Happy Easter! With the holiday weekend in full effect, we thought it was a perfect time to talk about sharing personal beliefs in your classes. How many of you openly share your religious and political views in your classes? Is this something you are comfortable doing?
Controversial topics, like religion, politics, and even money, can be uncomfortable to discuss with colleagues, family, and friends. In our profession, it can also be rather uncomfortable sharing this information with students. We were raised with the understanding of time and place when discussing these matters. It is sometimes hard to gauge what your audience knows, thinks, or believes. Therefore, we learn to tread lightly around these topics, because discussions can quickly become heated and feelings can be easily hurt.
Controversial topics often come up in class discussions. Maybe the topic is part of the curriculum. A student may pose a question that addresses a topic of controversy. Or maybe as the instructor, you pose the question as a way to generate discussion. As an educator, there are times when you will need to present impartial views as this allows students to evaluate information and come to their own conclusion – form their own opinion – on a topic. There will be other times when it will be just as important to share your own personal perspectives and the criteria you used to cultivate your views. For example, a justice studies faculty member supporting ex-convicts right to vote or a faculty member sharing personal religious beliefs. Perhaps, you have thought about sharing information (or you have shared information) and questioned whether it was the right thing to do – “Is this information ok to share in my class?”
Questions To Ask Before You Share
There are a number of ways to approach controversial topics. Begin the semester by cultivating a climate of respect. Teach students to appropriately express their personal opinions on topics.
When a topic of controversy comes up, you should consider and determine if and how to address the topic. You may deem this topic is better to avoid. If this is something that needs to be share and discussed, the questions below can assist in gauging the appropriate amount of information to share.
- Is it relevant to the course and/or course material being discussed?
- Do I feel comfortable sharing this information?
- What would it sound like if this were to be shared outside of the classroom?
- Why am I sharing this information?
- Am I creating a hostile environment for my students?
- Is this helping my students learn?
One of the most difficult things to negotiate is how much you should share regarding religious beliefs. I am a Christian, and I’ve wondered how much to share with my students. After nearly a decade of teaching, I believe in being authentically myself. I do not impose my beliefs on my students, but I do share who I am with them. I talk about going to church, praying, and observing holidays like Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. I have taught for both private and public institutions and have prayed with students in both settings. Often, the students I pray with have approached me, but on the occasions when I did invite a student to pray with me, I noticed artifacts, such as a cross necklace or tattoo, that lead me to believe he/she would be open to my invitation.
It is important to familiar yourself with university policies as well as the mission statement, doctrinal statement, and other documents that define your institution’s values. Also, if you’re not sure what is appropriate to share in class, make an appointment with your department chair or talk with a full-time faculty.
Consider the environment where you are teaching, the audience you are teaching, and who you are. Are there examples you can use to illustrate a topic that do not revolve around controversy? Will sharing this particular example stir up a problem? Will failing to share cause you discomfort, because you are not being true to yourself? This is definitely a topic to consider sooner rather than later, because it is only a matter of time before a controversial topic comes up in your class.
Are there specific strategies you use to address topics of controversy and personal beliefs? Share your strategies below.