October 10, 2011


To Teach or Not to Touch? Politics in the Classroom (Jack Boger, October 7, 2011, The Dartmouth)

As the Republican primary debate and its attendant media frenzy descend on Dartmouth, we will be confronted by political issues whether we like it or not. In particular, politics plays an important, yet often undiscussed, role in the classroom. We've all taken a class in which the professor has injected his or her own political views into discussions or lectures, inevitably shaping classroom dynamics. In the spirit of the politically charged season, I interviewed a number of College faculty members to hear their personal pedagogies on politics in the classroom.

Government professor Benjamin Valentino teaches the ever-popular introductory Government 5 course on international politics. Valentino said he views his role as remaining "agnostic" toward the various political theories and philosophies he teaches.

"I present the best case for the various perspectives I am teaching," he said.

Any student of his would finish the course being familiar with basic international relations theories like realism, liberalism and constructivism, but ­-- as Valentino recalled with a bemused chuckle -- no introductory IR class during his undergraduate days would have been complete without a primer on Marxism.

When Valentino attended Stanford, an introductory class on American politics was taught by an avowed Marxist.

"On the first day of class," Valentino recounted, "[my professor] said, 'I am a Marxist, and I am going to teach you the American political system from a Marxist perspective, but I'm going to tell you right from the outset. I've been working in political science for 40 years now, and if I didn't have strong opinions about it there would be something wrong with me.'"

Valentino said he respected his professor, but doesn't agree with his philosophy. Following his professor's lead, Valentino used to begin his courses by stating his own political views.

"I used to start on the first day of class by saying, 'I know some of you are concerned about the political leanings of your faculty, so if it matters to anyone, I'm a conservative Democrat, but it doesn't color my teaching style.'" He has since stopped doing it unless specifically asked by his students.

"I think that the worst thing would be to have a political perspective that seeps in but is not acknowledged. The best teaching method would be simply neutral and not allow your own views to seep in," he said.

Posted by at October 10, 2011 6:51 AM

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