A Ku Indeed!

Blogging on Politics and Pegagogy

Posted in Pedagogy, Politics by Chris on September 23, 2008

Folks who have read this blog for a long while can probably attest to one thing — I don’t usually get political here at A Ku Indeed. Most of my posts are about ethics, Chinese philosophy, life, and about issues regarding teaching in the classroom. A few weeks ago I did let some political posts roll out (on Palin), but this is typically uncharacteristic of this blog. After I made those Palin posts, I was forced to think and reflect a bit about the role of using a blog, as I do, as a nexus for my students’ needs (all my course material is here), for talking about my research (Chinese Philosophy) and for serving as an arena for me to express my views on other things as they come up. My question is: How should they work together? Are there restrictions on what I should post about?

People who know me personally as a teacher know that I am not a fan of “advocacy” teaching. I don’t go into classes with a set political agenda, and I have no desire to convert students away from certain types of thinking (even ones that I find abhorrent). In fact, I often avoid political subjects, as well as “culture war” type subjects, in the classroom when I can (the only one I am vocal about is racism, which I cannot imagine a possible coherent argument in favor of). Now, I have no doubt that there are some teachers who are very attached to advocacy style teaching, and see it as an important responsibility pedagogically and ethically. I don’t share this view, though I’m not going to defend my position here, given that my target is a bit different. But my anti-advocacy position brings up blog related questions.

One of the reason I don’t talk politics on my blog is for the same reason I don’t do it (often) in the class — I don’t want to force students to have to take in my own personal political perspective. That’s not what they are there for, in my view. On my blog, I have kept it non-political because students do have to come here to get class materials, so in the past I have felt that blogging on politics would force them to encounter my political views when all they are really trying to do is gain access, say, to a handout for a class. In a way, political posts are forcing students to watch a political campaign ad before you hand them a paper assignment. It may be that my queasiness on this front is unwarranted. Is it?

My question to all of you (especially any students reading, but I’m also interested in anyone’s point of view on this) is this: do you think it is problematic in any way, when political posts appear on this blog? Of course, I’m not trying to make this about me or about my own specific posts. Rather, use this blog as an example for the question at large: Is it problematic to post on politics while simultaneously using a blog for course-related purposes?

What say ye all?

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10 Responses

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  1. Will said, on September 23, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Let me begin that, as far as this issue goes, I’ve taken courses from professors on both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between, so I feel as though I may be able to offer a bit of insight from a student’s perspective.

    First, I want to commend you on your personal approach to teaching. Classrooms where “advocacy teaching” is in place are often the most difficult to “get into” so-to-speak, because so often students will either skew their viewpoints towards their professors or simply keep their mouths shut in an attempt to avoid critique. I think these classrooms stifle the learning process; both the work and the critique become biased, and it divides the class very quickly. I’ve had my fair share of these experiences, and it doesn’t take long to figure out what you can say or do to get positive reinforcement and a passing grade.

    With that being said, I also think that keeping a classroom advocacy-free is a damn near impossible challenge. I’ve never been in a teaching position, so I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it would be for a professor to leave his/her personal views at home. The beliefs that we have are central to our notion of self, so leaving these in an attempt to teach others what we know is extremely complicated–considering what we know is largely (if not totally) influenced by the way we see the world. Agenda is going to get smuggled in one way or another. Keeping the student guessing is the best you can do, I suppose. And you do it well.

    So, are you right in feeling uneasy? Yes and no.

    I am surprised, knowing your feelings about advocacy teaching, that you would post about politics on a website that students more or less are required to visit at several occasions during the semester. I will say this: It seems a bit contradictory to your mantra of agenda-free teaching.

    HOWEVER, I’ve read most or all of your political blog posts, and I don’t see a whole lot that immediately pegs you as a liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, so on and so forth. I can’t imagine anyone reading anything you’ve posted about politics and calling it controversial or inflammatory; it’s just not the stereotypical pundit-type discourse that pisses so many people off (on both sides). You’re a little befuddled about McCain’s choice of Palin, but rightfully so–and it is a legitimate concern that both sides have to sort out on their own, so I don’t see a problem. Obama has been critiqued fairly, and you seem to give McCain the benefit of the doubt (Is McCain’s Campaign Virtue Ethical? for instance). There’s nothing in your blog that is either Limbaugh- or Olbermann-esque that one would raise an eye about. Other students may have a different view, but in the grand scheme of political banter, your brand is unbiased and rather tame (actually refreshing on some levels).

    I’m not sure what you can take away from this. It probably doesn’t help a whole lot. I think you’re justified in thinking that it may be problematic, but I’m not sure to what degree other students actually engage with what you’ve written, so how problematic it is may be up for debate. I think your a fairly conscientious individual, I don’t think you’ve crossed any lines. See what others say, I guess. A first-time student of yours may have a completely different view.

  2. Bill Haines said, on September 23, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Hi Chris!

    I agree with Will about advocacy teaching and about the quality of your political blogging.

    As a teacher I’d be more reluctant to blog on the class material than on other controversial things (except that for a philosophy teacher it’s often hard to find a topic that doesn’t relate to the class). I think it’s great for students to see an example of thoughtful citizenship.

    I’ve never tried advocacy teaching. People tell me it’s exciting, but so is being poked. I would expect it to encourage groupthink. I don’t suppose that as an advocacy teacher I could separate my ego from victory, and even in neutral classrooms I can’t expect that of students. I couldn’t keep my investment invisible; and even if I weren’t invested, students would reasonably think I was.

