Many colleges are starting classes this week, and some conservative students have to make a decision. Say you have liberal professors and are not a career suicide bomber: You don’t want to be a classroom wimp, accepting propagandistic statements without protest, but you also don’t want to flunk. How, then, shall you live?
The Intercollegiate Review, which circulates largely to conservatives, asked me to offer some suggestions for speaking truth to classroom power, so I came up with 10 that the journal published in the current issue.
Here are four of them:
- Be willing to read. Students hoping to be more than stenographers need to read not only books on the syllabus but also ones that offer opposing views. Most students, unwilling to do double the reading, settle for hooking up, dumbing down, and just taking notes.
- Visit professors during office hours before you enroll in their classes. Syllabus reading and an office visit will help you discern the difference between professors who tolerate challenges and those who are totalitarians demanding absolute control of the classroom. Take classes when possible from the former and avoid the latter unless you’re exceptionally brave.
- Keep up the office visits after the course has begun. Many liberal professors truly believe in liberal arts dialogue. Tell your professor where you’re coming from intellectually and why you have questions about his approach, but be a legitimate seeker after dialogue rather than an arrogant know-it-all, especially because you still know very little. Many liberal professors who have taught a pet course many times before will relish a student who can make the classroom livelier. Ask thoughtful questions, and if yours can be the face that launches a thousand quips, many professors will remember it favorably.
- Confront classroom totalitarians. It’s important to show a totalitarian professor that messing with you will cost him time plus trouble, so he should turn his attention to easier victims. Hold on to all your papers and essay tests, and be sure to tape what goes on in the classroom or in professor-student conferences. If you can’t win internally, you might be able to apply external pressure through conservative journalists.
Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of WORLD Magazine. He is the former provost of The King’s College, and for more than 20 years was a professor at the University of Texas.