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April 29, 2003 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Free Speech Button Police -- Chicago-area schools debate ban on teachers wearing "No War" buttons vs. the ubiquitous flag lapel pins. What are the limits to teachers' political fashion statements -- are students a captive audience? More inside.
posted by serafinapekkala (49 comments total)

 
Teachers should be apolitical in the classroom. What they do outside, as always, should be their own business and no one else's.
posted by UncleFes at 1:43 PM on April 29, 2003


What about wearing a "No War" button at the same time as a flag lapel pin?
posted by Uncle Ira at 1:44 PM on April 29, 2003


The school district policy mentioned in the article touches on *students'* right to express a certain amount of political opinion through symbols, like the anti-war armbands in the Tinker case back in the 60s. To me, the interesting issue here is whether requiring teachers to "present both sides of an issue in the classroom" is fairly extended to their personal attire, or whether that could ever work *not* as a ban on symbolic pins or slogans. I guess a teacher who wore both a "Support Our Troops" and a "Peace" button would be OK...what about the flag lapel pins, though? Any message there? Besides that public schools are an extension of the state, I suppose, which some might want to overthrow...And another thing, is "Peace" always a "political" statement, or could it just be a bipartisan worldview (not likely these days, but still)...I personally had a very weird hippie English teacher back in high school who often wore a large peace medallion, and even during *that* Gulf War nobody seemed to mind, even the JROTC folks. hmmmm...
posted by serafinapekkala at 1:46 PM on April 29, 2003


These button-wearing teachers must hate freedom.
posted by drstrangelove at 1:51 PM on April 29, 2003


Regarding the issue of political speech, students are allowed to wear "No War" buttons, but not teachers, officials said.

Is this because the teacher chooses to teach, the student must attend (public) school?

teachers said the two issues have created an atmosphere of intimidation, especially among nontenured faculty.

On intimidation of the nontenured teachers, they are receiving or giving it?(could not figure this out)
posted by thomcatspike at 2:01 PM on April 29, 2003


Fear on.
posted by four panels at 2:06 PM on April 29, 2003


.what about the flag lapel pins, though? Any message there?

I love Old Glory. I just wonder if I can take it back from the creeps who've waved it all my life.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:07 PM on April 29, 2003


Is this because the teacher chooses to teach, the student must attend (public) school?

sort of -- the idea is that the students are (within certain limits) free to express their opinion because they are individual "citizens" of the school, whereas the teachers are representatives of the school administration and, by extension, the city/state/government, and therefore should be impartial. whereas students can be exposed to various views of their peers without detrimental effect, the argument is that the words/actions of teachers and administrators are more persuasive/official/compulsory and students will think they cannot or should not have a different opinion. think of school prayer -- students are allowed to have Bible study clubs, etc. (again, in certain circumstances) but the principal or homeroom teacher couldn't wear a "WWJD" t-shirt...not in Boston anyway (LOL)...

atmosphere of intimidation

i'm pretty sure they mean the nontenured teachers feel pressure to conform and not express themselves, else they be denied said tenure.
posted by serafinapekkala at 2:12 PM on April 29, 2003


Harry Blackburn, an attorney with the Illinois State Board of Education, agreed Monday that schools may legally curb the rights of teachers.
Really couldn't ask for a better quote than that. Maybe the writer just spun it that way, but this debate is about whether schools can legally curb the rights of teachers.

I don't have anything to say beyond that. This whole country is giving me a headache.
posted by son_of_minya at 2:20 PM on April 29, 2003


I'm not sure it's a rights issue, I'd be inclined to think it's an appropriateness issue. I think that when a teacher publicly espouses a political viewpoint in the classroom, they are transmitting to their students a value judgement on that subject - they are TEACHING them. That precludes what I feel is the most important (and of course, the least acknowledged) aspect of teaching, that of teaching children to think critically and make their own informed decisions. By openly espousing a certain viewpoint, regardless of what it is, that teacher precludes in the mind of the student the possibility of comparing that viewpoint critically and objectively against it's opposite - in short, the teacher is stunting the student's ability to think critically about a certain subject, which is the absolute opposite of what (in my opinion) the entire philophy of being an educator is all about.

