When entering Tom Musselman’s classroom, anyone can tell it is far from ordinary. On the walls are tacked dozens of political posters; his desk is decorated end to end with political bumper stickers, some overlapping; directly behind it stands a life-size cardboard cutout of John Kerry.
Musselman is an AP U.S. History, AP U.S. Government, and Sociology teacher at Fredericksburg High School in Fredericksburg, Texas. But that’s only his day job. A political man himself, he is also the city mayor.
Although he wouldn’t describe himself as a collector, Musselman has accumulated political paraphernalia ever since he joined the school’s social studies department in 1995. Because he wishes not to present a bias toward one political party or another, Musselman displays local, state, and national signs from both the left and right.
“I get my signs and bumper stickers from the political headquarters of the candidates,” Musselman said. “I have also accumulated some from various rallies I attended for state representatives.”
Adding a personal touch to his collection, signs from his own run for city councilman and later city mayor hang behind his desk. Musselman calls them “the most important.”
“However, the John Kerry cutout is one of my favorite pieces,” Musselman said. “I inherited it from my son who acquired it at a Kerry rally in 2004. It ended up in the backseat of my car when I moved him to Austin. I would like to find a similar one of George W. Bush.”
Other than the Kerry cutout, Musselman does not openly favor any signs.
“I of course have my personal favorites, but as mayor I try to be non-partisan. That is why I have signs in my classroom for educational purposes, but do not have any political bumper stickers on my car or other personal property.”
Aside from strictly signs and bumper stickers, Musselman has also lined the back wall of his room with newspaper headlines and clippings covering the disputed 2000 Bush-Gore election, in which controversy arose over vote counting. Nothing in the room lacks a political touch, and blank spaces are hard to locate.
Musselman has even inspired some of his students’ enthusiasm for political signage.
“A few years ago, a student in my AP U.S. History class made a poster reading “Musselman For Dictator,” which he would hold up during pep rallies,” Musselman said.
On a more serious note, however, Musselman feels the signs are valuable in the sense that they foster political awareness and encourage political participation among teens.
“Having these signs and stickers in my room sparks discussion, and talking gets students to reason about real issues happening day-to-day,” Musselman said.