When the Student Council presidential candidates opened the floor to questions after their speeches last week, several staff members took the opportunity to call into question the candidates’ skills and ideas. Several of these comments made by staff members were considered especially discouraging and targeted towards specific candidates, thereby raising questions about the appropriate extent of staff involvement with student government.
We believe that such acts of staff interference in matters primarily pertinent to the student body are not only humiliating to the candidates but are also a direct disregard of the values embodied by the Student Council.
According to the Student Council Constitution, the fundamental purpose of the organization is to “create a sense of responsibility and self-government” among the student body. But when staff members publicly target specific candidates, this very right of “self-government” is violated because the adults then run the risk of influencing voters rather than letting students make decisions based on their own judgment.
Across the world, teachers have repeatedly been urged to avoid expressing their personal political views in schools so as to provide fair, balanced perspectives from which students are given the opportunity to formulate their own opinions. According to Paula McAvoy, a scholar of ethics and education, “mean-spirited” political comments by teachers create a divisive classroom environment which makes students who disagree with the teachers’ political views feel like outsiders.
Hence, if teachers are advised to refrain from influencing their students about national politics, why should talks of student politics be any different? As a result of the adult interference, some students were more harshly judged than the others, leading to unjustified negative publicity. In other words, candidates who faced less criticism had better odds at securing votes.
Ideally, we are supposed to learn through the governance of our own peers — people of our own age group. If adults suddenly intruded in our political world, that would be the same as having external powers intruding in other countries’ internal affairs. This is especially more critical in the student world: where having student politics serves to educate the candidates on aspects of leadership, in hopes that one day they can change and better the world.
Hence, when adults suddenly impose their own views, that completely negates the growth factor, both from the candidate and the student audience. It leads to a direct jump of conclusions from the audience, making them susceptible later in life to unwarranted external influence when voting for leaders in their respective countries.
It means that this school is sending off students who cannot think on their own when it comes to political matters. Who might be dominated by ruthless demagogues of pure emotional rhetoric.
We urge adults, who are the cultivators of the youth that will lead the world tomorrow, to recognize that their influence on students extends far beyond classrooms.