Approaches to classroom conflict can vary across campus

To some, millennials are depicted as overly sensitive, politically-correct, and anything but tough.  As the country’s demographics become more complex and diverse, certain classrooms have become debate arenas, while others remain devoid of challenging discussion. Consequently, teachers are faced with the choice to either encourage more controversial, passionate discussions, or shield their students from potential confrontation. 

James Strohman, who teaches political science courses, revealed his primary technique for managing classroom discussions. 

“Humor reduces the tension,” he said. “I like to show clips of the Daily Show,  Jimmy Fallon, or others making light of things.”  Strohman went on to say, “laughing about things can be disarming … for very complex and sensitive topics, like abortion, I find it best to stick to the facts.”

Remaining “neutral,” as he says, has proven successful throughout his experience as he’s “not had an issue” with conflict in the classroom.  Nonetheless, Strohman said, “I think it’s great for students to share their viewpoints, as long as they are respectful of others.”

conflictSimilarly evading potentially confrontational class discussions, adjunct instructor for College Experience and history, Greg Minor, aligned with Strohman’s tactics.

“I do my best to avoid it,” he said. Speaking to his experiences with confrontational conversations, Minor said he sometimes has to “turn the bus.” 

“Occasionally, I have to damp things down … and emphasize how people looked at things then, not now.”  Minor also mentioned that his classrooms are predominantly white,  so certain conversations can be mysterious or obscure. 

“Discussing civil rights is esoteric,” he said.  He also recalls having a black American student, who he felt added to the conversation because of her differing experiences. 

“I can disseminate, but she could bring something to the table.  We need discussion beyond ‘What did it say?’ to ‘What does it mean?’” 

Differing in his classroom management practices, Dennis Kellogg, who teaches Anthropology and Western Civilization I, shared his style of teaching.  “You have to argue the other side.  Argument is necessary for a human being functioning in any society.”

Nicole Allaire, instructor for Speech 101 and 126, also expressed the great importance she feels for the expression of different opinions. 

“The better we are at listening and understanding, the better we can respond in positive ways.”

Some college students, she adds, may be “afraid to speak up because of how instructors might respond and instructors don’t want to seem biased.”

While some teachers feel avoiding challenging conversations is the most effective, some students have expressed a desire to participate in more complex discussions. 

Harrison Kamwanja, a Computer Science major, who is originally from Malawi, said he thinks millennials should have more conversations about the world because many current political issues impact students directly.

“Issues now affect us in the future.  It should be talked about more,” he said. 

Ian Kerns, who is from Nevada and is studying liberal arts, mentioned that classroom discussions allow students to consider different perspectives. 

“It’s important to build your own horizons and experience new things. It is important for growth,” he said.    

On the other hand, Marley Brightman, a liberal arts student from Des Moines, said she tries not to engage in difficult discussions with her classmates. 

“I just try not to get too invested … these things matter to me, so I get angry when they say something … I try to contain it,” she said.

When it comes to conversations within the classrooms, she said she noticed that, “Most people don’t want conflict.”

She said that classmates usually have more complex arguments outside of classrooms rather than inside. 

“There are times where it is important to talk about things as a group … but teachers won’t give you a chance to ask questions,” Marley said.

Wayne Black, a liberal arts student from Des Moines said that classrooms should have a balance of debate-styled and respect-driven atmospheres. 

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