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Topics for Teaching

July 27, 2007

The other day my fifteen year old son was on a site devoted to banned books.  I think he may have been searching for his next read having just finished Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov.  He talked about a book banned from a middle school library because it would teach the children about bad language, cheating, and sex.  He remarked that they already knew that.

That incident led me to think about my own choice of topics.  I encourage my communication class to debate any topic they find interesting and make persuasive speeches on topics that have personal meaning for them.  They do a pretty good job with the more personally meaningful ones leading to the better speeches.  On the other hand, when I choose topics for discussion based on lectures I choose, I tiptoe around political, religious, and sexual issues. 

I avoid politics because I don’t want to get on a soap box or be accused of trying to inculcate a political point of view that my students have to satisfy to pass the class.  Students occasionally address political topics in their speeches, so I don’t want them trying to satisfy me or trimming their sails from fear of offending me. 

Because so many of my students come from diverse religious backgrounds, I do not comment on religion or make it a focal point of discussions.  In part, this is because I teach at a state community college.  Long ago when I taught at a catholic university, I felt more comfortable making religious connections since I could assume some shared background. 

Sexual topics make for good persuasive speeches and debates, and I encourage students to tackle these topics.  I also invite a speaker who talks frankly about HIV/AIDS.  However, I find myself a reluctant participant in discussions about sexual issues.  I would not choose a lecture on a sexual issue such as gay rights if I had as good a lecture on some other topic to build a lesson on.

Part of my tiptoeing around these issues comes from self censorship since I don’t want to have my name in the newspapers subject of a semi accurate story even if that is not very likely to happen.  Part of my tiptoeing comes from a fear of appearing condescending.  Also, aware of the power differential between students and teachers, I don’t want to discourage the students from expressing their ideas which they might do in order to get a better grade.

To get back to the anecdote about my son.  I wonder if my tiptoeing around these topics shows a lack of understanding of where my students are?   

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Karen Haines permalink
    July 30, 2007 8:02 am

    I’m a tip-toer round subjects as well. Some sort of innate PC skin perhaps? And my children are much more forthcoming than I in terms of what they will discuss. But the power differential you mention between teacher and student is something that I am aware of too.

    I’ve just started teaching on a different programme and with different students – looking forward to seeing what is appropriate and what works in a different class ‘climate’.

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