Disagreement in the Classroom

In our current political climate, disagreement on core issues is expected and common in the classroom. Students and professors come from different backgrounds and ideologies, and when this is acknowledged and valued, it enhances the classroom experience. However, the opposite is also true in that when there is no dialogue, only disagreement, the learning experience is degraded for all. 

    Within a classroom setting, specifically that of a university like Pepperdine, there is an authority afforded to the professors based on their experience in the field as well as their ability to help students grow. This authority can also be used negatively as professors use their own worldview to define their curriculum and grade their students. This becomes a problem when many of the professors are white, cisgender, heterosexual, and from upper-middle-class backgrounds, and the students they are teaching are not from these backgrounds. Students enter the classroom with entirely different perspectives of the world, but they find themselves to be openly called wrong in class because there is no effort to understand where they’re coming from. 

    This problem is especially prevalent for our students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and those from different socioeconomic backgrounds. For female-presenting students, the problems presented in these categories are often exacerbated by their gender, specifically when in the classroom with a male professor. These students have to watch their identities turn into discussion topics and opinions when this is their reality. To be in a classroom and have your identity blatantly disagreed with by a professor is not only humiliating but it’s also insulting. 

    Personally, as an opinionated woman, I’ve experienced this many times, but a recent experience in a class I will not name sticks out. In a class discussion, I brought up my complicated relationship with the church as a lesbian to help explain my personal argument for the separation of church and state. The professor in the class first interrupted me, and then told me I was wrong because, in their experience, this did not happen in the church. However, it was my life, there was no opinion in the matter for me. In an effort to express a personal experience, I was put down by the authority figure of our class in front of my peers simply because I did not have their worldview and had dared to explain my own. 

    For the types of students I previously mentioned, this is a daily occurrence in the classroom. We are forced to walk into classrooms with discussion topics that debate our right to exist, and then within the context of class, we are told that we do not matter. Professors promote inclusivity with phrases like “all opinions are valid” but for us, giving validity to opinions that attack our fundamental rights is insulting, specifically when it comes from our professors. Intersectionality in theory is praised by many of our professors, but many of them are too afraid to actually implement the concept. 

    The first step to solving this problem is for professors to acknowledge there are things they do not know and experiences that are real without their having to experience them. Students don’t expect their professors to be perfect, human error is a part of learning, however, the sideling and debate of minority worldviews can never be acceptable. Disagreement is necessary for dialogue, but there needs to be a transition in the classroom for healthy disagreement between professors and students, rather than antagonism. If professors celebrated the myriad of worldviews in their classes, rather than be intimidated by them, they would find the classroom experience enriched for all.