Saturday, February 12, 2005

Too Stupid

From the AP:

Professors would have to include diverse opinions in classrooms under legislation being pushed in Ohio and several other states by conservatives who fear too many professors indoctrinate young minds with liberal propaganda. Such measures have had little success getting approval in the other states.

“I see students coming out having gone in without any ideological leanings one way or another, coming out with an indoctrination of a lot of left-wing issues,” said bill sponsor Sen. Larry Mumper, a former high school teacher whose Republican party controls the Legislature.

The proposal in Ohio to create an academic “bill of rights” would prohibit public and private college professors from presenting opinions as fact or penalizing students for expressing their views. Professors would not be allowed to introduce controversial material unrelated to the course.

Professors dismissed the bill as unnecessary and questioned whether its supporters had ulterior motives, such as wanting more conservative professors.

Similar legislation failed in California and Colorado last year, while the Georgia Senate passed a resolution, which is less binding than a bill, that suggests adoption. The California bill, which would affect only public schools, has been reintroduced and faces opposition from professors and student groups. An Indiana bill is nearly identical to Ohio’s.

This is the handiwork of David Horowitz, the well-known activist who went maniacally from the looney left (he was a hanger-on with the Black Panthers in the ’60’s) to the radical right. He apparently thinks that college students are too stupid to figure out the difference between fact and opinion or are too lazy to look up divergent points of view on their own. Somehow this exposure to points of view and opinions will poison their precious little minds.

I’m not sure how much time Mr. Horowitz has spent on a college campus, but my experiences over a total of eleven years as a student between undergrad and grad school tells me that college students in general know bullshit when they hear it, and if they don’t, they have no business being in college in the first place. There is a presumption that when you get to college you are an adult and capable of discernment. I had a professor who knowingly misled his students in a theatre history class on matters of fact and challenged them to find out the real from the fictional. (I was disappointed to learn that the legendary 19th century American actress Fannie “Fire” Ferguson, who performed in several productions where the theatre later burned to the ground, did not exist.) By the way, not all college students are fresh out of high school; many are people well beyond the typical college age, such as my mom who finished her bachelor’s degree in 2001. Does Sen. Mumper really believe that these grown-ups are in need of protection from opinions? I would like to know how Mr. Horowitz or Sen. Mumper propose that professors teach classes where “facts” are not at the core of the coursework, such as English literature, dramatic criticism, psychology, or philosophy. That should make for some interesting graduate seminars.

Mr. Horowitz claims that colleges and universities are overwhelmingly run by people who are Democrats or hold left-leaning sympathies. He’s probably right; liberals are far more likely to go into professions such as education where the goal is to improve society, whereas Republicans are far more likely to go into professions such as banking, business, or the military where they can make a lot of money, boss people around, or play with guns. I don’t hear a lot of squawking about how the Fortune 500 and the Pentagon are dominated by conservatives. Which is going to have a more immediate impact on your day-to-day life; the US Army or the University of Colorado?

There are two overriding issues here. The most obvious one is academic freedom. We expect totalitarian states such as North Korea or China to dictate college syllabi and indoctrinate their students because they know that an unfettered mind is a dangerous weapon against the state. The second one is the supreme irony of seeing Republicans who claim to be champions of limited government and libertarian freedom and who accuse the Democrats of creating the “nanny-state” because we promote environmental protection, have no qualms whatsoever about riding roughshod over the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment of the Constitution and injecting their political agenda into education – the very thing they accuse the Left of doing.