Yesterday, I came across this opinion piece: “Calling All Anti-Capitalists, Ivory Tower Educators”. As someone who teaches argument at a community college, I found some flaws in her argument.
First, I don’t know where Brown gets the idea that students come to college or university as blank slates, just waiting to be molded into my political outlook. Perhaps it’s different at places with actual ivory towers rather than brickwork, but my students come from a variety of backgrounds (age, race, religion, politics and everything else you can imagine), and therefore, they arrive with a diversity of opinions and outlooks about almost everything (so far, the only subject that they were in perfect step on was that they didn’t approve of the Westboro Baptist church). If they have socialist leanings, most of them had them before I ever met them.
Second, isn’t college a time to try out new ideas, even political? Perhaps it scares Brown that a student might spend a semester trying out Marxism, or a socialism, or extreme capitalism. Most of the students will move on to other things, but some will decide that some of the outlooks that they develop in college are ones that suit them and will become life-long conservatives or liberals or libertarians. Isn’t that a good thing? In fact, isn’t deciding what makes sense in the marketplace of ideas one of the functions of college? If one never probes one’s ideas for soundness or that those ideas fit one’s worldview, are they really your ideas? Or are you just parroting what someone else thinks?
Third, had the author taken my class, I can assure you that she would have been dinged for all of her unsupported assertions like professors spend their classes indoctrinating their students, or that all professors are liberal (come to my shared office sometime–you’d be amazed), or that taking away the subsidies from universities causing them to “come crashing down” is a not an example of a good thing, but rather a horror to be avoided. Certainly if she had been in my argument class, I would have made her tighten up her rhetoric. For instance, she hasn’t sufficiently proven that academia is excatly like Venezuela. Some research would be in order–why do we subsidize higher education and what does that show about what we, as Americans value? Why is Venezuela a better example of a dictatorship (monies from the people are distributed to the leaders) rather than an example of socialism (monies from the people are re-distributed to the people)? Why do some Republicans hate higher education so much (what’s the history there?)? Actually, a paragraph like this is probably why so many politicians, not known for the clarity of their thoughts and strength of their research skills really want to defund education of all kinds!
Fourth, I only have fifteen weeks with my students, and we have a lot we need to accomplish during the semester. I simply don’t have the extra time to teach them everything they are supposed to know by the end of the semester and make them into socialists. Perhaps it’s different at ivory-tower dotted campuses, but my students would complain to my chair, the dean, and probably the president of the university if I taught them socialism rather than writing. Most of them want what was advertised in the catalog, (English 102: How to write an argumentative research-based essay), not me rambling about political systems.
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, I can’t get my students to stop making comma splices after harping about it for fifteen weeks, so what makes Brown think that I could convert them to a political system? I am trying to inculcate them–into the world of critical thinking, supporting what they say with evidence, looking beyond the surface, and analyzing texts. I am attempting to indoctrinate them into writing sentences that flow into paragraphs (more than one per essay!) that flow into sensibly arranged essays all on one topic or theme. I am attempting to brainwash them into good grammar and usage, the sensibility of appropriate punctuation, of making sure that they, and their ideas, don’t get rejected because of those mistakes and errors.
And as I walk down the halls of my college, that’s what I hear, not attempting to get the students to switch economic theories. The math people are desperately trying to get their students to understand how numbers and formulas work. The humanities folks are trying to get students to appreciate the world around us and think about what it means. The history mavens are trying to get students to understand how the past affects the present and future, how who and what we are fits into the grand scheme of things. While it’s possible that something of which Brown is writing is going on, I doubt it’s where I work. Frankly, I doubt it’s present much of anywhere outside of Brown’s mind.