21 Aug Teaching in a time of division
As a professor of political science in a large public university, I have worked very hard to make sure that all of my students feel comfortable asking questions and sharing their views, regardless of their political opinions or what they may imagine my political views to be. One of my goals is to teach students how to be open to opposing views, make arguments based on facts, and to be able to debate an issue without getting personal (something I wish many of our politicians could do). Mutual respect is key and I feel this type of approach is even more important during an election campaign that has turned very ugly at times. My job is made a bit easier by the fact that I tend to teach European politics, although I also teach comparative immigration politics, which is about half U.S. and half Europe. In general, I try to keep my personal politics out of the classroom, although I think it’s fine to call out policies or positions that I think are detrimental, as long as I have the facts to back it up.
As a feminist, I mainly try to set an example for students. I’m already unique in my field — a black woman who speaks French and German, studies European politics, and is successful at it. I constantly have to break through stereotypes and prove myself to those who try to judge me by my exterior. I have prided myself on being able to surprise people and make them rethink the way they approach someone they don’t know. I also appreciate the fact that students aren’t always aware of my political views based on what they hear in class. However, politics in the U.S. have become so divided, particularly when it comes to women’s rights, I think it is important when I am comparing politics in the U.S. to politics in Europe that I explain how much mainstream politics has shifted in comparison to our European allies. Many Europeans are shocked to hear the Republicans calling Obama a socialist — in Europe, Obama would be more of a center right politician. Even my European friends on the right are amazed at the debates going on over birth control, abortions and ultrasounds. The random shootings and our take on gun control is also incomprehensible. That doesn’t mean that Europeans don’t have their own blind spots – banning the veil and hijab or making immigrants learn the language and take civics lessons before getting a visa would also be problematic for many Americans.
What is important for me is to find a balance, I know that there are those students who would disagree with me regardless of my views and I want students to know that feminists come in all shapes, sizes and viewpoints. I need to share my views, and sometimes play devil’s advocate (or use the Socratic method) so that we can have an honest dialogue. Unfortunately that can be difficult in a lecture room with anywhere from 50 to 350 students, but it is my professional duty to get out there and do the best I can. I have come to realize over my many years of teaching and watching political developments in the U.S. that it is important to hear a wide variety of viewpoints and the more we can do that, the more people will appreciate the strength and diversity of this country. As an educator, I am privileged to teach students about other countries and cultures that have similar strengths and challenges. My main hope is that they go out into the world equipped with the knowledge to critically evaluate issues from a global perspective and can take strong positions on issues while listening to the others’ positions respectfully.