A couple of days ago I had to speak candidly to my college students. I had one student who referred to me as a “Hillary loving democrat,” which in my area of the country is interpreted as evil traitor by many. I rarely, if ever, tell my students how I vote, so I was a bit caught off guard by the comment, not to mention the hurt that I felt at the disrespect and seeming disdain buried in it.
The context in which this revelation about my political affiliation surfaced had to do with an example I chose to use in a public speaking course while discussing Aristotle’s ideas surrounding ethos, pathos, and logos. We were discussing what sort of elements make for good speech practice, as well as ethical guidelines for responsible speaker conduct. We talked additionally about the impact of ethnocentrism on a speaker’s ability to effectively meet the intended speech goal.
During this discussion, I simply asked the class whether or not they believed that Trump would be appreciated by more people if he refrained from his disparaging words. Most of my students agreed that he could potentially earn more support by making better language choices and refraining from sharing his negative views related to group membership publicly. I expressed that as a future professional it would be important for them to remember that language choice makes a huge difference in how people feel about individuals and corporations.
I was actually surprised that anyone decided on my political affiliation based on that question. In particular, I was surprised that the question reached far enough to make me a “Hillary loving democrat,” because it seemed to me that anyone of any political view could see the need for improvement in terms of Trump and public perception surrounding his public comments; perhaps I am delusional.
As I previously indicated, I was disappointed with the accusation because of the intent behind it, so I slept on it for two nights before deciding how best to handle the situation. A class can easily get way off the rails, so to speak, when a new semester begins, and the last thing that I wanted was to have to regularly enter a room where I was not appreciated.
As a result, I decided to tell the class that I was going to do my job and teach my subject. After telling them that I was disappointed by the comment in the previous class session, I reminded my students that we were sitting in a public speaking course, and by extension, I planned to critique various public speaking events as I deemed suitable, something that I have done each and every semester when teaching that particular course. I told them that learning is of the utmost concern for me. I noted that my teaching contract did not call for pandering, but it did demand that I effectively teach the subject. I additionally reminded them of the importance of using real world examples in our classroom and attempted to clarify the notion that inspection of examples for the purpose of comprehension and improvement in the subject was a necessary component of meeting the learning outcomes designated for the course.
Eyes rolled, huffs surfaced, but so did nods of agreement and smiles.
Before I finished I said, “Like my favorite education reformer, I don’t believe that you can teach someone who you don’t love. When a parent corrects a child, I believe that the correction is most often done in love because the parent wants the child to succeed. When a teacher corrects a student, the same thing should be true. I plan to love everyone of you as hard as I possibly can all semester, even when it challenges your world view. That is my commitment to you.” Many smiled, a few laughed, and the student who made the Hillary loving democrat statement apologized and offered that she also believed it was important for everyone to accept what another person does with his or her vote. I thanked her for her kind words, and we moved on with our scheduled class discussion.
My students largely come from low income backgrounds and are most often first generation college students. In some cases they are attempting to redeem themselves after a troubled past. As such, inspiring critical thinking is important in terms of their ability to advance in their college careers and succeed as future professionals. I know that certain perspectives are bound to surface more often than others in the classroom because of the area where I live, but I also know that other, more muffled and suppressed views exist in the room; those views should also be heard. In addition, the ability to critique the world and make decisions that result from in depth investigation is an important part of the democratic process, so effective teaching is also a commitment that I make to my country.
As usual, this semester my students and I will challenge each other, of that I feel sure, and in that process we will learn from each other, of that I also feel sure. The one thing that I have learned from years of teaching is that the classroom is always a place of adventure; just as it should be!