Dissenting viewpoints in the classroom

Obviously, teachers have the right to freedom of speech, but we also have a need to educate our students within the parameters of our subject. If we don’t, we may have to deal with legal issues.

“A Long Beach student has filed a complaint against ,,,[a teacher] for using an hour and a half of his English class instructional time to talk about his disapproval of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq” (Brown).

That is not just this teacher.

13% felt their professors had presented their own political views in an inappropriate way(Jaschik)

Educators should not introduce issues for discussion while simultaneously shutting down opposition. A blogosphere-wide upheaval came about when a student sent the URL to his English teacher’s website to popular bloggers. Many of them were unimpressed with what Professor Snider did in 2004 when he limited his classes from covering either side of a controversial issue in their argument papers:

Topics on which there is, in my opinion, no other side apart from chauvinistic, religious, or bigoted opinions and pseudo-science (for example, female circumcision, prayer in public schools, same-sex marriage, the so-called faith-based initiative, abortion, hate crime laws, the existence of the Holocaust, and so-called creationism). (Volokh)

He then went on to suggest topics with comments like “Even the usually conservative” newspaper in the area agrees with medicinal use of recreational drugs. His suggestion for the topic of energy includes a quote about four generations of the Bush dynasty chasing oil profits and questions Dick Cheney’s secrets. Another topic suggestion is the question of whether Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor should be impeached for her role in the Bush v. Gore case of 2000. “In each and every case, when there is a political nature to a suggested topic, he presents one and only one possible perspective as the basis for a paper” (Cramer).

Would you feel free to express a dissenting view in his classroom? I wouldn’t. Such a paper wouldn’t get a passing grade because he has already removed that from the assignment possibilities. While Dr. Snider is a particularly egregious example, there are enough others to show that this is not a moot point that recognized, acknowledged, and properly dealt with by all.

One of the schools I have taught at had, as recently as three years ago, a political science professor who required that the students bring in current event clippings. But if there were anything remotely positive toward the right, this teacher would lambast it.

One of my friends was in the class with her son. While her son agreed with my friend’s political position, in class he would only argue the teacher’s side, because to do otherwise brought ridicule. My friend, however, said she was taking the course for enrichment and she could afford a low grade from the teacher. She brought in controversial clippings and always argued the conservative side.

My friend received a reasonable grade in the course, so it is possible the teacher was simply trying to spark discussion. Her approach, however, did not encourage the students to dissent.

This kind of approach simply entrenches the students’ alienation from us and from the learning process. If they disagree with us, they perceive that they are unaccepted and unacceptable. They feel it, even if we don’t mean it.

This is from my TYCA-SW talk on controversial issues in the classroom.

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