You've Got to Fight for the Right, to be on the Right, and be Right

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 | 0 Comment(s)

A few days ago I received an email containing an organized file of my students' reviews from last semester. For each class I was given two zip files. One file was the result of the students'  1-9 rankings of both my teaching and the class itself, in a variety of areas.  The second file for each class contained the students' open response prompts about what they felt were the strengths and weaknesses of the course.

Overall, I was tremendously pleased with both my scores and the feedback, which was almost entirely positive. And I love that. I do. I can't front. I work hard to put together an entertaining and informative class, so I'm proud when my message hits its mark. I'm human and therefore subject to flattery as much as the next person.

What concerns me even more, however, is the constructive criticism.  I have a particular, and sometimes peculiar, teaching style.  I most certainly use humor to keep the classroom energy high and hold interest.  I recognize that this style will not suit every student.  It can't.  No teaching style can.  Therefore, it isn't surprising that a few students find my antics immature and distracting.  While I lament this, even I am forced to forgive myself for 2 or 3 misses out of 300.  Not much I can do there. 

That said, there is another segment of my student population that both thoroughly enjoyed my class, and simultaneously has constructive criticism. They have feedback.  Some of it is procedural stuff -- put your slides online, put your lectures online, put yourself online -- but other critiques are more substantive.  

Two students wrote that while they enjoyed my class, my political bias seemed more obvious than in any other class, and they found it distracting from the course material.  

I've been mulling this criticism over in my mind, because I know that it is at least partially true. My personal bias is something I plan to be more cognizant of moving forward.  BUT, I honestly feel that the current field of Republican presidential candidates have forced my hand more than a little bit.  Remember, I am teaching a Social Psychology course; A course that focuses on subject matter that includes racism, sexism, persuasion, attitudes & behaviors, diffusion of responsibility, and group conflict. As a educator, I take it as my responsibility to point out real-life examples of the psychological concepts I'm teaching as they pop up in the news. 

So how do I not talk about racism, when Donald Trump proposes a wall between the US and Mexico, calls Mexican immigrants murderers and rapists, says he has a great relationship with "The Blacks," and reacts to a female reporter's line of persistent questioning by insinuating she is on her period?

How do I not point out discrimination & outgroup hate, as Ted Cruz give speeches about carpet bombing the Middle East?  

How do I not point out cognitive dissonance, as the one female GOP candidate speaks out the loudest in an attempt to shut down Planned Parenthood?

Or how about the one Black GOP candidate saying Obama is the worst thing to happen to America since slavery? Which is worse, being a doctor who believes that people choose to be gay, or being a doctor and not believing in evolution? Thank goodness we have thumbs  . . . ahem . . . cause it's a coin toss.

And lastly, cause it gets redundant, how about minister Mike Huckabee, who stood behind a woman breaking the law in order to disobey a Supreme Court Ruling allowing gay people the equal right of marriage.  That makes Huckabee a minister who defends against love.

I want to be clear to point out that I didn't run through the candidates. Rand Paul, Kasich, Lindsey, Rubio (though his views on immigration are kind of sitting there on a silver platter), Christie, and all the other white guys I can't remember. All they had to do was avoid hate speech and they would have been golden.  Unfortunately, in modern day politics, this criteria excludes a large swath of the current GOP candidates.

As for the Democrats. It's as if the party as a whole has decided to be as vanilla as humanly possible. If the party is going for a vibe that says, "we're all grown-ups here," they're nailing it. If you can find me an example of either candidate calling out a minority, sexual orientation, gender, or persecuted minority as worthy of disposal -- please let me know. I'd teach it with a smile on my face. A relative smile, appropriately sensitive to the material I'm teaching, of course.

But the problem here is I can only teach the material I'm given. I'm sure Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah feel me. I don't search for haters -- the hater find me.  It's like being a professional surfer. Those men and women have this incredible skill, but they can only showcase that talent with the cooperation of the ocean waves. They can't surf waves that never come. Nor can I teach new stories that never materialize.

But when a huge swell starts breaking close to shore, or politicians grasping for the nation's attention start spewing hate towards specific minority groups, you better believe I'm gonna ride that ass all the way to shore. 

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