Sarah Salinas, a student in my European history class, sent me this above picture a week ago. It shows my door that illustrates a few things about me. It’s funny that she sent me this, seeing that I have been recently thinking about how one’s office, office door, and class room reflects a teacher’s perspective towards politics, race, gender, religion, and the environment. I have everything from a post card of Frida Kahlo’s depiction of Marx and Trotsky, to a quote by Ralph Ellison depicting race in America. Below, I used to have a sign stating that I miss Bill…but that was removed after the 2008 November elections And, there is my environmental note, a reminder to me as I approach the copy room to be wise and double side each handout. Although I actively recycle, I too am responsible for the death of trees. Furthermore, as many of my students know, I am a pacifist; I guess I should have been at the Kellogg-Briand Pact meeting in which the great powers denounced war as an instrument. But there are the fun things too. Case in point: My department chair placed a “I Heart Blogging” sticker on my window, just beside my Sierra Club sticker. I am no hippie, but it is fun to play one from time to time. Across the hall, my colleague and HCHS government teacher — Suzan Phenicie, has a sign posted that notes the 1988 election of Republican George H.W. Bush.
In his article, The Office Doors of the North American Professor, James Lang states that:
We have often noticed, as we stroll down the hallways of academic buildings, how the doors of the faculty beckon to us — with whispers and insinuations, exhortations and declamations, jeers and jests — via a motley collection of decorations: cartoons, articles, quotations, posters, advertisements, photographs, and artwork.
What motivates such postings by that increasingly threatened species, the North American professor? How do those office doors reflect upon the professors or the disciplines in which they study and teach? To whom are the collections of postings addressed?….Despite the plausible explanation, we decided not to hang onto that hypothesis in the face of patchy evidence. We shifted instead to the more mundane possibility that office doors simply reflect the personalities of the faculty members. During the height of the recent battles with Iraq, a junior historian posted a new body count on his door every day, listing the total number of Americans and Iraqis killed. His colleague two floors up, an arch-conservative junior theologian, still has posted on his door a full-page, color newspaper picture of workers hoisting an American flag in the rubble of the World Trade Center. “Remember,” intones the headline. Above that image, an article proclaims: “Bush to lead National Day of Prayer.”
Although there is a major shift to keep politics and ideology out of the classroom, I do believe there is a healthy place for it. As is the case in the courses I teach, I do my best to construct a course that is as objective as possible; however, to assume that absolute objectivity is possible is silly. Thus, in promoting a discussion about various schools of thought as it relates to the historiography or recent trends of thought, I find it important that students be placed in a position with some acquired knowledge to challenge me and that of others. I realize the scope and extent of my knowledge is extensive, but I do believe it is important for students to use what has framed their political socialization to offer an opinion. The challenge comes when we offer our opinions and judgments about others who are absent from the discussion. This is a difficult thing for many to understand. David Horowitz, an academic and neoconservative who was once a member of the New Left, constructed what he calls the Student Academic Bill of Rights; it outlines eight basic points that should be followed by teachers. Let me say that I do agree with Horowitz here, but disagree with his claim that a teacher’s own politics, beliefs, and norms have no place in the classroom. That defies the notion of political socialization; it is inherently a natural part of all people. Now, such faculty views should never be used to indoctrinate nor punish a student that has a different viewpoint.
As noted here, his points state:
All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.
- No faculty member will be excluded from tenure, search and hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.
- Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.
- Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.
- Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.
- Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers programs and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.
- An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated.
- Knowledge advances when individual scholars are left free to reach their own conclusions about which methods, facts, and theories have been validated by research. Academic institutions and professional societies formed to advance knowledge within an area of research, maintain the integrity of the research process, and organize the professional lives of related researchers serve as indispensable venues within which scholars circulate research findings and debate their interpretation. To perform these functions adequately, academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry.