Politics Don’t Belong in the Classroom but Neither Do A******s

I’ve been told I give a pretty overt “crazy left” vibe when it comes to my politics. However, I’m very careful never to let my own political beliefs enter my teaching, and I try to appear as politically ambiguous as a person can be while under the constant scrutiny of 24 decently clever 18-21 year olds. I’ve resisted the temptation to both openly agree with some of my more left-leaning students. I’ve also resisted an even more powerful urge to smack a “Make America Great Again” hat off a student in my class because have you seen what this self-serving goblinoid lunatic is doing? So I don’t get political in my class, and I do that because I do not think politics have any place in the classroom. My students are not paying to hear me expound on the merits of a demilitarized populace; they came to learn about commas, and sentence structure, and forming an argument, and probably because their advisor told them it’s a required course.

This is exactly what my homework assignments entail

However, I’ve been doing some research lately on something that happened in my class last year, something that at first seemed political, but I’ve determined was wholly different. It used to be that politics were defined by the particular stances you or a party took on some issue involving the governance of the country. That’s how it felt for America at least. More recently, however, things have felt different. Politics isn’t just something to think about every time there’s a new white christian running for president anymore. It’s a daily occurrence. We’ve got a president that tweets which makes it really hard to ignore him. I cannot wait for a State of the Union address written in 140 characters. American politics have become like that drunk friend at a party who you lock in the bathroom so you can keep working on chemically forgetting everything wrong with your life without interruption. Except now the friend you’ve so handily tucked away has an iPhone, and he’s texting everyone else at the party and reminding everyone that he’s there, and he keeps trying to be part of the fun even though he’s already had his time in the spotlight. It’s exactly like that.  

So we’ve got a drunk bathroom president and potentially our own issues to work through, and we cannot seem to lock politics out of our thoughts because it keeps shoving itself where it doesn’t belong, into things that have no reason even being political.

Like being an asshole.

Being an asshole is not a political stance. It is not liberal to say gun-owners are psychopaths even if some of them are. It is not conservative to say people who smoke a lot of weed have garbage taste in music–often they do. It isn’t political to be an asshole, but recently it feels like political parties are absorbing opinions that are inherently apolitical. Imagine if, on merit of being a democrat, you were required to like sardines–the kind that come in little cans and are all greasy and have the bones still in them. “But I don’t like these strange oily fish snacks!” you cry to the leaders of your party.
“Well, too bad. We really dig them,” they boom down to you from high above, “we especially like when they have the juicy bones you can suck the marrow out of so now you have to like them too, and you have to suck the bones, and we’re gonna watch.”
“Shoot golly, I guess I have to,” you say and dutifully begin consuming can after can of mercury-rich mummified fish.

That’s what we’re dealing with now: political parties that are absorbing opinions that have only tangential relation to actually political things. Being an asshole is not a political stance, but my problem is that it has become one, or it is at least pretending to be because political parties are forming apolitical opinions of their own.

Patriotism has almost never looked so greasy

All this boils down to one incident I had in my class last year that has actually been the impetus for all of the research I’m doing in my Master’s program. It lasted about 22 seconds. The incident, not the research, that stuff is taking me months. Those 22 seconds unfolded like this:

In a discussion on understanding how to appeal to an audience, gender came up. That’s not an abnormal occurrence. We were watching some music video, and I asked the class who they thought it would appeal to. One student said women, and I asked why it would only be women. I can’t remember what he said, but I asked if it might not only appeal to women, but to more feminine-identifying people. I said this, in part because I wanted to challenge him to keep the discussion going, but also because I wanted to teach that studying an audience is not always a cut-and-dry case of “it wants to reach these exact people.” I did not quite expect what came after.

