Immorality in the Classroom

Students asked in class what I think about the US election. I said I strongly believe it’s immoral for teachers to bring their political beliefs to the classroom.

They looked surprised, which is not a great sign.

29 thoughts on “Immorality in the Classroom”

  1. You bring your beliefs in just by the reading you assign. I’ve had students say they consider it frustrating when professors will not give their views. There are some topics I’m not willing to argue, or to get into deeply (it depends on level, topic of class) but we debated the ethics of bullfighting last semester and it was epic, really interesting.

    They also know I’m antifranquista. The others present him as a necessary evil, although not both in the same way / from the same point of view. Ever since school started I’ve had teachers who said their view was X, because Y, but that there were also views A, B, C, etc., for other reasons. I always liked this, it’s non condescending and treats the students like grownups

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  2. It’s a policy at our university not to bring political beliefs into the classroom–we get reminded of it every election cycle by President and Provost. It’s a good policy, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We have elections all the time, it seems like three a year. Some are about things like library funding, or funding for the university, and yes we talk about it. The university even has official delegations of students going to lobby the legislature. I think it’s good to talk about government, be involved in civic life, and yes it is school appropriate

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      1. “The university even has official delegations of students going to lobby the legislature.”

        Just say no. University instructors and administrators should be visibly and scrupulously non-partisan and never, ever, ever seek to enlist their captive customers as political cannon fodder. Yuck!

        “it’s immoral for teachers to bring their political beliefs to the classroom”

        Yup, exactly.

        “You bring your beliefs in just by the reading you assign.”

        Please. Give me a break.

        “I’ve had students say they consider it frustrating when professors will not give their views.”

        Lol. (best reason never)

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        1. Captive customers? Have some respect for the students and the things they decide to do.

          Once again: professors profess, that’s what they’re there for. What, and at what level, do you teach or study and why do you imagine your choices of material, etc., don’t betray a point of view?

          Also, why do you think it’s so bad? I’ve had professors of all kinds of religions, perspectives, etc. Teachers terrified of Communists. Others right-wing militarists. A Vietnam Veteran Against the War. One that I was quite sure was pro-Palestinian, she didn’t say it but gave enough information on Israeli peaceniks that you could sort of tell she really wanted you to know they existed, and might be one herself. I don’t assign enough women authors and it is because I had a sexist education myself, you can tell. You do actually want people to have personalities, not be machines.

          Let’s see what else: in 7th grade our English teacher read Hiroshima to us, with feeling, and you could tell he was for banning the bomb. He was also into Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. Various of my Spanish professors were civil war refugees, it was a biographical fact, and you knew what side they had fought on.

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          1. “professors profess, that’s what they’re there for”

            The woke are like the undead, they won’t be satisfied until everyone gets bit and society descends into their hell. Appeals to social responsibility/empathy are a total waste of breath as only their personal appetites, vanity, and power matter.

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  3. I’m not opposed to professors’ expressing their political beliefs in the classroom, as long as they do it without “indoctrinating” students. So in others words, it’s wrong for a professor to tell students that it’s immoral to support Trump because x,y, and z. On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly acceptable if professors talk about their political views as long as they stress that these are simply their opinions and they make it clear that students are free to have different political ideas. If politics are discussed in the classroom, the conversation should begin naturally; in other words, a chemistry professor should probably not suddenly interrupt his/her lecture to tell students that Democrats or Republicans are bad. However, I can imagine scenarios in which a professor could appropriately share his/her own political points of view in a sociology, communications, history, politics, foreign language, etc. class.

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    1. “On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly acceptable if professors talk about their political views as long as they stress that these are simply their opinions and they make it clear that students are free to have different political ideas. ”

      Oh, sure. Students captive in classrooms really, really need to know about “the political views” of their instructors. This is because… the world revolves around egotistical narcissists with Ph.D’s and tenure??

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      1. I’m not saying that students “need” to know the political views of their professors; instead, I’m saying that it can be appropriate in certain scenarios for professors to mention their political beliefs in class, and I’m defending such professors because I believe in academic freedom.

