Teaching and Learning with Teach-Ins in the Age of Trump

The next Teach-In topic will be "Seeing Past Need-Blind: A Talkback," at 11 a.m., April 27, in the Alvarez College Union Atrium. Teach-In events are open to the campus community and the public.


A recent teach-in on freedom of the press took a hard look at hard news.


That included fake news.


"Think like a historian: sourcing, corroboration, context and sniff-it. If it smells like BS, it's probably BS," said Mark Sample, one of two Davidson professors who offered a Davidson Now online course on fake news in March.


Davidson professors and students, journalists from the Charlotte area (including the Charlotte Observer's Joe Marusak), a campus liaison from the New York Times and Davidson staff from the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship gathered for the teach-in, reminiscent of the activist teach-ins of the 1960s. View archived Facebook Live video of previous gatherings.


This semester's teach-ins and "lunch-in" discussions grew from a collective desire for frank discussions about political and social issues inspired in part by the election of Donald Trump. In November, Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Rebecca Ruhlen and two students moved quickly to create an independent study in political activism, "Advocacy Anthropology & Political Organizing."


That coursework has cultivated fertile ground for the semester's teach-ins and lunch-ins.


"The format is an engaged lesson plan/panel, a community discussion and the creation of an action plan to pursue activism about this given topic," said Arden Simone '17, a psychology major from Philadelphia.


Simone and her classmate Rachel Ruback '17 have registered their efforts as an official student group with 38 members, Davidson Teach-Ins. They are working with a junior and a freshman on a succession plan for next year, and they've partnered with the Davidson Police Department on plans for an April 27 teach-in around Black Lives Matter and law enforcement issues.


Political activism and the independent study are complementary sides of the same coin, academics and practice, said Ruhlen.


"The students are not getting judged on whether they agree with any particular political idea or ideology," she said. "They're getting scored and assessed on their classroom work and their reading, as well as community engagement."


The political activism side of the coin speaks for itself. Topics covered so far include performance as protest, immigration policy of the Trump Administration and education policy in the wake of Betsy DeVos' confirmation as Secretary of Education.


The atrium in the college union is a perfect space, said Simone, for those who choose to attend as well as those who just happen to be present for lunch.


"We wanted to occupy a space where people who might not otherwise attend have an opportunity to attend because they're here," she said. "And we of course invite everybody."


Ruhlen said Davidson's faculty is a particularly rich source of experts. In fact, a collegial interaction served as inspiration for the teach-ins: When President-Elect Trump called the Taiwanese president in early December, Ruhlen said, it was important to understand why that was a big deal.


"Davidson is the home base of the world's foremost expert on Taiwanese politics," she said of her faculty colleague, Brown Professor of Political Science and Chinese Studies Shelley Rigger. "Shelley was out there doing her part as a public scholar. She wasn't holed up in the Ivory Tower."




John Syme