The shame of this situation is that the school administration has to step in and codify/enforce something like this. It shouldn't be an issue.
posted by UncleFes at 2:33 PM on April 29, 2003


The places mentioned are all high schools. Surely by that age students are able to make their own mind up? Like the one teacher said, wearing a peace badge is more likely to stimulate discussion in students that age than to brainwash or offend them.
posted by zygoticmynci at 2:36 PM on April 29, 2003


I remember what I was like in high school, and unless kids have rapidly advanced intellectually since the '80s, they probably don't know shit. I didn't.
posted by UncleFes at 2:38 PM on April 29, 2003


Teachers are in a position of authority over students. Students who, generally speaking, are not adults. It's inappropriate to use a position of authority to push a political agenda on children that are not your own.

I would claim that "No War" pins should not be allowed for teachers to wear.
Would anyone support allowing teachers to wear pins that said "Bomb Iraq"?
How about a pin that said "Pro-Nazi" or "White Power"?

If you're going to allow teachers to express political opinions in school, you'd better be willing to let them express opinions you wouldn't want your kid to hear.
Of course the harder problem comes in with things like flags which are indirectly political.
posted by Wingy at 2:39 PM on April 29, 2003


My two cents, as a high school teacher: I would never wear a political statement on my person, although I would never (were I an administrator) tell a teacher to take one off.

Were a student to ask me how I felt about the war, I would tell them, although probably in more measured tones and centrist rhetoric than I would outside the classroom.

It is irresponsible to use your own power as an instructor of young minds to try to force your political beliefs on them. Or religious beliefs. Or even literary/artistic beliefs.

Pursuant to the poetry thread below, I might suggest to a class of literature students that many critics think less of Angelou than of Merwin, Clifton or even Billy Collins, but I would never say that she was a mediocre poet, especially out of fear of offending an Angelou fan. Young people need to be able to deal with their still-developing opinions on controversial subjects without a browbeating ideologue breathing down their necks.
posted by kozad at 2:40 PM on April 29, 2003


I'm happy to give up my peace button when I come to teach. I hope my Christian colleagues will be happy to give up their crosses while they teach, too. While we're at it, we should also eliminate any kind of dress that a teacher might wear that demonstrates a religious, nationalistic, or ethnic affiliation, as the young minds of the students might be influenced.

Indeed, I propose that, to avoid confusion, all teachers be issued grey jumpsuits and black boots. Since names can sometimes convey ethnic or national identity, all will be called, simple, "teacher." So that students don't accidentally see them living their lives outside of school and, thus, be unduly influenced, I propose placing them all in a special teacher's ghetto. Teachers will be specially monitored for language choices to make sure that they don't choose any words that do anything other than convey strict, factual information.

Since we are providing them with housing in the ghetto, we can reduce their pay considerably. If we feed them, we won't need to pay them at all, saving taxpayers millions and protecting our young children from un-American thought in one fell sweep!

Since many people will not want to be teachers, we will have to start selecting people to teach. Since intellectuals must have enjoyed learning, I propose that anyone with an "A' average be deemed an intellectual and assigned to teacher's camp by the government.

I think you'll agree that this modest proposal will solve this peace button problem once and for all.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:44 PM on April 29, 2003


So long as we don't go crazy and blow this way out of proportion, Joey, I think that'll work splendidly.
posted by UncleFes at 2:46 PM on April 29, 2003


"Some students may have loved ones fighting in the war and hold sentiments we don't fully understand," the note said.

In other words, the possibility that there may be students in the classroom who get confused and think that opposition to the war means the teachers hate their uncle overrules the actual, demonstrable feelings of the teachers. Well, it's good to see that we've finally started thinking about the children. The misguided, molly-coddled children with fragile egg-shell minds. Which children, I repeat, are purely theoretical at this point.

School employees will not use the classroom as a forum to present only one side of a political issue...

I believe in this principle, which is why I have both Love and Hate tattooed on my knuckles.
posted by Hildago at 2:47 PM on April 29, 2003


Sorry, UncleFes. I picked a bad week to try and kick caffeine.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:52 PM on April 29, 2003


Perfectly understandable and, in light of that, rather understated. I salute your efforts.
posted by UncleFes at 2:55 PM on April 29, 2003


Are parents really afraid that some teacher of an opposing political opinion will whip out the magic brainwash juice and turn their little darlings into the Stepford children?

