Monday, May 26, 2008

Academia and "figuring out" political affiliation

In close geographic proximity to UM, a debate continues over the "problem" of political affiliation imbalance in academia, specifically in Boulder, CO where "the University of Colorado is considering a $9 million program to bring high-profile conservatives to teach on the left-leaning Boulder campus.”

Two years ago, we learned of a similar issue facing Montana higher education, with HB 525, a bill that would
promote a diverse learning environment by saying that "teachers should not take unfair advantage of the immaturity of students by indoctrinating them with their teachers’ own opinions before the students have had an opportunity to examine other opinions.”

As composition TAs, we've faced an array of students' concerns, comments, and many times, a reluctance to engage in politicized debate (out of discomfort and shyness; my students often limited their verbal participation but did engage with "politicized" issues in other ways, mainly through exploratory writing when faced with topics that were "political").

Wouldn't proposals to limit teachers' taking "unfair" advantage of the "immaturity of students by indoctrinating them" take the "teaching" part out of "teaching"? Can we not simultaneously give our students the resources to seek information on their own (formal academic research, rhetorical tools of persuasion), while leading them to examine certain topics (from one angle to begin with) that are relevant to their essay units? Regardless of my political affiliation (debates in the media always over-simplify this question to pick-one-of-two-choices:-Democrat-or-Republican?, but I digress), I would like to present some alternatives to the choices proposed in this current election year by asking for the personal experiences of my students to let them know they have a voice in their world. And--please!-- have a responsibility to exercise their right to (register to) vote ASAP.

Here, of course, with the intersection of politicized topics and capital-p-Politics, I run into the sticky problem that proponents of "intellectual diversity" bills like to remind us of. But regardless of political affiliation, who wouldn't want a student population to not exercise their right to vote? And to not learn about political candidates' views?

When examining the idea of "place" for their personal essay, I've asked students to examine (through examples of documentary photography and web sites) the inequalities in affordable access to housing, and how this changes their own ideas about "home" versus "house". This, I suppose, challenged my students to engage in a political debate-- gasp! Did this make me clearly "left leaning"? Did this not ask of them to a) "figure out" my political affiliation? and b) challenge them to figure out what they believe in concert or contrast? Isn't this all a good thing?

Yes, post-graduation summer malaise makes me babble. And pose many rhetorical questions.

Oh, and there's been some blog-activity raging over at Gawker over former-Gawker writer now divulging all in this Sunday's NYTimes. Addicting, I say. And I'm the billionth person to share it with the world via a blog. Always behind on the trends.

UPDATE: I love it! After the Times shut down the comment feature to the aforementioned article, they repented with a Q&A with Gould Re: her article.

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