Ironically, while college administrators acknowledge the literal failures of higher education, they are loath to admit that political bias on the part of professors has anything to do with them, or even exists. The irony is multiplied when those instructors freely acknowledge using their classrooms to achieve political ends, rather than instructional goals.
“In the classroom, I situate myself as a materialist feminist teacher, working to help students understand the ways in which ideology and history are powerfully connected forces in our lives,” J. Elizabeth Clark writes in Radical Teacher. Radical Teacher bills itself as “a socialist, feminist and anti-racist journal on the theory and practice of teaching.”
An associate professor at LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York, Clark teaches Composition I and Introduction to the Research Paper. Both courses were routinely offered in high schools 30 years ago but now even professors such as Clark, tasked with teaching them, are reluctant to use class time to impart the remedial skills that, at least one university administrator estimates, three quarters of college students require.
That leaves American businesses spending hundreds of millions of dollars to give employees such training, according to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. Don’t expect Clark to lose any sleep over the transfer of this burden, which is ultimately borne by consumers and taxpayers. “Accordingly, I believe the classroom is a crucial activist space in my students’ lives, opening up time where they can make the connections their busy lives sometimes eschew,” Clark explains. “I begin this particular class by sharing with students that our class is based on four premises: everyday life is political; our individual, governmental, and collective actions impact society; art and literature play a crucial role in the history and conscience of a nation by recording ‘alternative’ histories and imagining different possibilities; and that the very best writing comes from a context where students are generative and not reiterative in responding to texts in the course.”
Clark also teaches an interdisciplinary course with sociologist Lorraine Cohen. The class gives both ladies a chance to take their act on the road, at least locally.
“We use our shared hour to take group field trips to local events like the 2003 Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride Rally and the Whitney Museum’s 2004 documentary exhibition, War: Protest in America 1965-2004,” Clark recounts. “We show films which further enrich students’ understanding of social movements such as the Eyes on the Prize (1987) series, Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), and And the Band Played On (1993), and we share two research papers which students write using the research paper skills they learn in my class and apply them to the history of social movements.”
If Clark thinks outside of the box, Jennifer Campbell cogitates from beyond the warehouse that the carton is in. Campbell also shared her pedagogical experiences with Radical Teacher.
“As a new professor in the growing Writing Studies program, I chose to offer two sections of a second-semester Critical Writing course: One section was titled ‘Women in America: Writing toward Public Voice,’ and the other, ‘Confronting Crime: Writing Toward an Understanding of Criminal Justice and Race in America,” Campbell writes. “I devoted one section to Criminal Justice majors, even though I am not expert in the field myself because it seemed to me that young police-officers-in-training are a vital contact point for bringing about change in one of America’s most powerful and persuasive institutions with a direct impact on how racial difference is perceived and experienced on a daily basis.”
Campbell teaches at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Her writing course is a required one. “I feel through all the papers and the research, I am truly close to being an expert on juvenile justice without actually being one,” Megan Bradley, one of Campbell’s students wrote in an evaluation that the professor reproduces. “This is actually helpful to me because I am going into a field where I need this information and want to implement the programs I talk about in my final paper, so I think this was a great class and the concept behind it really influenced me and I think I will take it with me on my way to hopefully changing a few things in the system.”
Look out, system!
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.