“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.

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