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Politics in the Classroom

In Education, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) on February 24, 2016 at 3:00 AM

Alana Butler is a Canadian graduate student studying at an American university.

She was taking notes one day in a social sciences research methods class — which has nothing to do with politics — when the professor introduced one of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign speeches for textual analysis. Nor did the professor hide the fact that he was an ardent Obama supporter. In fact, he openly praised Obama’s campaign and told the class the Illinois senator offered hope to America.

One of Butler’s fellow classmates, a Hillary Clinton supporter, was so offended that she dropped the course.

Since I was an Obama supporter, too, I was not offended by the professor but did wonder why he felt compelled to reveal his political allegiances to the class,” Butler says. “The campus is largely Democrat-leaning, but there are staunch Republicans. In a sociology seminar, students were excited and talked about a visit by Mike Huckabee as if he was a rock star!”

Would these sorts of things happen in Canada? Would a professor openly and enthusiastically proclaim support for, say, Stéphane Dion? And would a student drop a course because of it? Or are American classrooms more political than Canadian ones?

On the college campuses where I teach, discussion of the Canadian election expected later this year is close to mute.

Recently, when I asked one of my students what he thought about the Canadian political situation, he switched the conversation to the American election and discussed it as though he had the right to vote there. He plans on getting his degree, going to acting school — then hitting Hollywood to make it big.

Students of all backgrounds are more interested in talking about the American campaign. Colleagues tell me they have students in Canadian history classes who seem to think they are living in another state of the United States rather than a separate country with its own identity.

American politics is more interesting,” one student told me. “They have the front stage for the whole world. They are in the spotlight more often than Canada. With Barack Obama having the chance of being the first black president, and when Hillary Clinton had a chance of being the first woman president, that made it more interesting.”

The prospective actor, a member of my media writing class, revealed himelf to be a supporter of libertarian Republican Ron Paul, “who could have changed America and the world.”

Change the world. No Canadian politician can do that. They likely can’t even change Canada.

So it is not surprising that many young Canadians watch American news stations and websites in order to understand what is happening in the U.S. political arena rather than following Canadian politics.

The Ron Paul supporter did ask me my views were on American politics. Ron Paul was not ever on my radar when it came to the hope of America, however I am still a little stunned that 40 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s death who said “I have a dream,” his dream may become a reality if Barack Obama becomes president of the United States. No one could have predicted even the possibility of a black president in the White House. Honestly, I hope if he does win, nothing happens to him such as an assasination. These were my words about American politics, but then I switched the conversation to Canadian politics. I did the typical Canadian thing – I remained neutral and just discussed the election in general. Well ... at least he did not quit my class.

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