Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Should Teachers Be Responsible for Teaching Social Issues?

By Peter DeWitt — April 11, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

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.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP