Observations from the Classroom

What follows is pure observation from my daily interactions with my young students (granted, I work in a red state with fairly conservative kids). The students have a reputation for being lazy and whiny (faculty perpetually complain about it – the irony is painful). And that reputation is deserved. However, I still get curious as to what my students actually think. Thus, I tend to bring up debates that are relevant to them and ask them to respond to both sides. A few examples:

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  1. Matthew K. Tabor

    Yep — live it. There’s one way to do this, and that’s to live it and be awesome. Thread after thread on here is about “HOW DO WE CONVINCE _____ AND EDUCATE THEM?!?!!!111″ when the truth is that you create a scenario where someone looks at you, sums you up, and thinks, “He’s got the right idea. I’m going to do that, too.”

    Love those projects, btw.

  2. AR

    The facts of life are conservative (Margaret Thatcher).  Discuss.

    And here is a prior list of this discussion:


    Also love the idea of showing some Milton Friedman videos… many available on youtube.  Thanks for your anecdotal classroom sharing… gave me a glimmer of hope on this increasingly freakish news cycle week.

  3. The King Prawn

    Our founders were the malcontent revolutionaries of their day, not grumpy old white guys. Their ideas were the counterculture to “the man” (who wore the crown.) They were the organizers of not only communities, but of a whole new nation. These are things our youth can relate to and latch onto. Teach the founders as they lived, not as they died.

  4. Sandy

    As much as possible, supplement your textbook with original sources and let those sources speak for themselves as you lecture on and discuss their meaning.   If you decide to have your students listen to someone like Milton Friedman, find another lecture or reading in opposition to Friedman.   I think that one of the most important points to get across to students is that experts disagree.

  5. Mr. Bildo

    Now, to be sure, this age group is ridiculously uninformed. Everyday I repeat to myself: They just don’t know. They just don’t know.

    A cynic might conclude that’s the case with the general electorate.

  6. Copperfield

    Well, your class sounds interesting… one I think my kids might enjoy.  You seem to be teaching them HOW to think, not WHAT to think.  Those critical thinking skills, if they stick with the students, should inevitably lead to a conservative outlook.  So, well done! 

    I guess I’d say ask questions that might lead them to immutable truths.  A few examples:

    Is a religious belief necessary to a free republic?  (Leads to Tocqueville.)

    Is wealth created, or is there a finite stock of it, the only relevant question about which is how it should be distributed? 

    Is political self interest somehow nobler than economic self-interest?

    What is more generous, to help someone with your own resources or with someone else’s? 

    What is the ad hominem fallacy? (I.e. calling someone a racist, sexist, homophobe is not an argument.) 

    What is the appeal to authority fallacy?  (I.e. saying most mainstream economists agree is not a valid argument.)

    Are people smart enough to run their own lives? 

    Is America really exceptional? (E.g. is it exceptional that America had slavery or that we joined the Brits to stamp it out utterly as an accepted institution in the world?)

  7. Pencilvania

    I love the Shark Tank exercise!

    Maybe a similar exercise to show why small government is better would be to pick a law, or make up a goofy law, and let one group argue how that law could be used for the common good and another to argue how it could be used against people.  The idea being, when the party who agrees with your viewpoint is in charge, you’ll like what they do with a law; when the opposing party is in charge, might they not use that same law to do things you don’t like?  Hopefully it would dawn on them that giving government too much power is not a good idea.

  8. Indaba

    The Milton Freidman video with how a pencil gets made is a great video and then debate free trade or jobs in other countries. Arguable, the whole pencil could get made in the USA.

    The issue is also effective government. The purpose of spending tax payer money is very different from spending your own cash.

    so with your Shark Tank example, give monopolu money to the 4 sharks but then add a government fund manager too – Solyndra is an example of a fund from the govt. I work with govt funds and they take forever to release a few million, not like your high roller Barry. They are spending tax payer money so it has to go to specifics.

    I think the biggest issue is Stop the Gravy Train. Self explanatory.

    The other issue is that we are all in a system. The govt is part of it but should not be all.

    The part that gets missed are the small businesses – under $100M. They are needed to grow the next Apple. But they do not have the money to lobby like the huge corporations. So GE ends up with no tax while a small company pays more than GE.