A student raised his hand and told the class that he had always considered himself a little on the feminine side, and that the video had actually appealed to him. It was a wonderful moment of smugness for me because I go to feel like I’d made a good point that had been heard by some of the class and that a normally quiet student felt comfortable expressing himself genuinely. However, like my hair last time I got it cut or the life of any of the fish I’ve owned, the lifespan of my satisfaction was cut tragically short. Another student, who did not raise his hand, added his own opinion to the discussion. He pulled the ol’ “does that mean if I identify as an attack helicopter, you have to treat me like one,” which is one of those worn out jokes that gets passed around on the more toxic comment sections of the internet.

I talked to this student after class, told him it was wrong to attack another student for any reason, including gender. He said it was free speech and that he was expressing a political opinion. At the time, I didn’t know what to do, so I just told him to refer to the syllabus and my policy on discrimination, and if it happened again, I’d kick him out of my class.

I wish I’d had the bravery and the cleverness to stare at this bitter child and, the moment he cited politics as his reason for expressing prejudice in my classroom, tell him that hate isn’t a political opinion, that maybe there was legislation dealing with gender, but that does not mean that subscribing to a party that believes in systemic discrimination necessitates it at the individual level, that just because someone far away was trying to pass a law keeping people from using a bathroom they prefer does not mean he should also be an asshole to someone tangentially related to who that law was directed at. I also wish I’d said that he was a moron and that I’d seen him fall when he was crossing the street earlier, but that’s less for professional gratification and more because he was a prick.

And your headphones are cheap, and your bike makes a weird noise, and the picture they gave me of you for the roster makes you look like you’ve just smelled your own nasty lip

Now I’m spending my time scouring databases and case studies and the library and my own big book of ethics for a solution to the problem posed by students of unequivocal assholery. My research this year is on depoliticizing gender in the classroom because I’m tired of being worried about calling out bigotry. I’m tired of hearing that discrimination is defensible because someone was just expressing their first amendment right because that right ends at the exact moment the free speech turns into an attack on one of my students.

A counterpoint I’ve heard to the argument that my students should not openly discriminate against each other is that I must be one of those safe space college snowflakes, the kind that cries if their feelings are hurt and needs a latte to get out from under my hemp blankets in the morning. My response is that I don’t want a safe space, I don’t want some little zone in which “hurtful ideas” aren’t allowed, and I’m not a special snowflake because nobody is special because regardless of who we are or how we look or who we like to sleep with we’re all going to die the same lonely, scared death wishing we’d been different and knowing we wouldn’t be if we had another chance.

I do not want a class cleansed of contrary ideas. What I want is for my students not to be bigots. That’s the difference between me demanding that all of my students write about candy and love or just asking them not to berate the one student who actually wants to write about that stuff.

So I’ve found myself in kind of a difficult place. On the one hand, I’ve got a colossal issue I’m researching my way through which might ultimately get me fired if my boss thinks I’m forcing my own ideology on my students. And on the other hand, I want so much to teach my students that they can have a political opinion, and that opinion can–and probably should–differ from mine, but if that political opinion has somehow annexed toxic ideas under the guise of political points, and if they try to bring that hate into my classroom, then I’m going to tear them apart because the fact that a politician believes something does not make that something political. If the president likes his steaks burned and slathered in ketchup, then I am not a revolutionary for saying I prefer mine still bleeding.

41 Replies to “Politics Don’t Belong in the Classroom but Neither Do A******s”

  1. I totally sympathize with what you are saying here and love your research topic. It is crazy how some of the most definitive moments in life can be so short and ones most people won’t even remember. As a teacher of middle and high school students, the opinions of this nature that I often encounter have the added dimension of really being parroted ideas from their parents. When you confront them, you have the added risk (for lack of a better word) of having an irate parent or three come after you too. Once you are done with your research I’d love to hear what conclusion you come to.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh my, honestly the thought of dealing with parents in any context is frightening to me, but dealing with them and their political views in that kind of setting sounds rough.

