Staff Editorial: It’s called class, not CNN

“Before we start today’s lecture, did anyone catch how ridiculous Palin was in last night’s debate?”

If your professor started off class with a comment like this, chances are he or she offended someone. As much as everyone might be buzzing about the latest news story, professors need to think twice before opening up a can of political worms in the classroom.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the New York-based United Federation of Teachers is suing over a rule that bans them from wearing political pins in the classroom.

The lawsuit, against the New York City Department of Education and Chancellor Joel Klein, alleges that the rule violates the teachers’ free speech rights and stifles political discussion in the classroom. UFT President Randi Weingarten told the Post, “Students can only benefit from being exposed to and engaged in a dialogue about current events, civic responsibilities and the political process,” and he is correct.

A college setting obviously requires a different set of considerations, but Weingarten’s words still ring true. If a professor is going to bring politics into the classroom, it should be in the setting of an open, civilized dialogue.

It is OK for professors to identify and display their political leanings. Knowing where your professor stands could help contextualize their commentary and possibly create a better rapport.

Too often, though, politics are brought into the classroom via professors’ throwaway comments and jokes that are irrelevant to class material. While a professor may not think twice about taking a stab at a candidate’s debate performance in order to make themselves more personable, it can alienate and degrade students of different political persuasions. Such commentary has no place in the classroom.

If a professor chooses to introduce politics in an open discussion, he or she must facilitate the debate to ensure that all viewpoints are explained and considered, even if this means playing devil’s advocate.

Everyone is charged up about this election season, but in an educational environment, people also need to be aware of the views of others. Politics may be out of control all over the news and the gossip circuits, but the classroom should be the one place students can expect a balanced discussion.

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