Monthly Archives: November 2014

“Political Correctness” in the Classroom

VT is the only school who is having a little bit of a firestorm due to ideology. Marquette University, a Jesuit school in Wisconsin, is having a discussion as well about ideology in the classroom and of students.  The story begins with a graduate student teaching a philosophy course and having a post-class discussion on same-sex marriage and whether students have the right with free speech to say homophobic, racist, or sexist comments in class. You can read more about this here and here.

A few weeks later, an associate professor with conservative leanings at the same school, published a blog post about this. He argues that the limiting of free speech is a tactic of liberals, especially by deeming something offensive. He also argues that in the “politically correct world of academia, one is supposed to assume that all victim groups think the same way as leftist professors”.

Overall, this has come to the topic of how much our “political correctness” in the classroom makes students feel like they cannot speak their opinion and that they “stifle their disagreement”. Of course, terms like indoctrination get thrown around as well.

Someone from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) also wrote a post based on this event at Marquette. She argues that those who are educating should “encourage students to voice controversial opinions” and that “students benefit from having their beliefs challenged, being asked to articulate and defend their own views, and being exposed to differing viewpoints.” I have to agree with that, though I definitely have concerns with other parts of the post. Even though I know my ideological biases, if students can critically reflect and think about a topic even when it is different than my own, then that is an important part of our job.

This story, like the one of the Young Americans for Freedom here at Virginia Tech, has been picked up by conservative blogs and news sites.  However, going back to the statement by the FIRE blogger, we need to have these conversations. We need to be critically reflective of our own viewpoints. Yes, I agree with the graduate student at Marquette that we need to do it respectfully and without homophobia, sexist, and racist comments in the classroom. But, I think if we can demonstrate how to have conversations on difficult and controversial topics without attacking any group that is benefitting the students and future society. There is much more to the Marquette debate as there is with the VT debate than we know from the two camps, but these can be the catalyst of discussion.

Diversity Courses

This week the Diversity in a Global Perspective course I am in at Virginia Tech and the Connected Course have complimented each other quite nicely. One thing on Tuesday in Diversity that we were discussing was how to bring diversity discussions and ideas to undergraduate students. This came up in part due to UCLA College of Letters and Science’s decision on Monday to require a diversity course for undergraduates. You can read more about this decision here. One aspect of this is to challenge students to be exposed to ideas, beliefs, and backgrounds that are different from their own.

One challenge we were discussing with a requirement like this is how to get students engaged in the material if they are required to take it. If students do not want to be challenged to think outside of their world view. We are seeing this challenge currently in the Graduate School with the Ethics requirement. Even with graduate students who have to take an ethics component in different ways, including a one-time seminar, we can see the tuning out and lack of interest. People are not willing to be challenged on ethical behavior for themselves or their future students. So, how do we have undergraduate students take a diversity course seriously and see the benefits of it? Sometimes when we teach courses like this and students opt in to them, it turns into a case of constantly preaching to the choir about the importance. In many ways that is the way it is in my graduate level Diversity course.

A peer who is also in both my Diversity course and the Connected Course suggested that we incorporate diversity into every course. This yet again can be challenging depending on the discipline. For example, how can an instructor in engineering introduce diversity into the classroom? Also, are there ways to do it without hitting students over the head with the information, where it feels to them like we are preaching? That might be part of where we are losing them. I typically teach Child and Adolescent Development and Human Sexuality and these courses allow for a lot of diversity to be incorporated in the discourse without students feeling like that is the entire purpose. Yet, there are still a few who resist the discourse of experiences different than their own.

As I was still processing the discussion on Tuesday from the Diversity course, I was watching the webinar from the Connected Course, Making Teaching with Technology Fair and Open. Around the 34 minute mark, my ears perked up because Dr. Nakamura mentioned including diversity into courses. Part of her argument was that we should not design courses where diversity is only covered one day because students will see it as B.S. and will not take the instructor seriously as being important. I thought that was an important point and stemmed well with my peer’s comment from the Diversity course. Maybe we do need to find more and more ways, no matter what our discipline is, to incorporate diverse views and experiences in engaging ways.