The Professor Docked My Grades Because of My Politics

Ok, I am sure that this can happen. Everything else in the world does.

Because I teach theory, however, I face this particular problem–“you don’t like my politics so I am getting a bad grade”– all the time. I teach both Hayek and Marx (sometimes) during a given year; I say sometimes because I get bored, and there are a lot of urban and planning theorists to learn about Marx or Hayek from. That’s more true with Marx than with Hayek.

So in reality, I don’t care what theorist you draw from to form a position, I just want you to form a reasoned argument. The problem is that today’s civic culture (and not a small amount of journalism) does not differentiate between reasons and opining. A theory professor should.

Most of the time, students skim the books I offer them to work from and then take up an essay filled with vague impressions and uninformed opinions–and then they get a poor score and they blame me and my politics. “These neighborhoods are full of drug addicts. People who think we should support the poor don’t ever consider that most of the people living in poor neighborhoods are drug addicts. Hayek thinks we shouldn’t help drug addicted people. Those people aren’t entitled to help. They need to get jobs and get right with society.”

You score this essay with the D that it deserves, and instead of coming to talk with you about how to do better, the student decides you’re a hairy-legged, close-minded feminist who hates white male Republicans and that’s why he got the grade he got.

A great deal of “These are my beliefs and my beliefs are sacred because they are mine” underscores a lot of today’s politics: think Sarah Palin complaining about how people dared challenge her beliefs during political debate. But having to defend one’s beliefs and preferences are part of engagement; it’s not enough in a pluralistic democracy to run for prom queen based on “These are my beliefs; vote for me because you share those beliefs” because the undecided middle is too numerous and too important. And if being expected to defend your beliefs, rather than just describe them and get a pat on the head, is an insult to you, then pluralistic politics might not be the right career for you. There’s no better way to be disabused of believing the “silent majority” agrees with you than to run for office.

There are ways to make a principled argument about the ravages of drug addiction in particular communities. Like with evidence. Libertarians have discussed drug addiction and the drug trade in depth. One thing one might do is *ask one’s professor for help* if one wanted to learn more about a principle argument from libertarians about the role of addiction versus overpolicing addiction as a source of poverty in communities that have been hit hard by both. One might be directed this piece by Illana Mercer at the Mises Institute to get some ideas for such an essay. (BTW, I think she’s wrong, but it’s a reasoned argument, using evidence and theory, not an unreflexive victim-blaming rant.)

Somehow, Catholic ethicists manage to make principled arguments about the virtues of self-control without calling anybody a “slut.” I wonder how they do that?