      I’ll definitely write more about my research–it kind of dominates my life at this point so it’ll be hard not to.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well just recently there has been the transgender ban from the military which looks like discrimination on a huge scale of a group because of their identity. There’s also the continued control on birth control rights for women which is more of a classic form of discrimination.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. First off…. let me make something very clear….I am not a conservative…..That being said….why can we “discriminate” against those with mental illness serving in the military….(clinical depression..bi-polar disorder)….yet allow a group of people with a suicide rate exceeding 40% in… (correct me if I’m wrong but I feel suicidal people….regardless of gender identity …could be classified as mentally ill and should not be in the military )..How is that discrimination against one group…??..And not paying for birth control isn’t discrimination. ..nor is it a violation of human rights….You play. …you pay. …Why should I have to pay for it…??…Same applies to healthcare….Again. …not a human right……Not to mention this incident you wrote about happened last year when the military ban wasn’t in effect…..nor was the issue with birth control….So again….where was this systemic discrimination coming from….since I think it’s safe to say you weren’t referring to the prior administration….I’m not looking for an argument…I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from…..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My apologies for the long comment. I got a little carried away.

        First off, there’s nothing wrong with being a conservative or having some conservative opinions. Well, considering the discrimination was not against people with suicidal tendencies, it was against transgender people, that’s what makes it wrong. Now, if the military said “hey, we aren’t letting anybody in who we think is suicidal,” then that would be a bit better.

        Not paying for birth control isn’t discrimination, but denying women the right to birth control facilities and defunding organizations like Planned Parenthood through the ACA is tantamount to discrimination based on sex because the government is taking from women the option to care for themselves: they can’t pay for their healthcare if there’s nowhere to go to pay for it.

        The incident was last semester, around late February of this year. Before I mention a few instances of systemic discrimination, I want to clarify a point that I can see I actually could have made better. I’m not just talking about this one instance as why it’s wrong to discriminate in the classroom. I’m saying this instance was a really great example about why the fact that some politician somewhere believes something somewhere does not really make it political to believe the same thing. If Bernie Sanders like rum raisin ice cream, I’m not taking an anti-Bernie stance by saying I do not believe raisins have a place in my ice cream.

        First, The Wall that Trump wanted to build. I think that represents systemic racism in that his reasoning for building the wall does not just seem to be that he wants the border to be safer, he specifically seems to hate Mexico and anyone from there. Here’s a link to an article citing a few times he’s expressed some anti-Mexico sentiments. http://time.com/4473972/donald-trump-mexico-meeting-insult/

        Around the incident with the student, Trump also issued his first Travel Ban, the one that was cancelled by the supreme court because of religious discrimination. Again, this is an instance in which discrimination is not at the local level, it’s systemic.

        This is exactly where I’m coming from. I appreciate that you’re not looking for an argument, and I hope this clarifies some of my thinking.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually do think he was trying to be funny, but it’s the fact that his humor also targeted another student. I definitely don’t think this student was a monster, just that what he did was wrong–even if it wasn’t intended to be.

      Thank you! I may write about some of the harder parts of teaching, but it really is a great job.


  2. I enjoyed this post and appreciate what you were saying. I have a lot of strong opinions on these kinds of topics, but maybe, rather than cluttering up your post with a long and boring comment, I’ll write a long, boring post or two on such matters.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have no idea if this would help you, but I think it would be very helpful for you to look at ancient Greek philosophy again (I assume you have seen it in undergrad). Plato’s The Republic is a good start. I’m saying this because Socrates basically vilified all politics and attempted to always maintain an a-political stance, which kinda sorta got him executed. I see your position as similar to Socrates’ (without the execution, thank goodness!), so reading the old dialogues might help you find the solution to the conundrum you’ve created. Then again, it could be a huge waste of your time.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I try to stay out of politics myself, although I do believe you and I would likely find ourselves at odds on several issues anyways. I have to say though, in this, I agree with you 1000%! Being a giant jerkface is pretty much a bipartisan issue, unfortunately. Angry, close-minded, hostile people can be found in every political issue on every side of things. And in politics, religion, or any other tricky subject, being an unmitigated ass is the surest way to turn someone off of your views and entrench them in their own.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love what you’ve written here, and I must say I also really love your response to that guy whose comment had… a lot of…..ellipses…haha. Anyway, as a pretty liberal, left-leaning queer woman of color myself, it is such a struggle to not respond incoherently with angry snorts and smacking of MAGA hats when I encounter people who say bigoted things like your student, so I really admire how you’re handling this! Very often with issues like birth control and the transgender military ban, I feel like it boils down to you either hate people for no good reason, and hate them enough to deprive them of certain things, or you do not hate people – and it’s always hard for me to try to explain to people why they shouldn’t be a bigot when it’s so obvious to me that, you know, it’s just a Nice Human Being thing to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks!

