Back in the Dark Ages when I was in graduate school, we had a professor who would occasionally wander off the subject of 19th Century philosophy and into the realm of current politics. After he was finished he would always apologize and invite members of the class to take equal time to present their own take on the subject. I don’t recall that anyone ever took him up on the offer, though I never doubted that he was sincere. But that impartiality in the classroom is apparently becoming a rare thing.
According to a number of studies, increasing numbers of college professors are using class time to get on their soap boxes and deliver political harangues. Many of these studies have been conducted by conservative groups who are concerned that the kids are being brainwashed by left-leaning professors who always hold the power of the final grade over the heads of their impressionable students. Now while we can question the impartiality of those studies, there are grounds for concern. To begin with, the majority of college professors, though certainly not all, are liberal. Further, they do have captive audiences of young people who may fear repercussions if they speak out in opposition to their professors. I suspect this has always gone on to an extent — by right-leaning professors as well as those who lean to the left. But apparently if these studies are to be believed it is becoming increasingly common. Professors are selecting works to be read that reflect their own ideological preferences and they don’t hesitate to comment on current affairs of a political nature and hammer home political messages. And given the current state of politics in this country it is quite likely that these comments from mainly liberal professors are not favorable to the conservative powers that control the Congress in this country and are determined to make sure that the Democratic president is hampered in his attempts to govern as he should.
In any event, this is a mistake of major proportions, whether the comments reflect a liberal or a conservative bias. The greatest compliment ever paid to me after I retired from teaching — as I mentioned in passing in a previous blog — was in a review of my latest book on Amazon where a former student said he looked forward to reading the book because when he took my classes he never knew what my political position was. I dare say this is hard for readers of these blogs to accept since I never hesitate to sound off and reveal my prejudices whenever possible — though I do attempt to be fair. But in blogs this is to be expected; in the classroom ideology and personal takes on tough political problems have no place. Neither does gearing the course toward the professor’s own personal ideology by carefully selecting material that supports his or her own take on things. Education is not indoctrination and as Mark Van Doren said long ago in his book on Liberal Education, we must always protect our students from “thugs who would teach them what to think, not how to think.” Indeed.