Now Open in Perspectives: An Open Letter to an Angry Parent

I’m watching discussion of the #myprofessor hashtag take off this week—sharing in the dismay and hoping these claims by students are wildly exaggerated. Even if they are, the phenomenon is a reminder of what results from the disconnect between students and teachers.

Perspectives_SeptAlexander Boulton didn’t see it coming. He’d had several friendly and informal conversations with a particular student, who seemed interested and engaged. But he found out through an e-mail from the student’s parent that, despite his attempts to balance differing viewpoints, his student may have viewed him, all along, as an overbearing, indoctrinating liberal.

His reply, published this month in Perspectives on History, covers what it means to teach history, what it means to think historically, what’s up for debate, and how to simultaneously respect and challenge students’ worldviews. We suspect many teachers will be able to relate to Boulton’s situation, and we’d be glad to hear how they handle these unexpected communications from parents and students.

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  1. Steven

    Bias is terrible in academics. Just because you think you attempted to balance other points of view, doesn’t mean you succeeded. The burden should be on the professor, as it is on the writer, to be understood; not on the reader or student. I’d also like to see the original letter, not only one side that’s deliberately reasonable. Perhaps if more professors were as open as this one seems to be (taking him at his word) and encouraged students to think, people wouldn’t feel they’re having politics shoved down their throats. Unfortunately, we’ve seen all dissent squashed and the Socratic ideal replaced by a memorize-and-repeat, monkey-and-pellet teaching. It’s great to hear anyone who really wants to hear other points of view. If people are worried about that, though, they should research a class beforehand if possible.

    1. Anne

      Well said, Steven. Too often professors (and this works for all ideologies) will present what they see as the “other” side. However, what they are presenting is what they’ve been told about “the other.” As a conservative, I have to laugh at the parody that is presented as “conservative thought” by people who aren’t conservatives. That’s why it’s a shame that Academia shuts out people who aren’t liberal, left-leaning Democrats. The best Poli Sci professor I ever had was a Visiting Prof who was a Libertarian. He encouraged open discussion without condescension, mockery or out-right dismissal of any viewpoint. Notice I said “Visiting Prof.” No way would the ultra-liberal faculty accept him into their ranks.

    2. Steve

      This is a good article and one that discusses an issue that plays out in thousands of college classrooms. In regards to Steven’s remarks to the original post, I believe you have to consider what a lot of students bring with them to class. A few years ago I taught an Intro to Philosophy course. Overall it was a good course with a lot of good discussions and I tried my best to give as balanced a view point, while all the while pushing them to think. On the last day of class one of my better students raises his hand and told the class that his pastor had warned him not to take my course, and that if he did, I, the evil professor, would brainwash him and lead him astray. He thanked me and said how happy he was that he took the course. The remarks regarding the pastor however show the mentality a lot of instructors deal with. Any attempt to expose students to a new perspective, new ideas, etc., is seen as inherently dangerous. While I have met a few horribly biased instructors, we cannot ignore the intellectual baggage that many students bring with them.