"Teach, Don't Preach" by Emma Landry
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
As a young and highly impressionable 18-year-old student, I took a year-long freshman-specific course on science fiction literature. The class was split into a lecture period and a discussion period, each with a different professor. My discussion professor was incredible and I have zero qualms with her, but my lecture professor is a different story. Every class felt like a new lecture about how his beliefs are the only ones that matter; that Star Trek is the best show and can, and will, relate to anything and everything, that guns are bad, that immigrants are good, and that basically anything coming from right-winged politics couldn’t possibly have any value. While I may have agreed with some of the points he made throughout the semester, a science fiction lecture is not the place to preach his ideas. So here I am, deciding to “be a truth activist,” just like he always told me.
My truth is that I pay for these classes and I choose to pay for these classes and go to this school to learn about my desired topics in a safe and open learning environment. Yes, politics are often essential to understanding a piece of literature, but what that means is that we need to understand the politics, not that we have to believe in them and convince others to do the same. When I’m in a literature class, I expect to be learning about literature, not about how the best Mexican food in the county is down the street and we should all go. As an English major, I cannot attest to the place of political opinions in a political science course, but I would imagine that they are more out of place there then they are anywhere else. Simply put, the classroom is not the place for a bias of any sort.
Bringing bias into the classroom destroys the safe environment that needs to be fostered to learn most efficiently. When I know a teacher feels a certain way about something, I feel pressured to agree out of a fear of my grade being penalized (which, do some research, this isn’t uncommon) purely because I don’t share their opinion. A good teacher can separate bias from teaching and allow their personal beliefs to lie dormant while they grade opinion-based assignments. I’m sure many of my peers agree, but I have felt on multiple occasions that my education was impeded, not because I was wrong, but because the professor didn’t agree with my position.
This is not to say that personality doesn’t belong in the classroom. It does. Some of the best classes I’ve had were with teachers with huge personalities, but the only sort of bias they pushed on me was along the lines of “I like this book,” not “you’re wrong if you don’t like this book.” There’s an important distinction between the two. In the former, the teacher is simply stating a harmless opinion. This opinion doesn’t carry any weight. In the latter, I’m being told that I better like this book or the essay I write on it doesn’t stand a chance. Personable professors give the most entertaining and intriguing lectures, but even the greatest lectures lose their gusto the second I’m told how to feel.
I’m tired of my lecture courses being derailed because my professor has come across some sort of ethical dilemma in the reading that they feel gives them the green light to tell me what opinions I should hold. That doesn’t help me learn, it just makes me want to roll my eyes and pretend I’m taking notes while I'm scribbling down little circles in the margins because, yet again, I’m being given a rant about Star Trek as a symbolic of quite literally everything. Professors, your job is to teach me. I don’t learn anything when I’m being told that Trump or Clinton is bad. Give me the facts and let me decide what I believe. Preaching isn’t teaching.