Today’s class discussion, as scheduled on the syllabus, was shelved. We talked about the election results. A friend of mine said (somewhat incredulously) “You talk politics?”
“Yes,” I answered.
Allow me to explain. I do not lecture my particular view points, rather I offer a space for the students to voice their concerns. In all sincerity my heart broke a little for the students who felt as though a vote for Trump was a vote against their very existence. And, my students who favored Trump did not want to be thought of as hateful. They, on the other hand, cast their vote in the spirit of wanting economic change, something they believe will be better for the country as a whole.
I let the students know that my participation in the conversation was as a fellow citizen and not as their professor. I wanted my students to feel safe to dialogue and learn about each others’ views without risk or fear.
The problem we have, I believe, with considering discourse about politics as “rude” means we only chat about it with people who share our views. This makes any other understanding terribly distant and foreign. It is the exact opposite of how a democracy that prides itself on freedom and information ought to function. Unfortunately, throughout the campaign we saw offensive and hateful rhetoric which ultimately diminished opportunity for authentic discourse. No one wants to exchange ideas in such a climate.
For my students who are minorities and expressed a deep sense of fear and pain I offered them the following: choose to believe in the basic goodness of people. For my students who supported Trump I said: work to make this a successful and inclusive presidential term.
The essence of philosophy hinges on examining arguments and this cannot be done without exploring premises, the strong and the weak. So, yes, I shelved our lecture on Descartes to give the students a free space to voice their thoughts about political issues/arguments. But, most importantly I hope, I wanted to the students to also have a free space to listen.
Honestly, I want nothing more than for my students to be engaged and feel at peace with being part of the democratic process. Can this happen in a classroom? Is it right to do this? For anyone worried that I imposed a liberal agenda on my students, please do not fret. I treated this time as an invitation to talk, not as a soap box moment for myself. Besides, shouldn’t education be, in part, learning to formulate our thoughts? That’s more fun than power point, yes?