Or are people simply becoming so intolerant?

Believe it or not, kids today are pretty damn sophisticated in discerning one-sided propaganda-- they get more of it targeted directly at their little minds through TV than I ever did.
posted by Cerebus at 3:02 PM on April 29, 2003


Joey makes a good point: we cannot fully de-politicize the classroom. I'm dubious of the school board in this case because the attempt to de-politicize came up only when "Peace" became the political message. Flags implying "United We Stand (behind our imperialist nation-scrambling military)" seemed to raise no objection.
posted by squirrel at 3:03 PM on April 29, 2003


I'm not sure that it matters that these are teachers.

I opposed the war. I'm a strong advocate of free speech as well as other personal liberties. If my employer asked me not to wear a no war pin, I'd take off the pin. If for some reason I couldn't bring myself to do that, then I guess I'd go looking for a different employer.

I'm not on the job to express my personal opinions. It doesn't really belong in the workplace. I'm there to represent the interests of my employer and it's perfectly possible that the two things may be in conflict.

As to the flag pins, well many classrooms already have flags in them. Schools are 1 part nationalism, 2 parts socialization and just a sprinkling of babysitting. We'd also like to think the kids are learning something, and I certainly did when I was a kid, but that's just a part of it.
posted by willnot at 3:19 PM on April 29, 2003


Look, maybe this was a misguided attempt at political correctness. Maybe it was attempted supression of political speech. For all I know, it could have been nothing at all; like a coincidence or a typo. Maybe this never even happened.

The fact is, though, that people are talking about it. They're debating it, and they're trying to figure out why it's right or wrong. If I know human nature, that means they want it to be either right or wrong. That means they have an opinion about what would be the right thing to happen. It means they have a pre-conceived viewpoint on this issue.

If nobody involved had an ulterior motive, we would not be talking about it. Somebody would have inevitably said, "This is stupid. Who cares."

My particual worldview happens to place me in a position where I see the admistrators as being more likely to have bad motives, or at least more likely to be dishonest about their motives. And who made the first move? The administrators wrote the rule: No anti-war buttons.

That's a specific. It's not a general "no indoctrination" rule, but a "no anti-war pins" rule. Now, some teachers fought back, and the administrators haven't backed down. They've taken the legal position that nothing the teachers say matters anyway, because they have the authority to curb their rights.

That makes this a rights issue. You could say, "Nobody has the right to commit treason." You could even say, "Nobody has the right to indoctrinate young people." The only thing these teachers did, though, was wear an anti-war pin.
posted by son_of_minya at 3:21 PM on April 29, 2003


You can have my peace button when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.
posted by goethean at 3:21 PM on April 29, 2003


I draw a big line between the presentation of a political issue when standing in front of a class teaching and an indirect political statement such as a button.

I was opposed to the war. However, when it came up in my class, I presented both sides of the issue. When students stated an opinion, I challenged them to back it up, whether it was a pro-war view or an anti-war view. I would never consider presenting a biased view in the classroom. Kids ask me what I think, and I tell them I'd like them to listen to all sides and decide for themselves without influence from me. Even if my students somehow found out my opinion and asked me about it, I'd explain my position and then say, "However, there are other people who believe that ..." and give the pro-war argument. I think it's my job to present unbiased information.

However, wearing a button is not standing up in front of a class and presenting only one side. My student teacher has a "No War for Oil" button on her backpack, and I'd never dream of telling her to take it off. Wearing a pin lapel, like it or not, is absolutely a political message. People uncomfortable with banning the flag pins should really consider how finely you have to split hairs in order to keep the flags and ban "No War for Oil."
posted by Chanther at 3:26 PM on April 29, 2003


which is why I have both Love and Hate tattooed on my knuckles of his hands, the hands that slap the kids around 'cuz they don't understand.
/Clash
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 3:43 PM on April 29, 2003


Joey Michaels gave us a nice modest proposal, but I'd think that public school teachers generally ought not wear articles of religious jewelry that are visible, in real life. So nyaaaah.

