Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Higher Education Fails Leftist Students?

By Professor Doom

     There have been many accusations that higher education is as much about instilling leftist ideology as it is about actual education. I still don’t know the truth of such an accusation. Yes, there are classes that are clearly liberal (and darned if I can find a class that represents the conservative ideology). Yes, I’ve known many liberal professors who are very vocal about their views (and darned if I can recall a conservative professor that dared to speak up), and certainly I’ve written of how bad the bias can be.

     All that said and despite what my own eyes have seen and ears have heard, I still possess a Polyanna belief that academia still mostly rises above ideology. I acknowledge that liberal ideologues are common enough on campus, however.

     A recent article posits that higher education is failing leftist students. Naturally, my first response is to laugh, and respond with “no kidding”…if they’re leftist, then obviously education has failed them, in much the way that antibiotics failed a person that died of infection.

     Despite the strangely redundant title, the article has much to say of interest, but I feel the need to read between the lines:

Too often, American college students face a one-question test, one based not on facts, but on ideology. The test: "Are you a liberal, or conservative?"  
The correct answer is, "I'm a liberal, and proud of it." That concerns me. 

     This hints at something that nobody tells high school students: never argue with your professor. It’s something I discuss in a book I wrote on how not to fail college. It’s good not to argue, especially with a liberal professor—they’re pretty spiteful, and you’ll accomplish nothing but a failing grade. With a conservative, arguing can still be dangerous, but less so if you have facts and data—acknowledging the latter is generally how liberals become conservatives, after all.

     Still, reading between the lines here, the author (a professor that deals with liberal professors) reveals how easy the more liberal courses are: you answer one question, and you pass the course. Well, you pass as long as you answer “I’m a liberal, and proud of it.”

     He sees that as a problem. No kidding.

"I find that I don't really need to spend much time with the liberal students, because they already have it right. I spend most of my time arguing with the    conservative students. That's how I spend my time in class." 

     Ouch. Again, read between the lines here: the liberal students are learning nothing because “they already have it right”. There are actually two hidden messages in this one sentence.

     First, liberal courses teach nothing. Why do professors run courses where the students aren’t going to learn anything? I have no non-cynical answers for that question, but the gentle reader should be aware that the professors of these courses know full well what they’re doing.

    Second, the description of the liberal students begs the question of where do the liberal students get their ideology? I have to admit, I came out of high school as a liberal. I was young, I was ignorant, I was a decent student, and thus I quickly “learned” the thinking that is presented in the public schools. I was still liberal when I graduated college. 
     It’s not just public school, of course, our own media reinforces this. Archie Bunker and Alex Keaton are presented as stupid, evil, or both for their conservative views, and the television you watch as a child absolutely influences your thinking. On the other hand, I have to admit The Waltons, with its relentless message of family and work ethic, was also a major influence on me as well (and I sure wish there were comparable shows today). But I digress.
    It was only when I was laughed at for spouting the gun control views I was trained to spout in school that things changed for me. Eager to have counter arguments against those who laughed at me, I did my own reading, and realized I was an idiot for thinking gun control worked (like I was told so often in school). Once that fundamental flaw in my thinking was revealed, I had little choice but to consider my other liberal views (could it be that Archie Bunker was right about something?)…and learned that most everything I was taught as a child in the public school system was rubbish. Well, except for math, which I stuck with.
     Anyway, the takeaway from that quote is there’s nothing to be gained from liberal courses—if you believe, you learn nothing. If you don’t believe, you either fail (for arguing with the professor) or have to keep your mouth shut for months to pass the course. I guess now I know why students so often tell me these courses are “a waste of time.” Those students are young, they don’t even realize how much money they’re wasting, too.
     I see the author agrees with me:
“It may have come as a shock to the parents of these liberal students that they had learned everything they needed to know…in high school! Having memorized a kind of secular leftist catechism,…”

     I guess that’s why 90% of college coursework is at the high school level. It’s more of a re-education project for students that somehow didn’t get the indoctrination I did the first time around.
     Anyway, the real point of the article is that leftists don’t get challenged in higher education. No kidding, again. The author considers this bad because leftist students never learn how to argue their beliefs. I have to agree with this, because I’ve met many a leftist that simply goes insane with rage when I say anything sacrilegious like “making guns illegal increases gun crime”; liberalism is a religion, and facts are irrelevant. So, only emotion remains.