      Honestly, that guy wasn’t as bad as I expected. I haven’t read the post he wrote about it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

      I’m glad you liked the post, and it was definitely hard not to just launch into rage and shouts. I’m pretty sure I lost a bit of my smile from grinding my teeth so hard reading some of right’s perspectives.

      It feels weird to have to explain to people why it’s not right to be a bigot, but I guess that’s where we are now.

      Your comment was one of the more pleasant things I came back to after my little hiatus. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have noticed how the left damns all opinions that are not their own. I wonder why they are so threatened by others opinions especially when it’s the truth? It appears that those who become over educated in these times, have very odd and intolerant beliefs, maybe superiority complexes? That student made a very valid point. If a man would say “I feel a woman” when he clearly is not one and then another say “I feel like a butterfly” when he is clearly not one, even in sarcasm to point out the truth, I don’t get why you chose to see it as hostile and not amusing. The hypocrisy of the left is amazing for a group that claims to be above the “deplorables.” To share a different opinion is not hate but to accuse and get angry against those who don’t think like you is. I find it odd that the left does not see the threat they are to many with all their odd and hypocritical beliefs. Many men are threatened by other men who don’t want to be what they are but liberals are taught only their feelings and thoughts count, not the way they make others feel. This is wrong but liberals are a very selfish hedonistic bunch that lives on “urges” rather than doing the right thing. “If it feels good, do it.” Battle cry of the 60’s. Liberals are the biggest bigots of them all. Was that kid rude? Yes, but the first one needs to know there are those just like him out in the real world and mommy and teach ain’t gonna be around to help him out. I come from Detroit and gangstas so all this “hurt feelings” crap is complete nonsense to me. Grow up, don’t share if it’s not safe, that’s how you stay alive in my world. Sorry for the rant!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not gonna lie, a few weeks ago I read the first line of this comment and I immediately stopped caring about it, but now I see that you’re absolutely right. I AM guilty of demonizing some opinions I don’t share, but I’m not about to apologize because those opinions are worth damning. I’ll go on record in any platform in any context and say that prejudice, which you seem to be defending because that is the only thing I attacked, is well-worth damning. If, as you say, I’m “threatened by others opinions especially when it’s the truth,” then the truth you seem to be defending is prejudice. If prejudice is the truth for you, then perhaps it’s time for you to rethink what has led you to this place of pathetic intolerance.

      You mention that the “over educated” have “very odd and intolerant beliefs” or even “superiority complexes.” Good point! I do genuinely think I’m better than bigots. I bet I could demolish one in a game of scrabble, and I find every part of their ideology stupid and utterly limited by what they believe in their rotten nougat center. Then you go on to say a prejudiced student was making a valid point. Golly, you just can’t stop defending intolerable acts! Imagine, for a second, if the student I talked about had said something racist. That kind of thing is pretty intolerable, which I hope you’d agree with. The situation in my class was similar because it was hate directed at a person’s identity. Race, gender, sexuality, all are parts of identity. I also wonder why you think it invalid for my student to feel feminine? Is your argument that transgender people don’t exist? You mention that I fail to see opinions that aren’t mine, but you fail to acknowledge that people that aren’t like you even EXIST. The hypocrisy of the right is pathetic.

