Professors Shouldn’t Be Evangelists
Berny Belvedere
403

The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
-George Orwell, 1946 — “Why I Write”

Can the same not be said for education? After all, if we consider writing a form of art, and if we make heavy use of writing in education, has the professor not already politicized the class by way of the writing he or she has selected for the course?

I think it is better to be intellectually honest, to acknowledge that, in a sense, everything we say and do is political. All writing, all art, all lecturing, every question, every answer, all teaching, all learning. These are all political acts. Why pretend otherwise? Given the implicit biases and assumptions we all hold, is it not also a disservice to students to deny them knowledge about their professors’ beliefs and leanings? You want the students to go where the arguments take them, but you have to acknowledge that you influence the direction by way of your participation as their professor.

I understand not wanting to openly evangelize, but I do believe there is a lot of gray area between outright propaganda and “playing your cards close to the chest.” I don’t think political neutrality is plausible in a classroom setting. You choose what to study and teach, you choose the syllabus, you choose how to present topics, you choose what to ask students in exams, you choose the grades they receive for their arguments, you choose the parameters for papers the students write, and so on and so forth. In that light, why not be totally open and honest about your own opinions, so at least your students know where you stand and understand how your own biases may be affecting their experience in your classes.

One thing that is important about doing this is that, in the real world, all of your students are going to go on to meet people that just don’t agree with them. In the context of a class, two people with opposing views can both be reasonable and logical in their conclusions, yet be operating from totally different first principles and, as such, not be able to agree. At least when you are openly political, it is possible to unpack that and see where different premises lead to different conclusions. This is an important exercise for atheists and theists, so that they can better understand one another and try to find common ground where the premises that form the foundation of their thinking do not have to lead to opposing conclusions. It’s a useful exercise for almost anyone.

How much public antagonism could be avoided by learning how to navigate the thought processes of both peers (other students) and people in positions of authority (professors) in a relatively safe environment like the classroom? How good of an exercise in building critical thinking skills could this be for young adults?

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