Mentoring Discussion Series

Jesse George-Nichol's picture

Mentoring Discussion Series, Question 8: 

How do you incorporate current events into your teaching?  Do you address things like campus protests and violence in the classroom, and, if so, how?

Thank you to everyone who has participated in our discussion series so far.  We hope that you will continue to do so and make this a useful forum for discussion for the hundreds of scholars on the H-SAWH listserv.

A new discussion question will be posted in this series every two to three weeks.  You can suggest a discussion topic or question here.  There are also excellent essays on a wide variety of mentoring-related topics available in H-SAWH's mentoring toolkit.

I primarily teach freshman composition which is a rhetoric/argumentation based course so I bring current events into almost every discussion in order to get them engaged. I begin my courses, however, with a statement that we will respect all viewpoints and will debate all sides but hate speech and bullying will not be tolerated (it's in my syllabus as well and I have students sign something saying they have read and understand the syllabus and will abide by all parameters). Many of my students are conservative (I am not) so I know that I am prodding them to think differently; but at the same time, I stand by each student's right to free speech. I have even physically positioned myself next to the student who is saying something controversial and counter to the majority just to "show" them that I will defend their right to debate. We often agree to disagree but I'd like to think they realize the importance of informed discussions. I insists, however, that no matter what position on a given topic a student is taking, they must provide supporting evidence. This helps with teaching them research methods as well. I want them to make well informed decisions based upon multiple sources. Many times students realize how important word choice is when defending a position and that is when I feel I've actually taught them something useful.

For me, no topic is off limits as long as it remains a discussion/debate. If I have a student make a comment that is offensive, threatening, etc, I will cut them off by reminding them that academic discussions are about debating and examining all positions, not personal attacks. There's always a risk involved when you open up discussion to current events, but at the same time I believe risk taking is a large part of the academic endeavor. That's my two cents.