Invite a Conservative to Class Week

[Crossposted on Free Exchange on Campus]

In a couple of weeks (starting October 22, I believe), the David Horowitz Freedom Center is sponsoring something called “Islamo Fascism Awareness Week,” something my Moslem students (and I have a number) look at in confusion and with a certain amount of horror. The promoters of the “Week” claim they aren’t concerned with all Moslems, but that doesn’t make my students sleep any better at night.

Keeping in the spirit of that “Week,” with its events on quite a number of college campuses, I would like to propose another “Week,” “Invite a Conservative to Class Week.” It could even go on at the same time. After all, David Horowitz, Melanie Morgan, Rick Santorum, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Michael Medved will all be on campus someplace. Unfortunately, I suspect there isn’t time to coordinate that (if you are a professor, however, and any of them is coming to your campus, perhaps you could extend an invite). So we would probably have to schedule it for later.

It’s really starting to get to me, that so many of these people who talk about education—and who will venture onto campus only if they are the ones talking—speak so knowingly about education without having darkened a classroom door themselves in years. And, even then, most of them entered simply as students. Few of them have ever tried to run a course, let alone an individual class meeting; few of them have even watched a classroom in action, outside of a student’s chair.

I have had a standing invitation to David Horowitz for years. He demurs (though that may be changing—if so, good for him!), though I have assured him that he would be introduced politely as a guest and that he could join into any class discussion if he wished. I wouldn’t want him to lecture or take over the class—that would defeat the purpose—but I would love for him to interact with students. That, I think, would be eye-opening for him. And my students might learn something, too.

In general, most members of the rightwing punditocracy speak of education with all the familiarity of someone pontificating about baseball without ever having seen a game, only having read newspaper reports. There are lots of statistics there, and descriptions, but they are not the real thing. Neither are syllabi. Nor course descriptions.

To use these alone to pass judgment, to do so without ever experiencing the classroom, is intellectually dishonest. We professors need to help our conservative brethren outside of the universities avoid that.

They may argue that they don’t need to learn about what goes on in class, that they already know enough. We teachers have heard this before, too, and sigh. How can one know that one knows enough if one hasn’t experienced the very thing itself? I mean, it’s not as though visiting a class is like tasting poison! It can’t hurt the pundits but, at the same time, they can’t know that it won’t help them.

By inviting conservatives to our classrooms, we can show how proud we are of what we do. We can stop being quite so defensive. We can point to our own work and say, “See? We educate!”