Students are within some bounds free to evangelize each other, but teachers shouldn't. This seems to fall into the same area to me. If you're comfortable with teachers wearing peace signs, you should be comfortable with teachers evangelizing your kids. I'm not comfortable with either. Why would you want to? Why would the political opinions of your minor students be so important to you that you'd think you ought to be swaying them one way or another? It seems poor judgment to me.

Were a student to ask me how I felt about the war, I would tell them, although probably in more measured tones and centrist rhetoric than I would outside the classroom.

I teach polisci at university, so I get stuff like that a lot. My stock answer, from which I rarely deviate, is:

There's no good reason for you to care what I think about that. I might be an expert in legislative politics or game theory, but I'm no expert at discerning right from wrong, or just from unjust war.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:44 PM on April 29, 2003


Chanther: surely it's impossible for any teacher to present truly "unbiased" information about anything. Your worldview and experiences inevitably affect how you see the parameters of the debate and what opinions are reasonable and unreasonable. For example: does an "unbiased" presentation of the theory of evolution include a discussion of creationism or intellegent design theory? We all know that people with different worldviews come to radically different conclusions on this question, with both sides very sincerely believing that the other is biased.

I always preferred it when my teachers would just lay their cards on the table, so to speak, and inform us of where they were coming from. I think it improves rather than detracts from the learning process, since we learn as much from what is asserted to be the spectrum of reasonable opinions as we do from the opinions themselves.
posted by boltman at 4:53 PM on April 29, 2003


My high school went further than this..they handed red, white, and blue ribbons (made by a teacher) out to every student. Were they promoting an agenda too?
posted by tragedy_and_comedy at 4:53 PM on April 29, 2003


What about wearing a "No War" button at the same time as a flag lapel pin?

*head explodes*
posted by mcsweetie at 6:08 PM on April 29, 2003


There's no good reason for you to care what I think about that.

I respect the intent, ROU_Xenophobe, but I think you're wrong about that. As a poli sci professor, you're obviously going to be talking about a fair number of volatile political issues, and I don't believe anyone can completely keep their own politics out of their teaching. If I were one of your students, I would want insight into your biases so that I could more accurately judge the issue for myself.
posted by hippugeek at 6:28 PM on April 29, 2003


Should public servants be allowed to express a political opinion?

Could I wear my swastika armband to my job at the automobile license bureau? Could I wear a "pro-choice" pin as an emerg doctor? Could I wear a "take back the night" ribbon on my police uniform? Can I, as a federal bureaucrat, organize for a political candidate?

In Canada, no. These activities would see you disciplined, possibly fired. I don't see a material difference between these cases and a teacher wearing a No War button.

As a public servant, you take on some public trust. You are required to be impartial in some matters, regardless of your private opinion. It's part of the job.
posted by bonehead at 6:55 PM on April 29, 2003


Sure, boltman - I didn't present to my students the opinion that we should've nuked Iraq (even though I've got a crazy friend who spouts that opinion). So you're completely correct that some bias does happen toward what the major sides of the argument are in society, with a censoring of what might be considered "fringe" views. I have to be comfortable with that, though. It's impossible for me to represent every conceivable human opinion in every conceivable situation. I'm not claiming that by trying not to take sides in a national debate I can free myself from the fact that both I and my students are embedded in a social and cultural context that affects our viewpoints.

However, an unbiased discussion of evolution absolutely must include a discussion of creationism and intelligent design, IMHO. My mantra in science, over and over, is "what is supported by the evidence?" I don't expect my students to accept evolution as the best explanation for the diversity of life because I tell them it's the best theory. I hope they'll come to that conclusion on the basis of the evidence, and it's why we learn about radio-carbon dating and transitional fossils and such. By the end of that part of the curriculum, I always have a student or two who'll say, "All that evolution stuff is all well and good, but my family believes that God made human beings." And I've got to accept that, because exposing them to the evidence and the debate is the best I can do.

I guess the difference is that I'm not teaching about Iraq, but merely allowing the debate to occur. If I wanted to do a curriculum on it, the mantra of "what does the evidence support?" would still be central, and we'd look at all kinds of historical stuff and current articles from the media. Absent that kind of in-depth investigation, I'm more limited to making sure that the major sides of the argument are explored, and that no opinion offered by a student is left unconsidered.
posted by Chanther at 7:21 PM on April 29, 2003


Nice debate here...

OK, no peace buttons, but no crosses (props to Joey), and never a button supporting a candidate for public office, even if it's the schools own assistant principal who's running for town board or whatever.

Gimme a break. The shit people argue about. What happens when these kids leave in the afternoon to see parked in the schools lot a bunch of cars with all sorts of social/political statments pasted to their bumpers?

While I can agree that an educator shouldn't indoctrinate, I see nothing wrong with him/her expressing themselves and possibly even sparking a good debate in which our treasured youth might actually begin to think about issues.
posted by LouReedsSon at 8:47 PM on April 29, 2003


You go to public school, and they divide up all the subjects, keeping the math and the physics in different pots, music seperate from english seperate from art seperate from computer programming seperate from baking. And there's also an expected distinction between the student's life inside the school, inside the church, at work, and in front of the TV. This issue is a menifestation of the idea that a student's academic education should be seperate from some other kind of education... We carve up our educations and environments Henry Ford style, and while it might be efficent, I think there may be an impact on our ability to become a single, coordinated person. In removing the ability of a teacher to state (as opposed to 'force') political preferences and other views beyond their little corner of instruction, I think we're removing an important source of potential role models from these students' lives.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:59 PM on April 29, 2003


Should public servants be allowed to express a political opinion?...

As a public servant, you take on some public trust. You are required to be impartial in some matters, regardless of your private opinion. It's part of the job.


As one such public servant (in the States, and a conservative one at that) I can say my own experience only...

I have several co-workers that sport American Flag lapel pins, and that doesn't bother me. I have a co-worker that sports a yellow ribbon with a picture of her son-in-law, who is in the Middle East somewhere right now, and that doesn't bother me either. But would I under any circumstance wear my "No War In Iraq!" button to work? Nope. Whether there were actual job-related reprocussions from it or not, I know it wouldn't be worth my time to talk to my co-workers about the issue (that's what we have MeFi for, right? I do that at work). I know for a fact that at least three of my co-workers know that I went to the peace rally on Feb. 15. Two were positively questioning me about it, prying for information as to my take on it. The third just asked me how many people were there. Alas, this was before the first bomb dropped and the first bullet was fired. The office has a completely different tone now, and my tongue is sore as hell from biting it, but I know it's worth it in the long run. Would it be different if I lived in Austin, or Portland, or San Fran, or other traditionally liberal cities? I have no idea. But that's my experience with it. So long as nobody tries to force me to wear a pin, I won't force them to take theirs off. Sometimes what you don't say conveys the same message in a more effective way than what you do say.

I truly appreciate those that are teachers that have posted in this thread. They've offered some great viewpoints.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:08 PM on April 29, 2003


(in the States, and a conservative one at that)

Meaning, of course, the state is conservative (as is the city, and county, and region). Not so much myself.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:10 PM on April 29, 2003


I respect the intent, ROU_Xenophobe, but I think you're wrong about that. As a poli sci professor, you're obviously going to be talking about a fair number of volatile political issues,

About the only things I routinely hit on that might be volatile are civil liberties in a big intro class. My standard approach there is "Here's what the law says, and a little of why." I imagine that students have a good idea that I think that Roe uses a trimester approach and Casey doesn't, but that's okay. Presumably things would be different if the class had less than 130 people.

and I don't believe anyone can completely keep their own politics out of their teaching. If I were one of your students, I would want insight into your biases so that I could more accurately judge the issue for myself

What issue? I don't give two beans what my students think is right and wrong, and I'd like the same courtesy back. I do care that they have a vague inkling of why the interstate commerce clause matters, or that they know what collective-action and principal/agency problems are, in large part because collective-action problems and voting paradoxes are a lot more interesting than yet another 'debate' on affirmative action.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:26 AM on April 30, 2003


kaibutsu: In removing the ability of a teacher to state (as opposed to 'force') political preferences and other views beyond their little corner of instruction, I think we're removing an important source of potential role models from these students' lives.

