Profs should moderate, not preach

William McMillan

I remember during one of the presidential campaigns a student asked if I was a Democrat or a Republican.

“I’ve lived long enough to know you are going to be screwed by both parties,” I replied.

The class laughed.

They were putting this teacher on the spot, trying to figure out where I was coming from politically. I was not being paid to tell them my thoughts about the world and the chaos surrounding it. I was just hoping before the semester ended to at least get them not to massacre the poor maligned apostrophe.

Now University of Michigan professor Susan Douglas is getting hammered for a piece she wrote in which her lead sizzled: “I hate Republicans.”

It sure got everyone’s attention. And that is what communication is all about.

Douglas said she was trying to make a point about polarization and says that the headline dwelt on the negative — and since has been changed online. (I was a headline writer at The Detroit News; everyone blames the poor headline writer).

Douglas, sadly, is being vilified. Sad. Hate breeds hate today. You are for or against. No shades of gray. How many even read her piece before making judgment?

I won’t get into her politics. That is her business. We have the right to free speech (as long as we are not hacked by North Korea).

It’s when those politics become the students’ business that I have a hard time. I do not know if Douglas bleeds her political thoughts into her classroom. I hope not.

Do some profs cross the line to pontificate their view of the world? Yes, some. Not all.

Students are paying big bucks to learn. Not about our ideology, but real tangible stuff. Like how to write. Even how to use an apostrophe.

Yes, we encourage critical thinking, but don’t steer their thinking.

Ferguson was a hot topic in my class. I was moderator, not opinion maker.

I fear some of my colleagues forget that. They have a captive audience. And yes, some have gotten into trouble before for foisting their views in class, both liberal and conservative.

My humble advice? Zip it. Go to the bar and wail about injustice, but don’t force it on your students. These are bright people who already have their world views. They don’t need to hear the ramblings of teachers at school. They can get them at home from Uncle Frank during the holidays.

I remember back in 1972 at Wayne State when my Sociology 101 teacher said we were all going to leave class and join a march down Woodward against the Vietnam War.

A classmate, who was working the night shift at an auto plant to pay his tuition, meekly raised his hand and asked if we were getting a rebate for the time we missed. You know the answer.

Civil debate in class is good. Civil debate in class is healthy. It spurs ideas, makes us learn that the other guy is not really that bad. That we are all part of the human family. Stifling the views of students — right, left or in-between — because we have the power to do so is abuse.

I just hope that no teacher — from first grade to grad school — is muffling any student so that teacher’s voice is the only one heard or allowed.

William McMillan is a retired assistant managing editor at The Detroit News who teaches at the University of Michigan’s Flint and Dearborn campuses and Wayne State University.

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