A reader recently emailed me and asked an interesting request and a couple questions- "I am a fellow conservative government teacher and was hoping that you could give me some advice about how to teach government so that my students will be more open to the founding principles and conservative values. How do you become a 'conservative teacher'? What techniques in teaching can I use to encourage conservatism? What can I do as a teacher to help my students be more receptive to libertarianism, conservatism, right-wing, social conservatism, and other views that are commonly attacked in public schools?" Here is my reply to that reader looking for help and tips on education and teaching and being a teacher that will produce more conservative-thinking students at the end of the year.
Well, first off, you don't want to bias your class or try to push any particular set of values on your students or spew out propaganda or attempt to brainwash your students- that's what liberals do and it is wrong. That being said, there are several techniques that you can use as a teacher to help to encourage students to think about adopting a more conservative or libertarian mindset that embraces our founding principles.
A good habit to begin every class is to take a concept or principle or idea that you are studying in class and think of some way to frame those in terms of current or timeless policy/legislative debates. Government is not empty and theoretical- it is the real exercise of power to control human behavior. If you are studying Congress, take the process by which a bill becomes a law and ask if the founding fathers would have supported the Democrats passage of Obamacare how they did. If you are studying federalism or state's rights, pose a question to the students over what they think about the Arizona immigration debate situation. If you are studying the President, ask your students to discuss whether he is more to blame for the economy than Congress is. Take current or timeless policy debates/legislation and ask your students questions that tie into what you are learning about in class. Make these questions open-ended so the students are free to answer them. Try to either make them with no slant at all, or ask the same question from a right and left slant. Put this on the board, let the students talk about it with each other, then call on students and see what they think. Play devil's advocate with them- poke holes in their answer from every angle and teach them to think critically about their responses- but also to be confident about their personal beliefs and willing to back up their views. Be sure that you either prompt them or directly bring up all the views/responses that may come up on this issue- conservative views, liberal views, libertarian views, socialist views, moral views, fascist views, etc. It is my belief that when all these views and opinions come out and students think about them, they'll be smart enough to realize that conservative views are the right ones to adopt.
Another important technique for building or encouraging a conservative-friendly classroom is to remember that all government in the United States begins and ends with the Constitution. So every lesson that you begin and end should also begin and end with the Constitution. Your initial unit on the purposes of government should include the preamble to our Constitution and at American Exceptionalism. Your unit on the background to our Constitution should be based around lectures on the philosophers who contributed to our nation (focus on Locke), on the history of our nation (read and re-read and read out loud the Declaration of Independence), and on the founding principles of our nation. Your unit on each branch of government should include translating and memorizing the Constitutional articles relevant. Your unit on civil liberties should include lively debates and discussions on major judicial decisions, including your own or pretended opinions on the opinions designed to spark debate and teach students that it is okay to disagree with judges. Your unit on political parties, interest groups, and the media should center around Federalist 10. Your unit on federalism and state government should highlight the battle between the national government and the states, and encourage students to choose sides and like the side they are on. Focus each unit of your classroom on founding principles, and keep coming back to those over and over again, asking students if we today are holding to those through the lens of every unit you are doing. If not, and kids are okay with that, then so be it- if a student is a communist or a liberal and is proud of that, that's okay.
But most of the times when someone is forced to think about their views and judge whether they are consistent with our founding fathers, they'll make the right choice. It is ignorance, anger, bitterness, jealousy, and the dark side of the force that clouds their minds- when they are calm, at peace with themselves, and thinking clearly, they'll make the right decisions on policy and legislation. But it isn't up to you to control their minds or force them to adopt a viewpoint- it is merely up to you to teach them how to think and give them a range of things to think on, and they can freely make up their minds after that.
One last piece of advice- do not ignore holidays because they all provide an important opportunity for teachable moments. I've already written on my blog about how to teach Constitution Day, Patriot Day (9/11), Earth Day, and several other dates- do not forgot about these chances to break away from the daily rigors of teaching and really get students thinking. These days will stay with them and at the end of the year will be more important to them then some of the other lessons you did. See my blog for ideas on how to teach those holidays in a conservative fashion.
Hopefully this is enough to get you thinking about your teaching and perhaps change an item or two. If you want more details or more tips, please feel free to email me. Enjoy!