“Liberal education develops the humanity of the student regardless of the material. I happen to use politics. But the ultimate subjects of my courses are the students themselves.”
Jeff Freyman wouldn’t mind if his students pursued world peace after studying political science at Transylvania. But his ultimate goal in the classroom is a much more modest one.
“I’m not interested in changing the world; I’m interested in changing students,” he says.
“I would be happy with students spending the rest of their lives pursuing world peace—and the content I teach gives them the skills to do that.”
“I work the political material around questions of a more profound nature.” To Freyman that starts with the question, “What shapes our ideas and opinions?”
“People like what they know,” Freyman says, making people more apt to believe something that makes sense to them, but not necessarily because it's true. He challenges his students to recognize the limitations in “common sense.” Freyman asks his students, “What are the assumptions that shape our point of view?”
Students who take Freyman’s Political Development course learn about the underdeveloped world. They read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, a narrative about European colonialism from the perspective of an African. Freyman explains there are different layers of interpretation for the book.
The first layer challenges Westerners to have a greater appreciation and tolerance for Africans. But another purpose of the text is for Westerners to see ourselves from the point of view of Africans.
“That point of view says that we are the purveyors of cultural and social destruction. We are the uncivilized ones,” Freyman says. “All of a sudden, the book isn’t just about respecting Africans; it’s about reflecting critically on our own lives.”
While teaching students to question the factors that shape their beliefs is an essential aspect of Freyman’s approach to teaching political science, his hope is never to undermine his students’ opinions.
“It’s for the sake of coming to a higher awareness about what they believe,” Freyman says. “It may very well be that my students maintain the same convictions, but at least they leave the class with a greater understanding of why they believe what they believe.”
Freyman heeds the words of Plato that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He comes to class with more than a dynamic grasp of political science. He comes with the conviction that “we only have one life. It should be the fullest, most self-conscious life we can live.”
And the key to that life, Freyman would tell you, is knowledge: not knowledge of facts, but knowledge about oneself—how our ideas are created and how they create us.