Politics in the Classroom

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons User John Keane

If we can’t have these conversations with peers and professors that we know and trust, how can we have them in the ‘real world?’” said Alec Ballweg ’18. when confronted with the issue of politics being discussed in the classroom when the course is not directly related to politics.

As the election deadline has loomed closer and closer, some of you, like myself, may have noticed an increase in the topic’s presence in your classes, perhaps as students arrive and informally mingle with the professor prior to the official start of class.

“As a fairly left-leaning individual, this doesn’t bother me. In fact I often join in,” said Ballweg.

Being Portland, and this being LC, it is not difficult to imagine what these conversations look like. While I have never really disagreed with what has been said in my own classes, I cannot help but wonder if it is completely appropriate.

“I don’t really mind it and in fact I often rather enjoy the discussions. I think LC in general has the kind of close community and most students have a close enough relationship with their professors that these conversations can be productive and thought-provoking,” Ballweg said.

This tight-knit familiarity is certainly an advantage of attending a small college during politically charged times, like a presidential election, but I do not think that it is entirely without the potential for error. Again, while I am by no means endorsing the Republican party here, when I find myself trapped in an electoral discussion spearheaded by a professor who takes absolutely no heed to even minimally guise their political leanings, I cannot help but sympathize for a conservative student who could potentially be in my position.

“Were I more conservative or Republican, these conversations would most likely make me very uncomfortable,” Ballweg continues.

I completely agree with this. I have never doubted that being a conservative on our campus is probably rather difficult, and at times, very frustrating, and Ballweg has heard similar sentiments. The fact that the bashing of candidates —  particularly by a professor —  in a classroom setting where you may not feel like you can freely exit the environment, could potentially become hostile and uncomfortable for somebody with different ideas. And different ideas are okay.

“I’ve heard it said many times that Lewis & Clark is a hard place to be conservative and I’m sure conversations like this are a massive contributing factor to this. LC is such a homogenous community, or at least we think it is,” says Ballweg.

For me, though, in some of these classes where this has come up, the class is an escape from the real world, a slice of time where we can focus on one thing that we enjoy (or maybe do not), and push everything else away for a little while. I do not want a professor who says that they are not going to talk about it, and then continues to talk about it; own it one way or the other. Because then, when it inevitably cuts into class time, I will at least respect your decision and might even put in my own two cents about the election, and maybe, just maybe, I will not find your lack of discretion as unprofessional as I otherwise would.

“College, it seems, is one of the few times we have left to us where we have a community that not only can, but wants to discuss difficult topics. Why shouldn’t it be in the classroom?” concludes Ballweg.

And you know what? At the end of the day, I have to agree. Maybe, though, we can at least be the tiniest bit aware of the possibility that —  no matter how ridiculous Trump’s wall may seem to you (or myself, for that matter) —  perhaps this is not the case for the classmate sitting next to you.

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