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        1. “because I believe in academic freedom”

          Sounds v. noble, but academic freedom should not be confused with freedom of speech. Prating on to a captive audience of students about one’s “political views” is always unprofessional and has nothing to do with academic freedom but is instead a selfish abuse of an instructor’s power, plain and simple. It is permitted because the academy has been corrupted by ideologues who are completely opposed to their students learning to think for themselves. Academic freedom lol – now pull the other one…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. To continue with the previous analogy, I believe in sexual freedom but having sex with students isn’t about freedom at all. Because they can’t say no. And they can’t say no to your political beliefs.

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      2. If a professor says to a student, “I want to have sex with you but you are completely free to say no,” we all understand that the student isn’t completely free.

        If a student disagrees with the professor’s politics, the student will feel uncomfortable, scared, constrained. What’s the pedagogical benefit that justifies this?

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  4. The opinions of professors or lecturers or what have you just aren’t that scary in most normal environments. A lot else needs to go wrong – in this case, the situation we’re worrying about is an environment so ideologically charged that any public disagreement with established dogma will cause serious, lasting damage to you socially and professionally for years to come.

    I used to be in social sciences. A number of my teachers professed their political stances publicly (mostly ones that I’m not in alignment with) and it just wasn’t a major issue. Other students, me included, would disagree with them all the time, and they’d react not by saying they welcome disagreement, but by actually being happy for it when it came. The worst that I can remember happening is maybe someone getting a slightly lower grade for an essay that didn’t match up well with a professor’s range of acceptable critical stances? Just not that big of a deal.

    Note that, because these were social science studies, courses were generally structured in a way that sought out ideological disagreements and found ways to analyze them, find the more general principles that were governing them, and so on. I imagine things would be worse in fields of study where that’s not the case, but then that’s not really what’s actually under disagreement here.

    I think Clarissa’s stance is laudable, but yeah, there’s plenty of things you can gain from finding out your professor’s political views if you’re young and it’s your first exposure to an intellectual climate. You can learn that someone intelligent and respectable holds views different from your own, and you may have opportunities to learn the deeper reasons behind those (this happened to me, a lot). You might learn that someone intelligent and respectable holds views that are similar to your own, which can be morale boosting if you’re used to being in a minority (I know of at least one such case). Hell, you might learn that a particular political view exists at all – professors can at times be interesting enough that their opinions, political or otherwise, can’t really be reduced to bloody-mouthed tribal border patrolling.

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    1. Of course, there is an added issue that I can’t afford even to hint at my political beliefs without putting myself at risk of being hounded and unpersonned. The colleagues who hold anti-Trump “teach-ins” or dedicate two weeks of classes to rant about Kavanaugh (true stories) are in no danger.

      But I despised them even when I shared their politics. It’s very easy to exploit a student’s adoration. And students do get very emotionally attached. But I can’t justify it.

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    2. “The opinions of professors or lecturers or what have you just aren’t that scary in most normal environments. ”

      “You can learn that someone intelligent and respectable holds views different from your own…”

      That’s not the point. As part of being considered a professional, it is necessary for instructors to build a screen/firewall between the material they are discussing and their personal politics, especially positions related closely to partisan politics. Students, especially junior undergraduates, don’t need to know anything about the personal beliefs of their instructors – even if they find it ‘interesting’ – there are no shortcuts to learning to think for yourself.

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      1. I’m sure there’s all kind of ways it can go wrong, but there’s really nothing so inherently corrupting about political beliefs that knowing those of your professor are going to be anything different that a slightly humanizing element of knowing that they’re balding, have good dress sense or a terrible sense of humour.

        I don’t exactly get to choose, but I’d rather “politics” be devalorized and turned away from either being this gilded gateway to meaning, fulfilment and righteousness, or some self-replicating thought virus that needs to be contained at all costs lest it spread.

        If you want me to stand against the people who pass poorly-digested platitudes as truth and call for a burning every time someone points out a flaw in their reasoning, I’m with you, there’s no question.

        But, fuck, it’s too easy for me to remember cases where this great big crime you’re talking about actually occurred and it was either not a problem or actually enhanced my life. And… this may be my lack of experience with students, but the minds of my peers were toothsome things, thinking for themselves rather than learning to think for themselves. Thinking their minds so weak that they’ll snap as soon as a professor they like disagrees with their political views feels either funny or rude.