There is a ceremony that goes with this, something one of my colleagues calls "The Women's Studies Nod." When someone makes a ridiculously extreme, empirically unfounded but ideologically correct argument, everyone else must nod vigorously.  

     I’ve certainly seen that Nod myself, and this is the first I’ve heard of this Nod, which, absolutely, is almost religious in nature, little different than everyone chanting “Amen”. There should be an expression for it…but I’m disappointed that it describes a common activity in academia.
     That’s because the faculty on the left were themselves educated by neglect, never confronting counterarguments, in a now self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance and ideological bigotry

      The bottom line, according to the author, is that conservatives come out of college with a big advantage: because they argue with their professors, conservatives learn how to argue. Liberals never have to deal with arguing, they just nod their head and agree.
     I don’t agree, but it’s an interesting theory. I only took one liberal course in college (my degree didn’t allow for so many electives, but I wanted to take a course with a friend), and I was too busy nodding to gain much benefit from arguing. I suspect many conservatives, if they manage to be conservative after going through high school, learn to quickly steer away from these courses, since, as so many of my students say, they are a “waste of time.”
     Still, I have to agree it’s a worthy goal to challenge liberal views in college. The thing is, higher education has so many other worthy goals it’s not following that un-learning the stuff kids learn in the public schools just can’t be that high a priority.
     I believe higher education should have nothing to do with ideology. Conservatism has plenty of flaws as well, even if conservatives are, usually, easier to argue with than liberals.

Conservatives who don't understand liberal arguments are just as brain dead as the worst graduates being produced by our most craven Departments of Indignation Studies.  

     Even if I don’t completely agree, the article is an interesting read, all the same.


  1. I experienced political bias during parts of my education.

    I remember an English teacher I had during senior high. He was a radical Marxist-Leninist and he would fail anyone who didn't parrot back whatever he said. Many of us didn't agree with it but we got smart and played his silly game of "garbage in garbage out".

    His extremist leanings tarnished his reputation and he soon became a laughingstock at the school, even with his colleagues. He eventually left, went back to the part of the country he came from, and took up wheat farming, presumably preaching Marx and Lenin to his crops. I never figured out whether he jumped or was pushed.

    During my sophomore year, I took an anthropology course and selected it because it was the only arts option I could fit into my timetable. It didn't take me long to hate it.

    The professor openly despised engineering students and rarely gave up an opportunity to insult us. I remember when we were discussing a certain topic and the engineering students put forth a rational and logical argument. However, since it didn't fit with his views, the prof promptly swept it all aside. It was his way or no way.

    Like with the previous case, I figured out how to get around it and, like before, I parroted back the same stuff he presented to us, even though I didn't necessarily believe it.

    I aced the course.

    So much for education relying on rational and logical debate.

  2. I didn't realize the indoctrination was that obvious. I had the impression that it is so subtle that students may not even realize it happens. It's in the details. The professor will just focus on certain topics, interpret things a certain way, give certain examples, seem to believe that something is normal, suitable or part of the rules, and so on. Where one professor may talk about the need for flexibility, including the flexibility to pay lower salaries, another professor may talk, but not too much, about the plight of the working poor without quoting Marx (students may catch up). One professor may talk about the importance of using standard English in a professional environment and another one may explain that Ebonics is a language in its own right, with a complex structure that used to be normal in English, as illustrated by Chaucer's writings. In my experience, that's how it happens.

  3. It's a well-argued essay. The writer is contending that the clash of ever more sophisticated arguments and counter-arguments constitutes much of higher education. I agree. This should hold ideally for the liberal arts (in engineering, physics, and math we're too busy learning about partial differential equations and tensor calculus to bother with all this). One problem is that in the USA the culture of reasoned argument and counter-argument isn't there. Maybe never has been. All there is are knee-jerk reactions masquerading as thought and ideology, where those of the so-called "left" and "right" adopt fashionable stances. Graff discusses this in his book, "Clueless in Academe." The so-called left is full of nothing but cheap pious indignation; and this is what liberal arts students are indoctrinated with.