Teaching Political Identity

On the first day of my high school Government class, we were given a quiz. The teacher collected our papers, looked at our answers and then assigned the seating chart that we used for the rest of the semester. While not explained at the time, (and not picked up on by many indifferent teenagers), the “quiz” was a set of questions that determined our political leanings; the most liberally-minded of us sat on the left, conservative students were on the right, and those with moderate views made up the middle. It may seem like a simple exercise, but, looking back, blindly answering questions based only on a gut response can be an effective starting point for forming political opinions.

Image courtesy of Yana Paskova for The New York Times

In a time when votes are cast along party lines and opinions are inherited from parents, it can be a challenge for a young person to know exactly what she is supporting when she identifies – and eventually votes – as a Republican or Democrat. And oftentimes, alternatives like the Libertarian or Green parties aren’t even recognized as options. We know that part of the educational system’s responsibility is to produce informed, civically-literate citizens – but how do we help students find their own political identities?

There are several online resources that can be helpful to students by providing an unbiased assessment of their thoughts and opinions:

ISideWith.com lets the user rate importance of questions/issues, tells her which presidential candidate you most identify with and lets you sort results by state, candidate, party or issue, to see where you stand on various spectrums.

PoliticalCompass.org is a European site that places the user on a grid with social and economic axes. An interesting feature is seeing how one compares to world leaders and prominent thinkers like Margaret Thatcher, Hitler, Gandhi, Friedman and Pope Benedict XVI. (Warning: there are some questions best kept within a mature audience.)

The New York Times has compiled a comprehensive list of these and other politics-based educational resources. You may also find their Election 2012 Unit helpful.

How are political topics handled at your school? Parents, how would you like to see them taught?