From One Student to Another: How to Deal With the Pressures of Being A Conservative In A Liberal Classroom
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Since 2015, when Donald Trump was announced as a presidential candidate, there has been an enormous increase in political discussions in classrooms and colleges around the world. As the lone conservative in my high school classrooms, I came to expect debates between myself and my liberal classmates every time there was a major political story. This constant discourse pushed me in the direction of the debate team. My thought was if I was able to constantly defend my beliefs and values in my classes, then I would surely be able to defend them in a formal debate setting.
Increasingly, there are other young conservatives - young people who are driven, strong-willed, and vocal about what they believe - rising up and striving to give their worldview a fair[er] representation in the classroom setting. Because of this, many are gaining a reputation of being excellent debaters. This is because conservative students are often the ideological minority on their school campuses - leaving them with the option to either become formal debaters (in a debate setting) or stand up for what they believe in, in an informal classroom setting.
We are seeing more and more choose the latter option even as the political, spiritual, and cultural divide in America continues to get wider. For the students still unsure of what to do and what role to play in this ideological battle in the classroom, I want to share some important advice, from one previously isolated conservative student to another.
EMBRACE THE PRESSURE
A sophomore in a liberal high school shared (on condition of anonymity) that “it feels like I am carrying the weight of representing conservatism on my back. I have become the go-to person in my high school for people to ask the political question to. It’s not that I’m not happy to help. It’s just a lot to deal with when adults in politics act out in big ways, and then I have to explain their actions to my classmates and even my teachers.”
I have found that this is a familiar feeling among young people in the education system. With the overwhelming majority of young people breaking for the left or being disinterested in politics, it often falls to the “one conservative student” to provide insight for many students into conservatism. This is why it is crucial that young conservatives be prepared for debates and go into them clear-headed and confident. It is also vital for conservatives on college campuses and throughout the education system to understand that they are not truly alone. There are many clubs, resources, and organizations to reach out to (including TRINICY).
ACCEPT THE PRICE
There is a significant amount of pressure placed on young conservatives. This is likely due to the responsibility of sharing truth in the midst of false narratives that students are fed on campus. We want our classmates to have an open mind and see facts for what they are. Speaking up with truth, young conservatives are likely to face aggressive, harsh liberal perspectives that are delivered in an unkind way. This means that lone conservatives who are often already considered cruel (because of the media) must be ready to respond in a disciplined manner because people are likely expecting them to come across as harsh and unfeeling.
Yet, speaking the truth often comes at a price. Even as young students, conservative youth like us must be prepared to face the possible measures that may be taken against us. This can include doxxing, having us fired from a job, attacks on our personal life, exclusion from social gatherings, or even the end of friendships. The reality is that conservatism is based on fundamental ideas and core beliefs that one must decide whether they understand enough to openly go to bat for them.
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
Choose what issues you will debate ahead of time. Not every issue has to be debated. So, choose your battles carefully. If you take your time, you can prepare your positions ahead of time by researching and learning about the issues.
Another young conservative I spoke to (a senior in high school who would also like to remain anonymous) said that “having been caught completely off guard by young liberals throwing argument after argument and personal story after personal story at me in a mock debate, I know that not having foundational research on the most critical issues to you can be devastating. And can set you up to be overwhelmed and put down.”
Foundational research can include basic American history, the most recent economic data, and a complete understanding of recent international news headlines (especially those involving foreign policy). Saving newspaper or magazine articles that are relevant can also be helpful. I did that throughout high school. Once that foundational research has been gathered, a student can decide which debate they are well prepared for or even would enjoy participating in. The research that I undertook was not all at once, or even especially lengthy. Instead, it was spaced out and based on real-time needs. It is important to remember that you do not have to debate issues that make you uncomfortable or nervous.
BE HONEST ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW
There are many young conservatives, including myself, who feel the urgency to be better prepared to face the opposition that may come our way. However, it’s important to give yourself a break and understand that you may not yet be knowledgeable about every point brought up discussions. By being open about what you do not know, you can save yourself from being wrapped up in a debate that you may be doomed to fail.
Whenever a debate or conversation becomes overwhelming, take a step back and evaluate your position. This will show your audience that you are honest and upfront. I have often admitted in classroom and formal debates that I did not know the answer to a question or fully understand a topic. Furthermore openly acknowledging what you do not know is a skill and practice that can help you in your professional life, and learning journey.
LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY
If a debate gets out of hand and you feel like the person you are debating with is becoming aggressive or hostile towards you, don’t be afraid to end the debate. Ending the debate does not mean that you have lost or failed. It means you respect yourself enough not to continue humoring them as they hurl personal attacks against you instead of against your arguments. Overall, debating may be enjoyable for some to participate in, however it should not become your first resort. Guard your words and prove to show yourself respectable in the end. Don’t let your enjoyment or enthusiasm for debate be dimmed by constantly having to be on fight or flight mode.
It has always taken a great deal of courage to express (and debate) what you believe openly. Being able to embrace the pressures of being a representative (sometimes the only representative) of your conservative beliefs can be a tough task to take on. One must be prepared to pay the price that comes with standing up as a young conservative in school, including facing situations in which none of your administrators, teachers, or fellow students may ever come to your defense.
All of this is why it is vital that you choose your battles carefully. Choose which issues to speak on ahead of time and do your research! Know enough to know what you don’t know, and acknowledge the gaps in your knowledge. Furthermore, maintain high standards of engagement and never be afraid to end a debate, especially in the face of hostility. The right to debate is the right to possess, preserve, and present diversity of thought. So, fellow students, if you can, please stand up and debate in your classrooms because that is where the future intellectual and cultural standards and rules are being decided today.
The views, information, and opinions expressed in this website are solely those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of TRINICY International.