Teaching political science in the year of Trump

Political science professors have strong opinions about the outcome of the presidential election and hold unique ideas about how politics should be taught. Professors struggle to remain objective and to teach both sides of controversial topics, despite their own political preferences. Teaching politics is never easy; however, teaching political science in the age of Trump is particularly challenging for professors, who must rethink how they choose to present material and reconsider the content they choose to focus on.

In the age of Trump, governmental policies are constantly being revised and introduced, presenting professors with new content to teach on a daily basis. Recent changes in public policy are not described in textbooks and professors must rely on their own understanding of political events to keep their students informed. In many politics courses, teaching from a textbook is simply not enough.

Bradford Bishop, a professor of political science at Wheaton, expressed concern over the broad assumptions made in political science textbooks. “In my Parties course, we use a textbook from 2015 that makes a lot of assumptions about how strong parties really are in influencing the primary process. Many of those assumptions are absolutely wrong,” said Bishop.

Surprising election outcomes, especially in the most recent primary elections, are forcing us to question widely-held assumptions about the influence of party organizations. Professor Bishop looks forward to seeing if updated versions of political science textbooks change or revise the generalizations they make about party influence and organization. Bishop is teaching basic concepts from the textbook, but focusing on political events and supplementing lessons with news articles.

Bishop is also encouraging students to grapple with more normative questions about our governmental system before moving on to analytic questions. He wants his students to first understand what is considered to be the normal or standard way of running a democracy. The presidential election has challenged American values and has allowed us to see that the American public is not as comfortable with diversity and multiculturalism as was previously thought. According to Bishop, students need to think critically about questions concerning our values and concepts such as justice, equality and rights before grappling with more narrow questions and grey areas of public policy.

Despite their own feelings about the election, political science professors try to remain unbiased and teach students about the arguments made on both ends of the political spectrum. Bishop’s main goal, like that of many other political science professors, is to teach students how to rigorously investigate all claims made by politicians and articulate the viewpoints of both Democratic and Republican leaders. Especially in age of Trump, it is important to critically examine competing perspectives to further our understanding of the democratic system.