When Teaching Becomes Resistance

I am of the opinion that education, by its very nature, is threatening. True education, not indoctrination — the kind that involves critical thinking, open discussion, and questions that may not have one right answer, or a right answer at all. More than ever, though, it seems like teachers are now in the position to make a major difference in how the upcoming generation perceives and responds to our political climate. There is a sense of urgency in my teaching now.

In conferring with colleagues from various disciplines and in various positions, I have come to realize that many of us share this sense. Every day there is a new example that I can use to bring the message home to my students. It’s hard not to care about stereotype threat when people are being actively blocked from entering this country based purely on their religion or national origin and people already in the U.S. are scrambling to distance themselves from the image of an ISIS terrorist. Healthcare access issues just became very, very relevant for my ongoing Abnormal Psychology class.

Of course, getting political in your teaching tends to draw fire. I have puzzled for long hours over how to balance my gut feeling that I need to say certain things in my class — things that should be nonpartisan facts — with my desire to be supportive and inclusive for all of my students, even those who voted for Trump. After all, talking over them is no way to help them see the mistake they made. No one has made waves about this yet, but I do worry sometimes that I will say something that goes too far or talk about something in the wrong way and the complaints and censorship will roll in.

So, I reach out to my colleagues — are you bringing current political issues into your classroom? How are you walking this balance, if at all? And what is your view on your role as an academic or educator in this very unfriendly time?


Filed under Diversity, Preparing the Future Professoriate

4 Responses to When Teaching Becomes Resistance

  1. zhanyu

    Thank you for reaching out. Although I’m not a fully fledged educator, I would like to give my student perspective. I think, if there is an issue that you deem important and should be discussed, then invite discussion, but admit that you may be partisan. It’s not a concession, but it shows willingness to engage and listen. As an adult, I would rather be treated as an equal in a conversation, than a student receiving a lecture. I also think separating the issue from the politics might help maintain the neutrality. Facts would be appreciated.

  2. selvam

    I think it’s essential to bring political discourse to the classroom, no matter what field. I am in geosciences so it’s fairly easy to bring up a discussion on current climate change and the way politician’s frame their arguments. Science and politics don’t seem to always be on the same page, so for me it is my job to educate my students to think critically and look at the data in front of them. I feel as though science gets this stigma as a ‘liberal agenda’ and it shouldn’t. Data have no political affiliation. Facts have no political leaning. That’s what I want to instill in my students, how to weed out fact from propaganda when making interpretations and conclusions from data. This is the critical thinking we, as educators, should bring to the classroom.

    While I see myself on the liberal side of most social issues, I do my best not to make my students feel it is wrong to be on the other side. I know it is not easy feeling comfortable speaking on an issue or topic when you belong to the minority group (in this case, political affiliation wise). So I do try to be as respectful to those students as possible so that they feel welcome to express their side and not feel judged for it. Progress can only be made if we look at a problem from all sides. I would say, keep doing what you are doing and this is a great blog post/topic! ☺

  3. Kyriakos Tsoukalas

    I don’t bring up political discussions because when I teach I discuss how to use technology. Although the use of technology can be used to kill or to heal, nevertheless the principle of operation for both the gun and the healing tool can be the same. For example laser beams. Right or wrong, mistake or not, are our way of giving meaning to our actions. Why something is happening is a different questions than how it occurs.

  4. jennibee88

    I teach Women’s and Gender Studies, so my course is inherently political–and I don’t mean in the liberal vs. conservative sense; I mean, feminism is obviously political. I let my students know at the beginning of the semester that our course centers marginalized voices and experiences that are often left out of dominant discourses, and I break down what feminism is. At that point, they can take it or leave it.

    Trump has been coming up a lot in my course lately, particularly when we discuss things like the institutionalized rejection of difference. For instance, we have discussed the Muslim ban quite a bit. I don’t necessarily give my opinion on the issues, but it’s probably obvious to students where I stand. We all have our biases and it’s impossible to get rid of them. However, when I discuss Trump and the election, I always try to place it in the context of what we are learning about in class, rather than making it a liberal/conservative issue. In other words, I don’t openly bash Trump, but I do discuss his policies in terms of how they perpetuate social inequality and exclusion. Nevertheless, I try to ask students their opinions on issues rather than give mine. I want them to be able to think critically about the issues rather than trying to persuade them to think a certain way.

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