Here comes another semester of biased professors and leftist indoctrination. What’s a conservative college student to do?
Well, one thing they shouldn’t do is monopolize class lectures by obnoxiously calling out professors every time they praise Karl Marx or Barack Obama.
That’s not to say professors should not be challenged, but there’s a knack to it. You want to change your campus? Do it smartly. Here’s five great tips.
Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University and author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, recently offered some hints for The College Fix’s student readers on how best to maximize their influence on any given social science class.
His suggestions won’t be easy – but nothing worth doing ever is.
1. Do your homework
If you want to be a person in the class who can represent certain opinions or ideas that seem to run against the grain of the professor’s ideology, the first thing you have to do is read beyond the syllabus of the class, show that you are the hardest working and most knowledgeable student in there.
The easiest thing for the majority to do is dismiss the minority without having to address its arguments if the minority doesn’t seem up to speed. Even if the minority is right, if you don’t seem to be as bright or informed as the others, you can just be ignored.
So look at syllabus – are there elements of the issue the professor doesn’t seem to acknowledge?
For example, if something about welfare programs or Karl Marx is on the syllabus – social welfare 101 – you would have to read Charles Murray’s book “Losing Ground.” It’s not going to be on the syllabus most likely, but read that book and cite Murray’s arguments about welfare from the early 80s to show you know a lot about this topic, you are not just speaking on a position – you are speaking out of knowledge.
Your goal is to produce a richer intellectual climate in the classroom.
2. Strength in numbers
Seek out in the classroom a few others who might be responsive to your ideas.
In any deliberative body made up of 20 people, it only takes two or three voices to break the ideological conformity. You don’t need 10 people on the right to challenge 10 people on the left to make a good discussion, you only need two or three. One is hard, because you tend quickly to become a pariah figure. But if you have got two or three, then it’s approaching critical mass, whereby their stance is not so easily criticized.
Try to find two or three in the class to study with, to talk about the course, and see if they can join you in bringing in a wider array of sources and citations to classroom discussions.
3. Know your enemy
Get involved with the campus’ conservative counter-culture, but be smart about it. The danger that one wants to avoid is becoming too polarized; that can be just as narrowing as left-wing conformity.
This means don’t avoid reading Karl Mark, for example. You should read the first 100 pages of Marx’s “Capital,” as well as the works of some of the softer left-wing socialists.
You are a college student. Partisanship can lead one to ignore even the most intelligent things of the other side. You have to know those left wing materials just as well as they do – or better.
4. Be a willing student
Let’s say you are a conservative student with a leftwing professor. Try to go to the professor’s office hours and have lively discussions to establish an intellectual relationship.
That doesn’t mean kowtow or pretend. Say, “I am a conservative, what do you think of the strongest conservative voices on these issues, what do you think are the good leftwing intellectual responses?”
Show the professor you are a willing student, and while you politically disagree, you see value in this course. Rather than charming the professor, look at it as showing the professor you take this class and this professor seriously, and respect them as a teacher.
Sharpening your debating skills is another perk to this effort. One of the things conservatives need to learn to do is to disagree with a smile, so the student could look at this as practice in how to engage with people who are political opposed to you. It’s real-world preparation. Let’s make this a practice run in learning to disagree firmly without compromise, while still not making it personal, not antagonistic, and again – do it with a smile.
Now some professors are not going to be encouraging, and that’s OK. Just give it a try. You don’t want to let the in-class relationship go sour over the course of the semester.
5. Take the temperature
Some classes are going to go well, some classes not so well. Students should try to find ways to keep the class experience from turning bitter or just plain unpleasant.
Instead of a verbal challenge during a lecture, what about the inquiry suggestion? Open up the discussion and let’s hear how the professor handles that.
Whether to play the game is up to each individual student. It’s a judgment call. In life, you have to play a lot of games in order to get along. In any institutional setting you are going to have to make some modifications or compromises with your principles and ideals, that’s just getting along with people.
On the other hand, the campus is an educational setting and academic freedom applies all around. If you write well, if you argue well, if you bring in cogent evidence, the professor cannot mark you down for political beliefs.
If you find you are being penalized on your assignments, keep a record of it and you see if your university has mechanisms for preventing that from happening.
Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of The College Fix.
IMAGE: College Degrees 360/Flickr