Advice for a Conservative Student

Every so often I receive an email that makes me think long and hard about how to respond. This email from a student I'll call "Mary" was one of those emails:

Hello Dan,

First off, I wanted to say that I am a huge fan of the show and you have been doing a fantastic job! I am a sophomore at a public high school, a conservative, and very interested in politics. As we all know, many teachers throughout the country have a left wing view on various topics. Since this was an election year, we have been talking about the election in many of my classes, especially my AP United States History class. I go to a fairly conservative school, however there are quite a few outspoken liberals who aren't afraid to speak their mind-especially the teachers. My history teacher was pretty quiet about his views on the election up until President Trump was inaugurated. Since the inauguration he won't stop ripping apart President Trump. He is saying that the wall is unconstitutional, and how the temporary ban on the 7 Middle-Eastern countries is a racist way to keep Muslims out. I've learned to bite my tongue on topics like this, however some of my fellow classmates have been joining in on his discussions agreeing with everything he says, which is very irritating. My question is, how should I go about dealing with these people because if I share my opinions, then they will try to rip my beliefs apart. It is now getting to the point where I would like to share my opinions and try to inform them that people on the right aren't the bad guys. 

Thank You, Mary

Mary's email resonated with me primarily because I can remember being in her shoes--not in high school, but in college and especially in law school, when the pressure to keep up my grade point average collided with my desire to speak up for my conservative beliefs.

After thinking about it for a while, this is how I answered Mary:

Hi Mary,

First of all, thank you very much for writing and for the kind words! Secondly, congratulations on getting into AP History as a sophomore. That's quite an achievement since when I was in high school (admittedly almost 20 years ago), AP classes weren't even open to sophomores!

Even though it's been a while since I've been in school, I can still remember the conflicted feelings of being a conservative in a classroom full of liberals and desperately wanting to speak my mind, yet knowing that doing so would almost certainly impact my grade from a liberal professor who equated conservative answers to test questions with wrong answers to test questions.

I myself did not have a political awakening until 9/11 early in my junior year of college, and as such didn't really think about politics at all when I was your age.  After all, back then the only big political controversy was Bill Clinton's womanizing (some things, it seems, never change).

In college, though, I encountered the exact same thing that you are now encountering in high school. In fact, the day after 9/11, I was in a philosophy class at Marquette University when the professor (a Jesuit priest) asked the class "what America did to provoke yesterday's attack."  I was stunned.  I couldn't believe that someone could possibly think this way.  To my dismay, as I watched news coverage of the attacks nearly round-the-clock for months, I realized that far too many on the political left really did believe that American foreign policy was at the heart of the attacks and, truthfully, at the heart of all evil in the world.

It was such a foreign way of thinking to me that I couldn't believe it was real, much less widespread.  It was actually that response to 9/11 that got me listening to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk radio hosts and made me decide that conservative talk radio was what I wanted to do for a living so that I could combat this flawed liberal thinking.

But in college, I had a grade point average to protect.  Not to brag (but I will), I was in the middle of a two-year run of 4.0 semesters.  I had never once gotten a B in my college career.  I knew I wanted to go to law school (just in case that talk radio thing didn't pan out), and I knew that I had to keep my grades as high as possible.  

I also knew that if I wrote what I truly believed in, say, the philosophy or ethics or theology classes I was taking, my liberal professors would be more likely to give me a lower grade since, well, of course someone who thinks like a conservative couldn't possibly be as smart as someone who thinks like a liberal, right?

So I decided to not only protect my grade point average and write like a liberal, but to actually think like a liberal for assignments and tests.  It turned out to be one of the smartest decisions I ever made--not only to keep my grade point up in college and especially in law school (you haven't seen liberal until you've seen UW-Madison Law School professor liberal), but also to improve my own arguments as a conservative.

Essentially, by researching and writing what my intellectual opponents would say and make their best arguments for them, I improved my own arguments against them and learned to think more critically about what it was that I was saying and thinking.  In other words, to truly know your political enemy, you must think like your political enemy and then think of ways to defeat his or her arguments with even better arguments of your own.

I actually attribute my success in talk radio--in which I make conservative points for a living--to this practice.

Obviously, though, you aren't a talk radio host or a law school student; you're a very intelligent and politically-minded high school sophomore who wants to defend her beliefs as passionately as she believes in them...while still ensuring that you won't be singled out and/or punished on your report card for those beliefs.

It's a tough position to be in, and while I know how I responded, I can't tell you how to respond.  You can do what I did, or you can speak up in class against your teacher and your classmates and you can write what you believe in on your tests and in papers and accept that a liberal teacher won't be able to accept a differing viewpoint and grade you more harshly because of it.

How you choose to respond is up to you; but know that as you grow up, far more of your peers will start to agree with you and recognize that the childish liberalism of their youth tends to fall apart once they experience the world as it actually is--not as the rosy leftist utopia that they supposed it to be. Trust me, more conservatives are created with each first paycheck (and the realization of how much in taxes is deducted from each paycheck) than you can possibly imagine.

For now, though, I would urge you to follow your instinct and follow your heart. Part of growing up is figuring out what's best for yourself and what works for you.  Adults like me can give you advice and tell you what we did, but ultimately your decisions are your own.

I trust you'll make the best one for yourself.  

Thanks for writing and God bless,
Dan O'Donnell

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