This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Teaching Controversial Issues during a Presidential Election: Exploring How Teachers Navigated Polarized Politics in 2020




Phillips, Nicholas

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Curriculum and Teaching


American politics today is the culmination of historical, political, social, geographic, and economic events that have significantly impacted this country. Over the last year, America and the world have been tested to political, social, and economic extremes not seen in over a century because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Both the 2020 Presidential election and the storming of the Capitol on January 6th, 2021 are just two of the events that challenged teachers and educators across all levels of schooling to change and adapt teaching practices. It has forced citizens to have difficult conversations about democracy, equality, health, and safety. Educators tasked with teaching government and civics are required to teach political parties and the functions of government. However, in this current socially distant and polarized political climate, doing so was tremendously difficult. For some high school students and teachers, teaching secondary government is only a nine-week crash course into the functions of the government and rights outlined to students. Nine weeks to teach the functions of government, Constitution, rights of citizens, powers of the president, courts, and how federalism and states interact. Furthermore, only a small minority of students who take government courses do so during a presidential election cycle. This reality underscores the importance of understanding how teachers help students navigate such an important function of government. In this polarized political climate post-2016, it is of interest to study how teachers have prepared to teach the election and document their experience navigating campaign issues. This study hopes to shed light on the educational strategies and expectations of secondary government and civics teachers teaching controversial political topics surrounding the 2020 election.