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        1. I never said it was corrupting or a crime. I said it’s immoral to use your power over people to make them listen to things they otherwise wouldn’t.

          I had to sit through a meeting last week where a high-ranking administrator went on and on saying things that I find humiliating, wrong and, frankly, obscene. The other 26 people present agreed with him completely. I’m an adult and let me tell you, it was extremely humiliating to sit there in silence. But I have to because he’s the boss.

          I don’t know how people justify this to themselves when the balance of power is so clearly on their side.

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  5. When I was in college, I had a regular pattern, for writing assignments: first paper was always mediocre. I’d get it back marked up with the prof’s comments, and then I’d know everything I needed to know about the prof, and all papers for the rest of the semester would come back marked up simply with !!! and A++ and “Great job!”

    A professor who puts his or her opinions right out there in public is easy to manipulate.

    Just sayin’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What I find stunning are endless posts written along the lines of, “Today I said [something extremely political] in class. And guess what? All of the students agreed! It turns out that they all care deeply about this issue! And they expressed the exact same feelings that I have!”

      They are just trying to please the dumb idiot, obviously, but he’s clueless.

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    2. “A professor who puts his or her opinions right out there in public is easy to manipulate.”

      Manipulation is a power game and most often what goes around, comes around.

      An instructor with pride and confidence in her/his professionalism organizes the course material to highlight the major contending approaches in the subject or field of study, announces at the beginning of the course that students will never know for certain which approach he/she favours by the end of the course, and that she/he will make the strongest case possible in lectures and classroom discussion for and against every approach presented. This is the way one encourages students to become independent thinkers while at the same time absorbing what scholars know about the specific field of instruction.

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        1. “it’s beginning to sound like you’ve been in my classroom”

          Your students and your University are v. lucky to have you. I am honoured to imagine that under different circumstances we might have been colleagues and allies.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. “it’s immoral for teachers to bring their political beliefs to the classroom”

    I’m not as black and white about that. A lot depends on context.
    There’s a difference between responding briefly in a non-preachy manner when asked (especially putting it into context with some arguments from different sides) and didactically shoehorning some pet peeve into every discussion…

    Similarly, there’s a big difference between: “People have different opinions on this and that’s fine, personally I think X…” or and “I don’t think! I know!!! The truth is X! And anyone who disagrees is immoral scum!”

    And I do tend to think that in any kind of language, humanities or even most social science classes the students would have to be dumb to not have some idea of what the instructor’s views are.

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    1. “And I do tend to think that in any kind of language, humanities or even most social science classes the students would have to be dumb to not have some idea of what the instructor’s views are.”

      There is some limited descriptive truth in this. However, it’s a matter of degree. Some wrongly conclude from this statement that it’s OK to use their lecterns as pulpits on the alcoholic’s rationalization that drinking one beer is exactly the same as drinking a full case.

      I would observe that instructors who are confident in their knowledge of their subject and their field can remain politically opaque to even the smartest of their students if they see this as a critically important to developing an atmosphere where their students can nurture their capacities to think and judge, research and acquire knowledge, and be creative thinkers independent of authority.

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      1. Most people aren’t that perceptive and aren’t that interested. In my experience, students are extremely grateful for the rare professor who makes the course about the material and not any extraneous stuff.

        There’s an added dimension here which is that in this country students pay to get educated. Often, they get into debt.

        I think every one of us should ask ourselves, are my completely uneducated, completely subjective fee-fees so extremely valuable to complete strangers that they should spend years paying off the debts they contract to be exposed to said fee-fees?

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      2. In hard sciences, I never knew my professors’ political leanings. There was no reason to bring it up, ever. In my other classes, I had two professors whose views I did not know. And I had more respect for them than any of my other instructors, because I felt they were grading me for my work, and not for the degree to which my paper conformed to their expectations.

        The only way to reach that result was to avoid the subject of their own beliefs. I have no personal problem with professors spouting their beliefs in class (it made their classes easier), but if you want your students to respect you… don’t tell them. I should point out that the very best work I did in my whole college career– the things I’m most proud of– were for those two professors who didn’t even hint at their personal beliefs. I worked my butt off for them, because I couldn’t shortcut it by mimicking them.

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