Word up, brother. We talk about how we want to encourage diversity in education, but the minute anything more than superficial diversity rears its scary head (be it a conservative view at a liberal college or, in this case, a symbol of peace in a time of war) we back right on down.

I am proud to work at a high school with some brilliant liberal and conservative thinkers who are encouraged by our newish administration to express our opinions if asked so long as we don't proselytize. Our students are encouraged to talk to different teachers and look for different sources and, ultimately, draw their own conclusions. Thus, I get to wear my flag and my peace pin on the same day. It is sort of a shame that this isn't possible everywhere in the land of the free...
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:58 AM on April 30, 2003


About the only things I routinely hit on that might be volatile are civil liberties in a big intro class. My standard approach there is "Here's what the law says, and a little of why."

ROU_Xenophobe, you speak as through you're capable of transmitting packets of pure data unencumbered by political packaging. Don't you suppose that your inherently political person is a part of the classroom environment?

If what we're ultimately talking about here is what *meaning* kids make of political issue X, we had ought to take into consideration that the teacher is inseparably involved in that meaning creation, not merely a conduit of data. The objectivist ideal neglects the reality that people can't "get out of the way" of meaning--they're part of it. Trying to de-politicize teachers is like trying to dehydrate water.
posted by squirrel at 1:57 PM on April 30, 2003


ROU_Xenophobe, you speak as through you're capable of transmitting packets of pure data unencumbered by political packaging.

Of course I am, sometimes. So is most anyone. A Nash equilbrium is *foo*. Parties in Congress help deal with collective action problems A, B, and C. Brandenburg said this. It's far from difficult most of the time.

It would be difficult if I wanted to lead some sort of discussion about whether or not free speech was good, but there's no room for that in a big lecture class. Even when I can do that, it's a simple enough matter (and fun, too) to just keep flipping sides to oppose whatever anyone says that doesn't get opposed by someone in the class.

Even then, though, there's still no good reason to care what I think about the war. Maybe someone thinks I'm some sort of evul libbul or fascist thug and wants to call me out on that, but that's really none of their damn business, just as what they think is none of my damn business. Maybe someone wants to use me as some sort of authority figure, but that's just dumb, because I'd never claim to be any sort of authority on when wars are right or wrong (and nobody else could make such a claim either, AFAIC).

Wearing little political buttons to school when you're teaching rubs me the wrong way. It smacks of either browbeating teenagers into agreeing with you, or trying to convince them that the cool people like *foo*, or similar. There's no good reason to do so. Maybe you're trying to convince them to like what you like, but that seems as improper when it's political as when it's religious. Maybe you want the students to know that you're a cool radical hipster, but why do you care what they think about you?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:46 PM on April 30, 2003


Trying to de-politicize teachers is like trying to dehydrate water.

No, its like trying to dehydrate milk. It tastes funny, and isn't 100% copasetic, but it still pretty feasible. Teachers and politics are not as linked as you make it sound. Some teachers are downright apolitical even.

I only want to mention that as middle schooler, I remember a teacher who had certain religious and political view points that would slip, and then lead the class in discussion with her, at which time she would expound what she thought. I remember being vaguely uncomfortable because my views ran contrary to the class's and the teacher's. I can certainly the need for teachers to be neutral on issues. Because while the instructor is there and has opinions, they are serving in function of their office.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:16 PM on April 30, 2003


ROU: Of course, you're presumably choosing to teach Brandenberg and the Nash equilibrium over other cases and other aspects of game theory. You're also presumably choosing to teach first amendment law and game theory over other aspects of political science. So at the very least you're communicating to your students that these ideas have enough merit/importance to warrant discussion. That in itself could be called bias I think, and probably more likely to influence student's views than the actual arguments you have in class.

Nothing can (or should) be done about it, of course. But I think it helps students to think critically about the subject if they understand where the teacher is coming from.
posted by boltman at 8:24 PM on April 30, 2003


Well, everyone has bias in one form or another. (I'd prefer you turn in assignments in the following format) Some of it is academic bias. (I feel X was a much better author than Y was . . .)

