Thursday, May 15, 2008

Politics in Classroom?

Law professors are generally a pretty opinionated lot, and there's always a question of how much to bring one's own views into the classroom. This is especially true in a class with as many charged issues as constitutional law.

My classroom approach is to try to avoid proselytizing, on the rationale that the class isn't about me - it's about the Constitution.

Just the other day I received an anonymous e-mail from one of my students confirming this is the proper approach, at least for me. I'm grateful to this student for sharing the e-mail with me - this is about as good as it gets for a teacher....

With that person's permission, here's the e-mail:

"Now that the semester and finals are over I wanted to take a moment and thank you for your teaching methods this semester in Constitutional Law II. When I refer to your teaching methods, I am referring to your ability to stay politically neutral. Before I took your class this spring I was very concerned about your position on the political ideology scale. I had read your blog a couple times and to say the least, you and I are on opposite sides. Or to sum it up better, you despise President Bush and I believe that he is doing what he believes is best for our country. With Constitutional Law already being such a politically driven subject, I was actually considering not taking the class with you as the professor. In the past, throughout undergrad and lawschool, I have had an overwhelming majority of “liberal” professors and many (most) of them have in some way or another tried to persuade the class to believe as they do, and many of those were business classes which have no real political influence.

"Although a conflicting political viewpoint should never be a reason to avoid someone, if you are in a position to avoid it, most do. During this semester our class had many different discussions over many different topics and you did an amazing job as a mediator. Some professors believe that if they throw in a joke about both sides it clears the air about who they are really attacking, but most of the students in the room know what is really going on. You on the other hand did not do this a single time, you did not voice your opinion on any major controversies, and even with most trivial subjects you avoided giving the class your point of view. You allowed and encouraged class discussion on both points of views on every subject.

"This type of control is very hard to come by with any person, let alone a very political person teaching a very political class topic. Sorry for the rambling, but I am just trying to make sure you realize how much I appreciated you throughout the semester. You allowed me to focus on Constitutional Law, and not my personal objections to your beliefs and because of this, I feel I was able to grasp the content of the class. Even if in the end I did not do well on the final I believe that I understood the subject, and would recommend your Constitutional Law class to anyone.... Thank you again.

MSU Law Student, Constitutional Law II, Spring2008"