This post was written by politics senior, Solveig Parsons, as part of our Student Perspectives series for this Spring semester. This series focuses on students’ practical application of classroom knowledge.
Politics, perhaps even more so than most disciplines in the humanities, dynamically combines the theoretical and the practical. There is no doubt that the world of ideas make an impact in domestic and global political life – from the works of classic scholars like Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, or John Locke to more modern thinkers like Francis Fukuyama or Amartya Sen.
But how to square the abstract all-encompassing theories with the political impacts of a Fourth of July parade, or a one-on-one dialogue in a town hall meeting, or the reality of limited Internet when trying to conduct research in a Sub-Saharan African country … well, that is where it really gets interesting.
This is where the best political education will put you – at the ridiculously confusing but ever fascinating intersection of book smart and street savvy, trying to make the rubber hit the road.
Allow me to share a few highlights from one college experience that put me squarely in that intersection.
During the summer after my sophomore year, I spent two mornings a week at my local Congressman’s office answering phones, taking notes, sealing envelopes, and following staff. There were moments that were exhilarating – watching the Congressman speak live on television and a radio show, shadowing a staff member on her meeting with a social media company, and having a good excuse to update my professional wardrobe (thank you, JC Penney).
And then there were moments that were profoundly challenging – fielding calls from constituents whose concerns or frustrations made effective communication difficult and watching rather chaotic dialogue at a town hall meeting. But these moments were also the ones in which I grew the most, because I was pushed to consider what it really means for someone to represent another person’s interest, what it means to communicate professionally, and what it means to live out Christ’s love in the midst of it.
Thanks for sharing, Solveig. How have you, our readers, found ways to explore more practical experiences in academic work? In what ways have practical experiences challenged you personally?
While working on this series, we found an interesting article from the perspective of a politics student in the UK “What’s it like to study… Politics” from The Independent. Apparently the experience of politics majors across countries is similar in many ways.