Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A New Threat for Murika: Education

Theresa Whitehurst has written a fascinating article on the views that wingnuts hold on higher education. She begins with this:

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to a conversation I overheard at a Starbucks in Nashville last winter. It was a cold and rainy night as I worked away at my laptop, but the comforting aroma of cappuccino kept me going. My comfort was interrupted, however, by two young men who sat down in upholstered chairs near my table. One was talking, the other listening, in what appeared to be an informal college orientation.
"The only trouble with David Lipscomb (a conservative Christian college nearby) is that old man Lipscomb apparently didn't like football. So we don't have a football team, but we have a great faculty."
"But you do have to be careful about one thing," he said more quietly, coming closer and speaking in hushed tones, "My professor-I have this great professor-told me that you have to be careful not to get too much education, because you could lose your foundation, your core values."
The neophyte nodded solemnly, his eyebrows raised with worry.
"If you get a bachelors," the seasoned student reassured, "you'll probably be okay. But my professor said that when you get a master's, and definitely if you go beyond that, you can lose your values. He said that college students have to be watchful because if you get too much education, you could turn LIBERAL. He's seen it happen to a lot of good Christians."
As the young man in Starbucks said just before he and the incoming freshman got up to leave,
"Even at Lipscomb, you have to be careful what you pay attention to. My professor said that a few faculty members might lead you astray without meaning to, by bringing in ideas that aren't biblical. He said that if you're ever taught anything that sounds questionable, you should talk about it with your minister to see if it's right."

Then Whitehurst goes on to discuss why being afraid of the liberal label would be very bad for the American higher education:

This movement pretends to be about "balancing" liberal with conservative views, but the reality is a lot uglier than that. As the conversation I overheard suggests, this movement isn't about balance, it's about censorship-or even better, self-censorship that's easily achieved by frightening students with social rejection, hellfire or both. Either way, scholarship is degraded in the process. According to the article, "many educators, while agreeing that students should never feel bullied, worry that they just want to avoid exposure to ideas that challenge their core beliefs - an essential part of education. Some also fear that teachers will shy away from sensitive topics or fend off criticism by "balancing" their syllabuses with opposing viewpoints, even if they represent inferior scholarship."

Does this ring a bell for you? It reminds me of what I see happening in much of the so-called liberal media: "Opinions on whether the earth is flat vary." "Some believe that the Holocaust never happened." It also reminds me of the wingnuts' demands to have more wingnut voices in the media, and the consequence is that we now have very little that isn't a wingnut voice. So this is what might happen in the academia, too. Or perhaps has already happened?

The initial arguments are the same in both cases: that there is bias against the conservative views, even in cases where the "bias" is in the facts and that there is a need for pro-wingnut affirmative action to provide "balance". The results might be the same, too: a deterioration of the contents of both education and the media.

I believe that education on the highest levels is bound to make students feel uncomfortable, whatever their political views might be. That's what happens when your mind is stretched as much as it can be, and it's a very good thing to happen.
It would be dangerous to attribute this discomfort to the professor's political views; it's part of the necessary learning process. If wingnuts don't want their minds stretched or fear for the frailty of their faith, they shouldn't go to university. This is a much better solution than their plan to make all universities into some sort of madrassas.

By the way, I also don't believe the conservative soundbite that universities are teeming with biased lefty professors. There are quite a few biased righty professors there, too, and the vast majority of all professors teach opposing views of their subject matter. Then they take these views and evaluate them by using both logic and external evidence. This is the part the wingnuts wish to eradicate, methinks, because knowledge is a powerful weapon.