First, thanks for fishing this piece out of the dustbin since I wrote it a couple of years ago in reaction to liberal watch lists conservative students started posting online specifically in hopes of not only avoiding “liberal” dialogues and critical philosophies, but also to try and get these professors fired. I admit, I had overestimated the potential effectiveness of these efforts.
I do not put “feminist criticism” in my course description the same way one would not list “historical criticism” in a description. This may seem like a gotcha to students (and parents) who fear words like feminism, but I assure you, the goal is to provide a way of analyzing a body of literature, when it was written, and what structures it supports or undermines more than it tries to indoctrinate the youth.
You mention personal responsibility as a pillar of conservatism, but it strikes me that’s not really accurate in the context you’re talking about since personal responsibility requires an awareness of the roles and plights of others in society in order to reconcile what responsibility might entail… but if your sons are dodging words like “feminism” without first learning about it, then that responsibility isn’t possible. Again, I’m not saying young men are responsible for all the injustices of the past, but maybe it would be good for them to know why society seems so keen on making sure they’re not offended where students of color or women are labeled hysterical or as “snowflakes” if they voice their frustration at not being centered in the same way.
I think when you say “personal responsibility,” you probably are indicating in the belief that modern society operates as a sort of meritocracy and every student is responsible for their own success or failure, but we know that this is not true — moreover, until recently, centering anything other than wealthy, white, male perspectives couldn’t be supported by almost any cultural structures that had been in place for hundreds of years and was enforced by those who cling to those structures to maintain power. The criticisms that I employ in class question that, yes, but at no point have I ever penalized a student for having a hard time thinking through such a monumental issue.
I suppose my point of view has changed over the years. I am no longer afraid of my conservative students because they are still learners and the world is only just opening up to them. Honestly, I’m much more concerned with the reactions of adults who are quite convinced they have it all figured out.