Around the Web: Personal Boundaries

What’s the role of a teacher’s emotional and political life in the classroom?

Several columns at the Chronicle of Higher Education reflected on some aspect of this question recently.

Prof Hacker described the value of sharing your own passions and frustrations with your students: it makes the material, and the challenges of tackling it, more real to them. You obviously shouldn’t spill your guts every class, but if something affects you deeply, give your students a chance to empathize, and perhaps also to disagree. Another article argued that being honest about your personal views is crucial to promoting political diversity on campus; the challenge is to make sure you air your views without turning them into presumptions that define your classroom.

Outside of the classroom, Tenured Radical asked: what’s the role of the professional intellectual in political protests? Heartfelt thoughtfulness is an increasingly rare commodity these days: Journalist’s Resource reported on a study that showed how much “outrage discourse” in the media interferes with meaningful communication.

Meanwhile, thoughtlessly excessive disclosure can also a problem, especially on the part of students. Back at the Chronicle, the Brainstorm blog posted an etiquette lesson for students who use oversharing to excuse bad work, and an article considered the real damage caused by ever-increasing student discourtesy during lectures. At, Liz Dwyer wondered if such discourtesy will mean the demise of the lecture altogether.

A solution may be in the works: a series of papers presented at the American Enterprise Institute argue for the resurrection of civics in education. Harvard professor Meira Levinson coordinated the research, and the papers will be published by the Harvard Education Press next year. Lessons in civics is exactly what the population of Egypt needs—suddenly flooded with uncensored news, people are still learning how to process it all—and American University is figuring out how to respond to the needs of “an entire country of people who are students”.

The personal—our hopes, fears, biases, and silly foibles—is important, in the way that factual knowledge is crucial to skills acquisition. (Time ran a post this week about how digital literacy requires real knowledge about the world, not just a checklist for assessing the legitimacy of a webpage.) If we teach skills in a way that assumes they are purely abstract competencies rather than processes deeply intertwined with the knowledge they manage, our students won’t do as well. Simply put, if computers aren’t the answer, neither is a fully neutral teacher.

This post was written by Odile Harter.

One thought on “Around the Web: Personal Boundaries

  1. I’m personally considering the teaching profession some time in the future and it’s stuff like this that really bring to mind both what I experienced in my own college and what I need to think about before I actually start studying to get a license.

    Let me just say that America isn’t the only country with colleges that describe the above scenarios in their classroom. I for one had a professor who took every opportunity (and every outlet his teaching position granted him) to express his political views. This resulted in him being viewed as a very lax teacher but at the same time, he piqued everyone’s interest because it really did make his teaching more natural. I can attest that, lax it may be at first glance, it was a better learning experience for me overall. (Although, I suspect the size of a class might play a role too.)

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