsible for Teaching Social Issues?

By Peter DeWitt — April 11, 2012 2 min read

In February, I wrote a commentary for Education Week called Dignity for All and it focused on safeguarding LGBT students. I should begin by saying that everyone has an issue that they care about and mine happens to be safeguarding LGBT students. However, I feel strongly that we need to work harder at safeguarding all students, regardless of whether they are gay or straight.

The commentary touched a nerve with some readers on the Ed Week website as well as on Facebook. They were concerned that I wanted to classify students by whether they were gay or straight. That is not at all what I suggested. However, safeguards specifically need to be in place for these students because they are abused, harassed and tormented (GLSEN) at an alarming rate, and if administrators ignore it, those safeguards allow parents to push for those issues to be addressed.

The Dignity for All Students Act in New York State requires all schools to have school board policies and codes of conduct that safeguard students based on sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, size, etc. It is a very inclusive act that I hope will help change school climates for the better.

Letter to the Editor
“I recognize the struggles that LGBT students are facing within their peer groups, but if we put the responsibility on the teachers to fix these problems, where does it end?” Kelsie, Oregon

The Letter to the Editor regarding my commentary appeared in the most recent edition of Education Week. It was called, “Teachers Shouldn’t Be Responsible For Teaching Social Issues.” This is the part that I respectfully disagree with the most. I do feel that schools should teach about social issues. We ask students to do community service projects and be contributing members of their community and their larger world. In order to do that effectively, I believe they need to understand the world they are walking into.

Teaching social issues is easily done. It’s how we talk with our students and treat them on a daily basis. Teaching social issues happens through the books we read and the ones we make available for them to choose. It’s in the movies we show and the discussion we have with one another. It is also done through debates in class and the research that our students choose.

I do not discount the role of the parent. I love when parents educate their children about communities near and far but I also believe that an education is richer when parents and educators work together. Introducing students to ideas that they may not come in contact with at home should very much be one of the missions of the public school system.

We all know, and are experiencing, increased mandates, teacher and administrator evaluation, and increased pressures on high stakes testing. We are also implementing the Common Core State Standards at the same time we are dealing with devastating budget cuts. Even with all of those pressures, teaching about social responsibility is one of our jobs and is more important than anything we will ever garner from a high stakes test.

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GLSEN. (2009). 2009 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools New York, NY: GLSEN.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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