Mona Lisa frowns

Today’s female students resist the political readings of their professor, writes Rhonda Garelick, who teaches French and Italian at Connecticut College. It’s just like the ’50s!

Despite some reawakening of student activism via Howard Dean’s Internet-based campaign, in my experience, attempts to introduce contemporary politics into classroom discussions meet with blank stares. Even this past year, as our country began a war, I encountered mostly silence when I broached the topic of Iraq, a mix of paralysis and anxiety, plus some disgruntlement over my deviating from the syllabus.

But each year, frankly, I feel increasingly compelled to look beyond my syllabuses and to devote myself more to teaching “wakeful” political literacy: the skills needed to interrogate all cultural messages. Students need to be able to mine the implications, for example, of a “Family Time Flexibility Act” which, while claiming to help women balance home and family, might have actually decreased overtime pay. They need to look critically at a presidential address that divides the world into opposing halves labeled “with us” and “with the terrorists.”

Does it take a French professor to teach that there’s a tradeoff between flexible work hours and overtime? In my newspaper days, we wrote about these issues without thinking our readers were “interrogating” cultural messages.

Via Inkwell.

About Joanne


  1. Another prof who thinks that her job is to indoctrinate her students.

    She teaches French! And she’s arrogated to herself the duty to indoctrinate her students in feminism.

    She should be told to do her job, or she should be dismissed from that job.

  2. Oh, these silly young womyn and their failure to be properly politicized!

    But seriously – ‘syllabuses’? No one at the NY Times choked on that one?

  3. Michael Stach says:

    Of course in France there is no difference between the terrorists and the government. If we could just teach coeds to be as enlightened as the Chirac govt the world would be a happy place. I wonder if her students ever get to verb conjugations?

  4. As a professor of linguistics, it is not my job to indoctrinate anyone politically in any way whatsoever. I keep my politics to the blogosphere, to my site and to comments like this one. Period. I do not tell any students my URL. If they find it on their own and like what they see (it has happened), fine. If not, whatever.

    When students come to me with Leftist ideas (probably assuming that I’m “good” like other professors), I try to stay as neutral as possible. They are adults who should be free to make up their own minds. Although I may disagree with them, it would be an abuse of my authority to tell them what to think in areas beyond the scope of my classes.

  5. John form OK says:

    I can sleep better tonight knowing that French teachers are busy saving the world.

    And as a sensitive male, I feel guilty that women are not given flexible hours AND overtime AND paid maternity leave AND comperable worth allowances AND tax breaks AND free day care AND hiring preferences. Now will at least one of you dump your “with us or against us” abusive boyfriend and parlez vous with me? Valentines day is coming and I need a date to take to the Vagina Monologues.

  6. Hey, if she does it IN FRENCH it’s fine. Me, I spent most of intermediate conversation reading articles in Paris Match and talking about the British Royal Family — hardly substantive, but it gave me a great vocabulary when it came time to read about medieval royal families!

  7. Hey, I’d be ticked if I signed up for a French class, and the teacher instead wanted to preach her political philosophy.
    Professor, remember who’s paying your salary.

  8. Geoff – Last spring I heard from my ticked off daughter on more than one occasion when her Indian art professor at UVA spent the first 10-15 minutes of almost every lecture talking about the evil Bush cabal. Not only was he unapologetic, she got the impression that he felt pleased he was setting them straight. She wanted her tuition money to go to course material. Silly girl!

  9. Has anyone heard of a professor or teacher imposing *right wing* views in class? It’s not theoretically impossible and it must be happening somewhere, but I can’t think of any case offhand, and I’m surpised the media doesn’t play up such stories more.

    “Hey, if she does it IN FRENCH it’s fine.”

    Well, yes, if she’s giving students authentic French writings about the Iraq issue and telling students to debate the issue in French, that’s fine, but if she’s telling them what to think about Iraq in any language, then that’s where I draw the line.

  10. Sean Kinsell says:

    “Does it take a French professor to teach that there’s a tradeoff between flexible work hours and overtime?”

    I noticed in college that PC-left professors really, really detested trade-offs of any kind. Every circumstance that required people to prioritize among worthy but mutually exclusive goals was cast as a way our hegemonic culture forces us into dysfunctional no-win situations. (Presumably, there’s a way of ensuring that life is an endless river of satisfied whims and undashed expectations, as long as we stick it to rich white men sufficiently.) You can imagine the piquant blend of resentment and pity with which those who maximized the wrong options were regarded.

  11. Wacky Hermit says:

    I indoctrinate my students with my right-wing views! But only before or after class and at break time. And it’s not much of an indoctrination, since I already teach at a university that is practically a Branch Campus at the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies. I have some students that are so stridently right-wing that they make me look like a bleedin’ heart.

  12. Ken Summers says:

    To add to Geoff’s and Doug’s comments: Could it simply be that people who pay actual, hard-earned money to take a particular subject really do want to study that subject?

    Back in the 70s, when I was at UCSC, it was very chic to boycott classes to make political statements (usually having nothing to do with the class). Practically without exception, the ones who did so were rich or upper middle class kids going to school on daddy’s dime (and almost uniformly white because for all its “diversity” talk, Santa Cruz was a pasty white campus at the time). Everyone who came from a lower income household or was putting themselves through school attended all the classes.

  13. Richard Brandshaft says:

    “Has anyone heard of a professor or teacher imposing *right wing* views in class?”

    Yes. When I was in school, the faculty was more conservative than the students. The weirdest thing about being old is seeing history I am old enough to remember deleted or changed before my eyes.

    And today, there is a lot of talk about “scientific” economics, which actually means conservative economics.

    There is no such thing as “right wing views” to a conservative, or “left wing views” to a liberal. They are just trying to teach the younger generation hard-learned common sense. It’s the other side that is indoctrinating students.

  14. What professional career pays “overtime”? Get real, honey. If I got “overtime” for all my extra hours, I’d be richer. But I ‘d be a blue collar worker, not a TV director. And I know which job is lot more fun.

  15. “Has anyone heard of a professor or teacher imposing *right wing* views in class?”

    I teach standard market-based economics and from some of the looks on my student’s faces, they must think I’m some sort of right-wing kook!

  16. Walter Wallis says:

    The 4-10 plan, where workers could work ten hours at straight time for 4 days, then get a 3 day weekend, was trading 4 hours pay for a 20% reduction in commute and a 50% increase in days off. Not a bad deal for someone who lives in Tracy and works in San Jose. And, let’s face it – the boss gains little since scheduling problems can occur when no one wants to work Friday but positions need to be covered.
    The democrats “protected” workers against such a choice.

  17. Richard, what my daughter paid for was Indian art history, not to be a member of a captive audience listening to one person’s view of current U.S. politics. So spin it however you want about how old you are, how many cycles you’ve seen, that it’s hard learned common sense, which side of the aisle it’s coming from – none of that excuses what he was doing in the least. Nice try, though.

  18. I’m a former French teacher who had second thoughts about his career upon meeting a doctoral student in French who could speak not a word of French. This was over thirty years ago, in Sydney.

    Now it seems that the teachers are having problems with their first language. Would someone please tell me what “wakeful” political literacy is, with or without its inverted commas? And how am I to interrogate a single cultural message, let alone all? And how does one go about mining implications?

    Traduction, s’il vous plait!