The Political Science Classroom Should Be About More Than Just What’s in the Textbook

The Political Science major needs to be renamed Public Policy, and political science majors should get their money back.

When I declared as a political science major I was under the impression that I would learn something about, you know… politics. Instead, the classes are mostly about policy, which is fine but not what I signed up for.

Policy represents a wholly different field from politics. Enacting policy requires different skills and knowledge than formulating policies. Even political analysis (not POSC 300, as it is titled, but the process of analyzing a political situation) asks entirely different questions and seeks a different goal than policy analysis.

One asks what should be done, while the other asks how to do it.

I am not saying the two should be completely separate. If you ask any politician what the most important skill in politics is, they will all say fundraising. Yet, save for the occasional update on Presidential or Gubernatorial spending, fundraising goes undiscussed in Kent Hall.

Same goes for the basics of campaigning — door knocking, phone banking and GOTV.

Even when it comes to legislative politics, we learn how many votes it takes but not how to get them. Constituent services and departmental organization, a necessity for any future congressional staffers, are never mentioned.

College classes should be about more than just the books on the reading list. If for no other reason than if all we get out class comes from a book, we spent thousands of dollars on an education that could be bought for $8.99, maybe $19.99 if it is hardcover.

Too often classes are simply a professor walking students through a book without injecting any knowledge that could not otherwise be obtained — things like stories from the campaign trail or a legislative strategy that turned a dead bill into a resounding success.

That would be knowledge that would prepare students for something more than just graduate school.

This is not a general argument about theoretical vs. practical education. If the last two years have taught us anything, it is that politics in one of the few fields that being right or having the answer is just not enough; policy devoid of the political skills it takes to enact policy is a waste of time.

In the vein of last month’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, allow me to steer towards the center. Despite my radical lead intended to get you to actually read my inane nonsense, I don’t really believe political science majors should get their money back. The broader point is that when it comes to the field of politics a purely theoretical education is just not enough.

I spent the summer and most of the fall working on political campaigns, yet nothing I had learned in any class had prepared me for the campaigns. There is even theoretical work that would have helped, but that I did not receive: How about learning the various grass roots campaign strategies?

Or different fundraising models? Or how to translate complex policies into somewhat understandable language?

The disconnect between the classroom and the real world that so many politicians like to harp on (see any speech with the phrase “liberal, academic elite”) does exists. It exists, however, not because political scientists ignore those on ‘main street’ but because they either ignore or do not understand the political environment that their policies must get through to help those on ‘main street’.

To Professors: Please work on closing the gap between the classroom and careers that your students will likely head for.

To Political Science Majors: Do an internship, work for your elected officials, join a campaign — anything that will help you actually enact the policy work you do here.

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