Post-Election, Keep Calm in the Classroom

Post-Election, Keep Calm in the Classroom
(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

American universities are at a fork in the road. In this messy, divisive aftermath of the general election, they will either take the path towards healthy intellectual debate and inquiry, or they will coddle and exacerbate the more immature tendencies of their student body. 

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Due, in part, to the overwhelming number of mail-in-ballots, we are now on day four of election day. And as leadership in Washington is anything but sober, divergent and antagonistic political narratives have emerged.

To the left, already certain of the dictatorial nature of the President, we are in the midst of a fascistic coup to undermine the democratic process. The Supreme Court is in his pocket and the military is on his side—the takeover may soon be upon us.

But to the right, the deep-state’s influence and the DNC’s cheap tricks mean these post-election events amount to an attempt to steal the election. After all, the Democrats pursued a bogus impeachment, doing everything they could to undermine the will of the people. 

These are the two kinds of narratives I suspect will play out through the rest of November. And in the context of this broader political animosity, our universities have a decision to make. One option is to promote something like activism—a permissiveness of unrest that will amount to the cancellation of classes and the promotion of broad campus demonstrations. But this is a mistake.

Students who are unsettled by this political uncertainty should not be coddled into thinking the best use of their time is waving a placard or chanting slogans. To do so would be to replace the purpose of education—that is, intellectual development and the practice of critical thinking—with the short-term desire for the self-gratification that comes from an Instagram photo-op.

And professors who are inclined towards activism shouldn’t use their students as political pawns by cancelling classes or turning their seminars into political rallies. To do so would be to replace the responsibility of an educator—to foster intellectual development and critical thinking—with the cynical view of educator as political agitator.

The kind of divergent political narratives that tear us apart occur when we become siloed from opposing viewpoints. Therefore, the university should be the place where different views and analyses of our current political environment can be aired and debated in a climate of honest inquiry and sobriety.

The university can be the perfect place for young people to confront these political uncertainties in a way that improves their capacity as thinkers and their roundedness as citizens. So long as these institutions are not a tool of political solidarity or partisan action, this month, students could experience some of the most rewarding and powerful debates and discussions of their academic careers.

Whatever occurs this election month, there should be a seat in every classroom where a contrarian viewpoint can be expressed. And all viewpoints expressed on campus should be open to challenge and disagreement, no matter the political orientation, implication, or context.

Our political institutions may seem like a drinking party that’s turning bitter and rapidly approaching a bar-fight, but our academic institutions need not follow them into the brawl. Let the politicians and unscrupulous pundits become drunk and feverish if they must. Perhaps the adults in the room can be our students. 

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