  9. Nick Stuart

    The subject is?? (Civics, political science, history, debate?)

    Outside readings in:

    • “Still The Best Hope” by Dennis Prager

    • Gulag Archipelago (short selections of course)
    • Declaration of Independence & Constitution
  10. Matthew K. Tabor

    To be honest, I find the “What can we give kids to read so they grow up to be Conservatives?” conversation pretty creepy. That approach simply isn’t necessary.

  11. doc molloy

    To borrow from my avatar education is the basis of law and order..

    “Indeed, no one in Shinbone seems to understand the meaning of the Declaration of Independence or the importance of a Constitution. The two dominant characters, Doniphon and Valance, seem to believe that the basis of rule is force alone. Ford makes it clear in this scene that it is only because men are equal that the people can be the boss…”

  12. J. D. Fitzpatrick

    As a teacher, I think one of the most helpful things you can do is to challenge their “presentism”–the belief that the current dispensation is right and inevitable. 

    Yesterday, I had a discussion with one of my 9th grade students who read Pride and Prejudice with me last year. Flipping her thoughts back to Lydia and Wickham, she asked, “So Lydia and Wickham are stuck in an unhappy marriage for the rest  of their lives? Why can’t they just split up?” 

    I explained that it was a mistake to think that our society was better just because we allowed divorce. I pointed out that no-fault divorce laws made it possible for husbands to break off twenty-year marriages with devoted wives just to remarry a younger, prettier woman–in some cases leaving the former wife with no job skills, as she had spent the marriage raising children. 

    I finished by saying, “I’m not saying that divorce is bad; I’m just saying that every perceived benefit also brings disadvantages. You should try to think about them.”

    That’s my twig against the flood, at least. 

  13. Western Chauvinist

    I know someone who teaches economics at the local community college. He projects the debt clock and the students’ portion of it while he lectures.

    Roughly 90% of people are visual learners. We can talk all day long, or we can scare the snot out of them and then see if they’re ready to listen.

  14. Rob Long

    Those kids are lucky to have you as their teacher, that’s for sure.  Wow.  Great stuff.

  15. Matthew K. Tabor

    Cognitive science disputes the ‘visual learning’ and ‘learning styles’ bit. It isn’t necessary to cater to a perceived preference to teach effectively.


  16. Retail Lawyer

    I’m not sure what you teach, but any beginning principles of economics prepares the intellect for conservative ideas.  So does the history of actual historical events like the American Constitutional Convention and the French Revolution.  No indoctrination required!

  17. Matthew K. Tabor

    +1 to that. These kids are in good shape.

    Rob Long: Those kids are lucky to have you as their teacher, that’s for sure.  Wow.  Great stuff. · 0 minutes ago

  18. Western Chauvinist
    Matthew K. Tabor: Cognitive science disputes the ‘visual learning’ and ‘learning styles’ bit. It isn’t necessary to cater to a perceived preference to teach effectively.

    http://youtu.be/sIv9rz2NTUk · in 1 minute

    Edited in 1 minute

    Oh, yeah, I agree. It’s a coarse way to talk about what people are capable of (although my daughter is blessed with amazing auditory memory, which helps her immeasurably in the classroom). But, you’d agree that the debt clock is a good visual aid and its implications for students’ future prosperity are profound, if not entirely proven, wouldn’t you?

  19. Glenn Howard

    Sandy has the right idea. When the playing field is level, it’s advantage— truth. It would be wrong to model your classroom on Fox News. But it would be far from wrong to model it on C-SPAN. Introduce your students to Ricochet AND FireDogLake and don’t slant it toward Ricochet at all. Robust reality only gleams more brightly when scoured with lye. But lies can’t survive lye, or even a scrub with Dove.

  20. Matthew K. Tabor

    Actually, I don’t think I would agree on the benefit of its use more than once along with a check-in down the line. There’s a tremendous risk with such an engaging visual like that — and that’s attachment. The last thing we need is kids who get it, get married to it and spend the rest of their lives thinking about it and complaining about it. It’s suboptimal; we need them to get it and move on as quickly as possible into doing something about it.

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