The point is to exclude political bias.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:45 PM on April 30, 2003


ROU: Of course, you're presumably choosing to teach Brandenberg and the Nash equilibrium over other cases and other aspects of game theory.

Technically. You probably need to talk about Brandenberg in even an intro class, though, and fer damn sure you can't run a game theory class without talking about Nash equilibria.

You're also presumably choosing to teach first amendment law and game theory over other aspects of political science.

The first amendment stuff I don't have much choice over; that's part-and-parcel of the intro course I teach (because it needs to get taught; it's a requirement and we run about 1/8 of the university through that course every semester). Game theory is a choice, but also a "someone's gotta do it" matter. I do game theory, someone else does presidency, someone else does public opinion.

So at the very least you're communicating to your students that these ideas have enough merit/importance to warrant discussion. That in itself could be called bias I think, and probably more likely to influence student's views than the actual arguments you have in class.

Mmmmmaybe, but I don't really think so. Given that there are lots of us doing lots of different things, I can't think that my spending time doing, say, signaling models instead of Presidential psychology would influence people... unless they'd somehow formed some sort of unhealthy obsession over me, but I think we'll agree that I'm not really personable enough for that to be likely.

And besides, it's not like angry parents call up deans or set up web pages over stuff like that. "Oh my GOD! What do you mean you talked about Schenck and Brandenberg but not Cohen! That NAZI COMMIE SCUM!" And even at college, I'd expect to get nasty comments from someone if I were evangelizing students into Campus Crusade for Cthulhu, or exhorting them to communism or anarcho-capitalism.

Oh... what Lord Chancellor said. I might give people an extra point or two if they turn in a paper
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 PM on April 30, 2003


I have a hard time believing that high schoolers in this day and age will see a teaching wearing a piece of jewelry and will think "Oh, Mrs. Jones is wearing a cross/peace button/flag pin, I like her and I think she's pretty cool, so I guess I should be Christian/pro-peace/patriotic too." Maybe I just know a cynical bunch of kids, but I can't think of a single kid who'd be influenced by something like that. (Turned against said teacher, yes, influenced, no.) The "protect the fragile sensibilities of the children" argument just doesn't wash with me.
posted by Dreama at 3:31 AM on May 1, 2003


urgh... that last sentence wasn't supposed to be there. But if it were, it should have read something like "I might give people an extra point or two if they turn in a paper in LaTeX to try and get them introduced to it, and that's bias after a fashion, but not something anyone would care about."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:44 AM on May 1, 2003


As you might guess, I'm with boltman. I can certainly see ROU and Lord's perspectives...although I would distinguish to Lord that I'm using the term political here more generally than as pertains to govt. politics per se.

This aspect of the pin issue divides on whether one sees sociopolitical contexts surrounding the classroom as a significant to the meaning creation of the students. The notion of trying to eliminate all political perspective in the classroom invites us to deconstruct the layers of political positioning built into that environment by design.

Most current communication scholarship rejects the model of the classroom as assembly line where detached teacher-bots dispense blobs of pure "knowledge" into the heads of absently receptive students. Teachers and students contribute cooperatively to the meaning of what happens in the classroom. Part of the meaning that students experience derives from the content, but yet as boltman points out, that content is positioned within a political matrix. The gender and ethnicity and various orientations of the teacher (and the students) are positioned in that matrix as well and contribute to the classroom meaning experience.

ROU, your movements as a teacher may to some degree be limited by the superstructure of the school, whose political positioning we are typically invited to ignore. But invisibility doesn't alter the reality of that superstructure's political influence. And influence is what we're talking about, yes?

Btw, I'm enjoying the level of this conversation. And, FWIW, I'm a teacher.
posted by squirrel at 10:53 AM on May 1, 2003


My teachers spouted off political ideas like crazy, and I think the responses were split between: kids who believed unquestioningly (at least for a period of time), kids who didn't care, kids who automatically doubted them, and occasionally kids who knew better. I thought it was generally inappropriate and a big waste of time (though most of school was a waste of time for me).

I think the main thing I learned was that most of my teachers were absolutely insane and despised Asians, Asian Americans, and John Engler.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:53 PM on May 1, 2003


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