Four experienced academics and a student discuss how contentious issues emerge in the classes and seminars they teach (and attend) and how they approach them
How do you have justice questions without someone being challenged?
In light of the debates around academic freedom, polarisation, identity and intersectionality, and viewpoint diversity, it is important for lecturers, teachers, and professors committed to creating an open, constructive learning environment to understand how the dynamics in the classroom are changing. On 7 February, 2022, we convened a panel discussion, New Rules of Engagement – mediating dissent, debate, and dialogue in the classroom to discuss how issues emerge and are contested (or not) in the classroom. We invited four lecturers who hail from a range of disciplines and a final-year student to share their varied experiences and perspectives – Hakan Seckinelgin, Lasana Harris, Ernestina Coast, Angbeen Abbas, and Bingchun Meng. A more detailed listing of the panellists is available at the end of this post.
This is an issue that’s often in the headlines and can be divisive and polarising and cause groups and individuals in our classrooms to become marginalised. This panel discussion is part of the Teaching Contested Topics series which is an attempt to move away from that dynamic and understand how we can approach these issues constructively and openly. The series is part of the Atlas programme of academic development run by the LSE Eden Centre for Education Enhancement.
people aren't necessarily defending an idea, they're defending that idea as it manifests - as a way of me to represent my groups, my identities, my sort of position within this particular historical debate.
The questions we discussed were:
“Safe spaces/brave spaces” – this is a term I heard you use and it resonated with me because it illustrates the different sides of the same coin. Could you explain what this paradigm shift means and how you use it in your teaching? (02:03)
There is a long tradition in Western thought about holding/entertaining two opposing thoughts. Hegel, Mill, and Fitzgerald among others extol the importance of this ability. Is there any merit to this idea, or is this a misconception that is a recipe for cognitive dissonance? (12:38)
There is a particular form of condescension or scorn reserved for those who do not subscribe to or even question the so-called liberal consensus. Why are we able to achieve a degree of success when it comes to inclusion plans, decolonisation, etc., but arguably reinforce dogged/entrenched views in other areas such as Brexit, gender, democracy, etc. How are we succeeding as educators in some areas; but in other areas, failing to cultivate in our students a sense of curiosity/understanding about other points of view and to exercise a healthy scepticism with respect to our own viewpoints? (22:11)
How do students (and academics) with different values and backgrounds come together to share and learn from each other’s differing viewpoints? Could you share an example of where it’s worked in a classroom setting? At an institutional level, what are some of the enablers/barriers? (33:47)
Academics are unique in that unlike other groups in society, in addition to free speech, they also enjoy academic freedom. Are these protections enough, or do academics and scholars need to self-censor, live in fear of risk-averse institutional management, online harassment, and unsympathetic/hostile governments? (40:14)
from a pedagogical point of view, I think conflicts and contestation in the classroom is also … something to be celebrated to certain extent.
you have to consider when a debate is actually an exchange of ideas, and when it's, basically, a performance.
Hakan Seckinelgin – Associate Professor, Department of Social Policy, LSE
Lasana Harris – Professor of Social Neuroscience, Division of Psychology & Language Sciences, UCL
Ernestina Coast – Professor of Health and International Development, Department of International Development, LSE
Angbeen Abbas – Final-year BSc Sociology student, LSE, and Executive Editor, The Beaver
Bingchun Meng – Associate Professor, Department of Media and Communications, LSE
Lee-Ann Sequeira (Chair) – Academic Developer, Eden Centre, LSE, and Editor of the LSE Higher Education Blog
To what extent do they (anonymous online channels) mean that some students don't feel the need to self-censor in the same way that they would do in in face-to-face teaching?
This post is opinion-based and does not reflect the views of the London School of Economics and Political Science or any of its constituent departments and divisions.