      You bring up the strange point that “liberals are taught only their feelings and thoughts count, not the way they make others feel” which is just a weird point. How selfish are you to live your life in a way that, when seeing someone who has been marginalized finally express the courage to just openly exist, you respond with but it makes me feel weird! Why are your feelings any more important than those of anybody else? Nobody is important. Nobody is special. You’re not important, and neither is my student, but nobody deserves to be ridiculed and discriminated against because of their identity.

      My favorite line from your comment is this: “Liberals are a very selfish hedonistic bunch that lives on “urges” rather than doing the right thing.” It’s my favorite because it shows perfectly your entire opinion and how everything “liberal” you encounter will immediately be interpreted through this laughably biased, totally silly lens. Was I acting on my “hedonistic” urges when I told my students to stop discriminating against each other? Was I being a hedonist when I taught the class anyway? Was I surrendering to my base urges when I never once let the toxic ideas of those students influence how I evaluated them in class? I did my job. My syllabus demanded I discipline bigotry, so I did. Is that the right enough thing for you? Or is it right to join in, bully a student just because those ideas exist somewhere in the world? I’ve no doubt you agree that there is hate in the world, but does the existence of racism in the world mean it HAS to be in my classroom? There are dogs and corn out in the world too, but I don’t let dogs in my class, and it’d be kind of weird if someone started eating a corn on the cob while I’m teaching about argument structures.

      And finally, maybe to establish your credibility and leave us with an explanation of how you are an authority, you tell us you came from Detroit and have an intimate understanding of “gangstas.” I’m going to be frank. I don’t give a fuck what you think. I don’t give a fuck what the gangstas in Detroit think. If a gangsta from Detroit came into my classroom and acted like a bigot, I’d do exactly the same as I did for my student. Then, I’d probably ask them to take my other class because a Detroit gangsta would probably have some interesting non-fiction to write.

      You also mention that I should grow up. If growing up means I become a callous bigot like you, then I’m going to Peter Pan the hell out of my life and spend my eternity reveling in my absolute disdain for people like you.

      All the best,


      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have not gone through the comments section just yet, but from what I can see, this post of yours has sparked some controversy or more like, debates. And I applaud you for that, for speaking your (political) mind, especially since I can’t seem to think of anything that infuriates me more than bigotry. I am particularly impressed that you touched upon the issue of gender since it has been of personal and academic interest to me for a while now. The best of luck with your research this year, it sounds like something I would love to delve into!

    Also, I think the last line sums up pretty well the current “State of the Union”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it seems a few people disagreed with me, which was fun. Gender has been becoming of increasing personal and academic interest for me lately so it’s hard to resist mentioning it. I’m glad you liked the post! It feels good to be back

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Do keep me updated on the status of your research 🙂 And keep speaking up against bigotry. For every person disagreeing with you there will always be some people who will appreciate what you’re trying to do. We all know the fight is much needed these days.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. You nailed it. The ad hominem fallacy has become de rigueur, and liberal and conservative ideologies have collapsed into one point: “My opponent is an asshole.” I was a liberal for decades, but now I find myself equidistant from all points on the spectrum. (Yes to your teaching style — we should train students to write good arguments, including political ones, without making them take “our” side. Best in fact if students can take different sides and feed off of each other for counter-arguments. If they want to know “my” politics, they can meet me for a beer of coffee outside of class time.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m all for teaching students to develop their arguments, to learn to be analytical, and to teach them to defend their own ideas against whoever might attack them. I make rhetoric a huge part of my curriculum because it’s just too important not to teach. I don’t care about their politics as long as they are decent people and can think well and defend their ideas.

      I’m glad you liked the post!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Honestly, that “Attack Helicopter” joke is one I’ve used when I’m with my friends. But there’s a time and a place for that sort of thing. That guy was clearly trying to make that student uncomfortable and that’s not cool. Personally, I would never say a joke like that to someone unless I knew the person and I knew specifically that they wouldn’t mind me making a joke like that.

    Nice post! Politics can sometimes get really damn messy.


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