Teach, Not Preach: When Sharing Opinions in Class, Professors Should Be Cautious

Politics, religion, philosophy. These are subjects that can easily lead to some heated debates. But when these topics are brought up in the classroom, is there room for a professor to insert his or her own opinions?

For some it may seem like common sense to avoid these topics of discussion unless it is within the context of the curriculum, but for many it can be difficult to remain neutral when speaking about something they have strong personal feelings about.

“We are all subjective beings, and in our role as teachers, it is difficult to withhold some grand inferences and judgments,” said Don Gregory, a professor of journalism at WCC. “But as teachers, as it is with journalists, we must recognize our loyalties and our biases to assure restraint.”

It is important that professors try to remain as objective as possible when touching on debatable topics. When teaching a philosophy class for example, it’s only natural that some of the professor’s own opinions will spill out to the class. But rather than speaking about how they feel, professors should strive to pose questions that make their students think and draw their own conclusions.

“Even done innocently and appropriately, those opinions can either preclude students’ arriving at their own informed opinions, valid inferences and judgments or assert the authority of our thoughts, in turn contradicting our goal of opening minds,” said Gregory.

With religion and philosophy, it’s somewhat easier for people to have civil discussions and respect the opinions of others. But bringing up a discussion about politics these days is one of the fastest ways to divide a room and create tension.

One WCC student, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke about a professor at her previous college who was very outspoken about his political leaning. “He was very anti-Trump and would talk bad about people who voted for him,” she said. Because she didn’t share the same views, there was tension between her and this professor, which ultimately led to her changing schools.

In years past, some people may have been reluctant to speak openly about politics. But in the climate of today’s society, just about everyone has something to say about the current commander-in-chief. Love him or hate him, he has everybody talking. Gregory said, “Would I offer my political opinions to a class? Hard to resist in these times.”

There’s nothing wrong with sharing an opinion, but teachers must be cautious not to impose any beliefs on their students. People go to school to acquire the skills needed to be successful in the career of their choosing, not to be preached to. Educators must ask themselves, “Will sharing this opinion or belief expand students’ knowledge of the subject at hand?” If the answer is no, then it probably has no place in the classroom.

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