COMMENTARY: Last week, we got to see LaGrange College once again in a snapshot. A colleague of mine brought in Dr. Lief Carter, a well-respected legal scholar, as one of our two Constitution Day speakers. The room was full of students, staff, faculty, and members from the LaGrange community.
Dr. Carter presented his critique on the U.S. Constitution. Afterwards, he received some criticism from conservatives about his premise, and criticism from some liberals who didn’t think he went far enough.
I joined in the chorus, saying “Dr. Carter, I thank you coming all the way down here. But I have to disagree with just about everything you said.” I went on to oppose with his positive evaluation of parliamentarianism and proportional representation. And yes, two students of mine questioned him about the subject of informed voters, as well as his view on parties and voting.
Afterwards, I spoke with Ford McLain, who gave Dr. Carter a polite but firm rebuttal on the role of Christianity in the Constitution. Ford was upset that only one viewpoint seemed to be presented that day. And I think he was a little surprised at how docilely the students seemed to be taking in his speech.
I told Ford he was wrong. Students are at a stage where they are more likely to critique what they hear from professors and guest speakers, as well as parents, right? At least that was what I experienced. But I was just making an assumption based on students I used to teach. Was I still right? Since I am always telling students to test things for themselves, I decided to do just that.
Actually, I didn’t have to ask questions. In every class I taught the next day, students jumped in with their own discussions and critiques before I even said anything, disagreeing with the speaker, my point, and even each other, though all did so in a civil manner.
And just because they were quiet at the talk, that didn’t mean there wasn’t something going on. Several students said “You should have seen the Twitter board light up when Dr. Carter said….” One went home to check his bible to see if Dr. Carter’s assessment of Jewish law on adultery was correct. Others brought laptops to class to “factcheck” other points he made.
“Of course we know to question what we hear,” a student replied to me. “Even you.” Good…they were paying attention. They are the critical thinkers our society needs. You may disagree, but we wouldn’t have a TEA Party without critical thinking, would we?
On Tuesday at 11:15 a.m., another viewpoint on the Constitution will be made by Morgan DeAnn Shields, a LaGrange College graduate in our Dickson Assembly Room in Turner Hall. She’s finishing up at George Mason University, and she’s got a much more conservative interpretation on the U.S. Constitution. And just like an Atlanta Brave game promotion, the first 75 who show up get a free copy of the U.S. Constitution.
But Ford is also right. At larger institutions with multiple choice tests and large lecture hall, the professor holds sway; there’s often no time for questioning. So it depends upon the college in question. For us, our motto is that we are here to “challenge the mind and inspire the soul.” And if you want students who will think outside the box whatever their subject is, send them here.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College.