Setting: Picture a 5,000-student liberal arts college on the Eastern Coast. It has a strong political science program and attracts students from all over the United States and a few other nations. Professor Mike Clark is the head of the Political Science Department and teaches a twice-weekly meeting of select political science honor students.
Professor Clark came out of an active retirement two years ago after the college offered him the opportunity to teach without the burden and distraction of administrative chores and attending functions. His ground rules before accepting the job stated he would be given no curriculum or college goals to meet and that he would have a number two who would handle the day-to-day operations of the department. He made it clear that his intent would be to help his students learn to think, and current events — whatever they are — would provide topics for discussion.
Seventy-five percent of the graduates who took his courses after his first two years back landed top jobs at successful law firms and Fortune 500 companies. The college was happy, the students were excited, the Political Science Department was over scribed, and the parents of his students wrote glowing letters with checks to match to the school.
As another year got ready to begin, Professor Clark was pleased with the eight students he had selected to take his political science honors course. There were no published pre-requisites for his course, nor could students just sign up to take it. He personally selected the participants from a stack of 25 files three young assistant professors sent to his desk. Students he selected were sent an invitation to enroll, and his invitations had never been declined.
This would be his first meeting with his new class of honor students.
The students filed in and selected seats at the polished cherry wood oval table near the palladium window looking out over the Bay. The room was not large and a normal speaking voice could be clearly heard. Professor Clark waited until the room had settled and said, “Good morning. Welcome. Some of the ground rules here are different from those you have learned in the past or that might be in place in some of your other classes. Here, you will be expected to play the role of several different officials, both domestic and foreign. To do that, you must keep up with current events, without me giving you a formal assignment. There is no room in this class for neutrality. One of Russia’s Cold War Premiers, Nikita Khrushchev, said that while nations might be neutral, there are no neutral men. You must be able to explain and defend the position you take on any issue.In the presentation of your positions, you must not degrade the value and integrity of your word. Once your peers lose trust in your word, it may never be regained.
“Grading will be simple. You either pass or you don’t. There will be no repeat courses or extra credit. I will pass out a general reading list. It is far from a complete list. You must understand the Constitution and how it was developed, the impact that slavery has had and still has our nation, and the doctrine of the separation of powers. There will be no tests on what you have read. The extent of your reading is up to you.
“You must have noticed all our classes are schedule as the last period before lunch. That is so we can run over the normal class period when we need more time. You can eat anytime.
“We are in the midst of a very important national election. The future of our nation will be changed by the result, maybe beyond return. I cannot imagine a better forum to bring political science alive than a class during this critical period in our nation’s history. The subject for Thursday’s class will be the role of the President as Commander-in-Chief and which candidate you support and why? You each will have ten minutes to defend your position. You will spend the rest of today’s class reading and studying global current events so that you are not only knowledgeable about what interests you and molds your opinions, but what also interests others and is shaping their opinions. You must know both sides of an argument to debate it well.”