    I think the most important things are that on the main controversial issues of the course, (a) students feel they don’t know your views, (b) students feel that you aren’t interested in whether they agree with you, but that you care very much that their thinking be sincere and brave; and (c) students expect they might be challenged on their understanding of something even if it’s something you agree with (such as that murder is commonly wrong), and (d) students think you’re nice. (That’s the hard part for me.)

    Once those conditions are met then I think it doesn’t matter, or rather it’s a fine thing, that the class will be shaped in a thousand ways by the teacher’s views.

  3. Bill Haines said, on September 23, 2008 at 4:24 pm

  4. Chris said, on September 24, 2008 at 5:22 am

    Will and Bill,

    I appreciate the replies.

    To Will specifically — it is hard to keep your views hidden at times. Not all the time; sometimes it’s pretty easy, but sometimes it’s tough. And I have no doubt that they slip through from time to time. But you hit it on the head — the best you can do is keep people guessing.

    I think you’re right that the queasiness is, at least, the correct emotion to have. I’ll use it as an internal corrective from this point on, to make sure I don’t go too far over in the wrong direction!

    Will and Bill,

    I think you’re right that my previous political blogging was light, but intentionally so with these issues in mind. So it’s more of a question about the future: should an instructor keep such blogging “light” or even non-existent on a blog used for class? Bill you seem to differ a bit on this question, but agree on the advocacy question. I guess here the question becomes whether such blogging (if it were more than light, or even handed in tone) becomes an extension of advocacy teaching.

    I think, Bill, that you hit the nail on the head, in my opinion, with one the main problems regarding advocacy: ego. To put it in Confucian terms, it is difficult to pull apart genuine motivation for exemplifying ren “as a teacher” from the temptation for being xiao ren “as an individual”; as a teacher, I of course want them to learn to do all the pedagogically oriented things you correctly note, but as “Chris Panza” there are lots of actual _positions_ I’d like them to hold. As an advocacy teacher, “Chris” and “CP” start to get confused, and as a result I wonder whether “ren” and “xiao ren” motivation can be cleanly pulled apart. Perhaps they can, but if so, I’ve never been good at doing it. It could be that my dislike of advocacy is based on a recognition of my own weaknesses.

  5. Chris said, on September 24, 2008 at 5:23 am

    Hey Bill,

    Great video! The Zombeatles!

    It’s in the wrong thread, though.

  6. Jonah said, on September 24, 2008 at 7:21 am

    I agree with most of what has been said before. The conflict, of course, comes from combining a personal blog with a class blog. Is there a strong reason for doing that, or did it come about organically? As a teacher, my instinct is to keep the two separate.

  7. Chris said, on September 24, 2008 at 8:06 am

    Jonah,

    The combination of using the blog for class purposes with blogging about personal (not political) topics and research topics was intended from the beginning. I felt it was important for students to see that I actually do think repeatedly about some of the topics we talk about in the classes I teach. This aspect of the blog has worked well. Many students do read that stuff, and comment on it either here or to me personall.y The personal (non-political) stuff is pretty innocuous (like my zombie addiction, for instance), so that seemed to me not a problem. If anything, it helps to show that I’m an actual person.

    It’s the introduction of the politics into the blog that makes me give pause. That introduction was not intended from the beginning. In fact that the conflict has probably arisen because we are so close to a national election, and I do have a lot of strong opinions. If it weren’t such a tense political time I probably wouldn’t feel the urge to blog on the subject at all.

  8. Will said, on September 24, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    “Let the queasiness guide you…”
    I like it. Like some strange gastrointestinal-based form of Taoism…

    You seem reluctant, in saying you “wouldn’t feel the urge to blog on the subject at all” if it weren’t for the zeitgeist. I kind of read this as you have a compulsion to fulfill something you feel you need to do. I guess I wonder what then is the purpose of your political posts. Is it simple, benign venting? Or do you want readers to examine their own political beliefs? Something else? Answer this question and I think you’ve got the answer you need. As students, we need someone to get us to think from time to time, and you shouldn’t be reluctant if active reflection is what your goal is. No subject is so sacred we can’t (at the very least) discuss it.

    So I’m curious, then, as to what you’ve decided– Can we expect more political blogging?

  9. Adam said, on September 25, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I love your political blogging. It’s a nice dose of realism for those idealists out there, like me. Politics has natural connections to ethics and you’re very knowledgeable about both. So it’s very sad that I have to admit that I don’t think I would be comfortable requiring my students to use a blog with my partisan political beliefs on it.

    At root I think is a pretty deep issue about philosophy. The reason I don’t teach an agenda in the classroom is that I believe my primary task is to help students develop excellent thinking skills. I would be disappointed if they believed something just because I believe it (or–because I don’t think I’m all that persuasive–my advocacy pushed them over the top for a position). Part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in is that one’s likability makes one more electable than one’s reasonableness.

    But it is, of course, possible that excellent thinking skills require more than just good procedural thinking skills. The natural outcome of good procedure might be certain positions. Kant thinks this. But even then, requiring people to come who are just starting down the philosophical path might have bad effects. It’s easy to share positions with great thinkers, it’s another thing to have good warrant for believing them.

    So I think the natural answer is to use a bit of technology. Wall off the course part of your blog from the rest of it. It wouldn’t be terribly hard to set you up with software that allows you to run two blogs from the same backend.

  10. Chris said, on September 26, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Adam,

    I thought briefly about doing what you suggest at the end — is there a “non-clunky” way to do this without leaving the wordpress platform?


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