by AndrewMc | 9/23/2008 10:15:00 PM
Each election cycle I spend a great bit of time exhorting my students to get out and vote. I pass around registration forms and mail them off to the county clerk. I make sure that every knows how to get to their polling places.

I want them to get off their butts and participate.

This year I had kind of an interesting experience.

I was going on about making sure to vote, about getting to the polls, and doing one's civic duty. They're listening to me, and some are even hearing me. I give my bit about all the people who have sacrificed their lives to maintain our country's freedoms. I note that we have student-soldiers on campus who have been to Iraq.

This time, though, one of my students spoke up, saying "Yeah, but you go to the polling place and it's, like, an hour or an hour and a half to wait in line just to spend 1 minute voting. That sucks."

The student next to her pipes up. "I was shot three times in Iraq. Got a Purple Heart for each. That really sucks. Voting's not that hard."

Dead silence, followed by a low "jeeeesus" from somewhere in the room.

I don't have anything to add to that. It's just a reminder.

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Blogger Unknown on 9/23/2008 10:38 PM:

I hate to be a stickler for subject-specificity, but...what does this have to do with the subject you're supposed to be teaching? How can you justify spending valuable class time on this?

Not meant as an attack, but an honest question.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 9/24/2008 12:37 AM:

I have no idea what Andrew teaches, but most schools at this point have some boilerplate about citizenship and engagement with the world, project-based-learning, service learning and practical applications.

Yeah, it's a distraction from our core subjects, sometimes, but it's in the job description. As long as he doesn't give extra credit or other incentives for voting, or advocate for a particular position (One of my students asked in class "Why do we celebrate Constitution Day when we don't follow it?" and I told him to take it up with the political scientists), he's on reasonably solid ground.

And if he's teaching US or political history, it's a lock.


Blogger AndrewMc on 9/24/2008 9:27 AM:

Well, partly what Ahistoricality said. We are supposed to teach engagement citizenship, etc.

Even without that, though, what is it that I'm in the classroom for? Your question assumes that all I'm there for is to teach them some history. That's not the case, though.

The vast majority of my students are not majors. In my Western Civ class they don't really even want to be there--the University requires it.

So, when I teach Civ before 1648, what do I hope they take away from it? Well, one thing I hope is that they get some progressive values, without overt politics. So I focus on themes of the dispossessed and powerless, of the role of power in peoples' lives, and the way that ordinary people can effect change.

What will they remember after the semester is over? Probably not a thing about the Renaissance in terms of its links to the Greeks and Romans, the quest for precision, and that kind of stuff. But perhaps teh story of Artemisia Gentileschi will stick with them, and lead them to remember the was that rape laws were inequally applied depending on class status.

And, then, when I take five minutes one day out of class to say "As an aside, we have an election coming up. You ought to vote. There are alot of reasons to vote. Here are some," they might think a bit more about how different political parties treat different groups.

In terms of valuable time, five minutes isn't that much. Class time isn't always about conveying all the information I want to get through. Its about making sure they come away having put their minds to something. I don't mind interrupting my tale of Columbus supposedly seeing "oriental looking corpses" in Iceland with a story of my own trip to Iceland. Who knows, maybe it will motive them to do a study abroad.

Finally, Ahistoricality said : "As long as he doesn't give extra credit or other incentives for voting, or advocate for a particular position [...] he's on reasonably solid ground."

The professor down the hall from me can link almost every bad thing that happened in the time periods he teaches [WW1, WW2, Korea] to Bill Clinton or the Democrats. It's pretty amazing to hear, and happens every week regardless of the subject. Of course, he's got tenure and has been here, literally, since 1962. So, what can you do.

When my students ask who I'm going to vote for, I usually answer with something like "the candidate who I feel will do the most to make it easier for people to go to college," or "The one who will help lower the rates on my student loans," or some other answer that might set them to thinking.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 9/24/2008 12:40 PM:

One of the running themes in my World Since 1500 is the transition from nearly 100% monarchies towards democracies -- even despots need to pretend they're responding to "popular will" to survive these days. In that context, pointing out that there's an election coming up, and that history is, in no small part, the accumulation of millions of individual decision, is pretty seamless.


Blogger Unknown on 9/24/2008 5:42 PM:

You've both explained why it's appropriate to mention the election to students, and I'll accept that. I guess what I was really probing for is what Andrew brought up in his comment, and something he's brought up before: his belief in helping students "that they get some progressive values, without overt politics." I'm not denying either of your ability to "get away" with this focus, but what I'm not certain about is whether it's morally defensible. If Andrew is trying to impart certain sectarian values to his students, values many reasonable people do not share, isn't he only qualitatively better than the professor down the hall who blames the Democrats for everything?

As much of a progressive (and Progressive) as I am, I recognize that it's not a universally-held value that the dispossessed and powerless are worthy of our attention, nor should it be. I do believe in my set of ideals, but one part of that belief holds that they should be able to hold up empirically against any competing set of beliefs, given a fair presentation of each. Shouldn't we be presenting sets of ideals that compete with ours and giving the students a chance to make up their own minds, rather than indoctrinating them into concern for the downtrodden?

Andrew, I'm not trying to attack you -- I know you're an excellent and responsible teacher who takes his philosophy of teaching very seriously. I want to be very careful to emphasize that I'm simply stating my opinion and asking for a clarification, not condemning you or what you're doing.