Op-Ed: “Why Max Weber Misinterprets Politics in the Classroom”1
“The task of the teacher is to serve the students with his knowledge and scientific experience and not to imprint upon them his personal political views” -Max Weber2
Max Weber in “Science as a Vocation” argues that a professor should solely communicate objective information focused on the content of the class they are teaching, while avoiding discussing opinions on current political events. His idea is that implementing political views in the classroom will cause the students to think about the world through one political viewpoint and ignore the possibility for “the other side” having any validity. He wants the students to take the information they learn and explore politics individually outside of class. In the classroom, Weber advocates “avoiding the imposition of a personal point of view.”3
I found Weber’s choice of diction in “imprinting” odd. Imprinting is a concept in psychology where a young animal learns the skills of trusting others by following their mother. The “imprinting” occurs during a critical period, which is usually the first few years of an animal’s life. If imprinting does not occur during that time, it will not develop. Thus, the context Weber uses the word “imprinting” in is incorrect. Students cannot have views “imprinted” in them once they reach school age. Their mothers will already have done that within the few few years of life. They can be influenced or swayed to believe something based on what the people around them think, but imprinting does not properly describe that process. A word like “force” or “impose” would fit better in his quote.
Weber’s idea of allowing students to think critically on their own and form their own views on the world is valid, but his approach in promoting these life skills is flawed. I believe that a professor implementing different political viewpoints in the classroom, whether personal or from other students, is crucial to promoting civil political discourse. Civil political discourse is the idea that people of opposite ends of the political “spectrum” can express their grievances without being silenced or ignored.4 Civil political discourse in society today is unfortunately uncommon. I think that the reason why people struggle to discuss politics without heated arguments is that people cannot tolerate hearing an opinion other than their own. Allowing a professor or students to vocalize their differing opinions can make people more comfortable with discussing their views outside the mainstream narrative. The “mainstream narrative” refers to the idea that a majority of people on a general college campus hold liberal values. Today, liberal ideologies dominate the mainstream narrative.
If a person just subscribes to sources that affirm their own views, they will not be able to listen to opinions that differ far from their own. Since classrooms in college often have diversity, the discussion of personal political views is useful for students to gain skills to be able to discuss politics civilly. I am tired of seeing how poorly people discuss politics now, as it has become a poisonous topic in society today. If people would just come together and make an attempt to listen to each other, maybe the world would be a less contentious place to live in. That is a utopian mindset for sure, and is probably impossible to achieve with the direction politics is going in today. But for right now, at least, integrating personal views into college and high school classes can create a foundation of skills that will help students to engage with tough conversations later in life. Max Weber clearly saw personal views as a precursor towards indoctrination, but as long as the professor promotes an open environment, and doesn’t shut down viewpoints far from their own, I see no problem with making personal views part of class discussion.
- From H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (Translated and edited), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, pp.
129-156, New York: Oxford University Press, 1946. Download text (here)
- Weber 11
- One thing I question is the objectivity of a scientific view. It is possible to integrate a scientific view in a classroom without personal opinion?
- I have a personal experience with successful civil political discourse. I ran a current events discussion group in high school at a local nursing home where residents often had conflicting views with mine. We debated them civilly and everyone respected each other’s voice. I disagree with Weber strongly because I believe that civil political discourse has to be promoted within the classroom, and one direct way for it to enter the classroom is by promoting discussion of opposing personal views.