Another article on keeping politics out of the classroom -- with a twist! This time the authors acknowledge that we've abandoned teaching civics and that college is a place for the free exchange of ideas -- including political ones.


Two things they don't mention:

1. It is easier to manipulate students if you don't tell them your politics, if you choose your words carefully so as to make your views inscrutable. If, on the other hand, you make your politics clear, students opposed to your point of view will be better able to "resist" you. So this whole "keeping politics out of the classroom" thing is counter-productive to its declared goals on its face.

2. As I've mentioned before in response to Stanley Fish, it's very easy to make a claim about "keeping politics out of the classroom" if you are not, by your very presence in the classroom, making a political statement. If you are a woman with advanced degrees teaching college students, that says something about how you view the sexes. If your last time is "Islam" or "Hussain" you make a political statement whether you do or do not wear a headscarf. If you are not a professor nor a doctor (like me), your students will have to refer to you as "Miss" or "Ms" or "Mrs" -- choices politically fraught. And that's just women. How about minorities? What assumptions will your students make about your attitudes towards Israel if your last name is Goldberg or, well, Israel? What assumptions will they make if you are Cuban? Then there are the texts you choose: if you actually make an effort to represent minorities and women, if you include texts that reference evolution or abortion, or texts that reference global warming/weirding, you are making a political statement. If you work at a public university whose mission is to educate working-class and/or commuter students, political statement. If you are American and believe in democracy, you are making a political statement. In short: everything is political.

By labeling some things "political" and making them "off limits" for discussion, we narrow our students' understanding of their world. What is the value of an opinion that cannot survive the mere awareness of an alternate point of view? What is the value of an opinion that cannot answer a well-made counter-argument? Students may not be able to debate their views so convincingly that they "win" arguments against their teachers, but what marvelous practice, and how else would they ever learn to do so? 

Politics should not be taboo -- that only indoctrinates people into apathy, cynicism, and helplessness. Democracy can survive debate, even divisive debate, but it cannot survive silence.

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