As a college professor a decade ago, I noticed a growing gap. On one side were concerns over micro-aggressions and missing trigger warnings; on the other, worries about liberal bias. But these differences were still far from polarizing, let alone academically limiting.

When I became a foreign language high school teacher in 2015 after a seven-year hiatus from the classroom, I could not imagine politics or anti-intellectualism affecting me professionally. Yet I have been twice questioned by parents for “injecting politics” and “anti-Americanism” in a beginner Italian class.

 In the first case, students identified months associated with holidays, and the Italian holiday of Ferragosto came up, which often corresponds with Victory Day. With at least two newcomers to Rhode Island in the class, I asked what it is we remember on this day in August, expecting the straightforward answer of Japan’s surrender in World War II. This prompted my reminder to students that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacks on civilians (something not new in warfare). Viewing all humans with compassion is one of the essential elements of a school’s educational mission.

In the second case, I suggested, through a tongue-in-cheek true-or-false item, that foreign language classes open minds and help break the stereotype of the ugly American abroad.

 Preparing for the upcoming school year, I have reflected on my initial response to what I considered gross misunderstandings.

Why, in both cases, did I defensively mention that I am the proud daughter of a World War II veteran and do not need lessons in patriotism or sacrifice; that my family story is quintessentially American and I had written about ethical interpretations of the World War II period?

This personal turn — which I made twice — makes me deeply uncomfortable. I believe the personal should not matter, and yet I brought it up and used it in dialogue, which is intellectually dishonest.

My experience as an educator since 1995 and professional integrity speak for themselves. Yet reporting the facts of the incidents and explaining the curricular and disciplinary goals seemed unsatisfactory — because, I realized, they were never the actual issue. How was this anxiety over my commitment to my country generated?

 Over the past year, as the U.S. has addressed global issues of immigration and increased economic disparity, there has been a significant and even sudden departure from both previous decades of policy and of acceptable forms of rhetoric. Center-stage discourse is no longer a process of discussion, thought and understanding, drawing on facts — the very process that we as secondary and post-secondary educators are required to model in our respective disciplines. Instead, the back-and-forth of has given way to monologues that run away from the very grounds of reasoning and knowledge.

 If such discourse is politicized and given power, any non-affirming voices pose a threat. Without a willingness to discuss ideas, uncertainty and suspicion are natural. Statements of fact are no longer communal points of departure, but are received as statements of motive to be determined by a singular voice whose will either equals the law, as Hannah Arendt observed of totalitarian movements of the 1920s and '30s, or stands in conflict with it.

 If the rules of thought and engagement have been shaken by the devaluing of truth and reason, both my and the parents’ reactions make sense in the ensuing climate of anxiety, a climate that will continue to challenge not only educators’ work of developing higher-level thought processes, but bring into question the very value of knowledge.

 Esther N. Marion is a teacher in the Department of Modern Languages at Bishop Hendricken High School.