Monday, March 31, 2008

Right Wing Defining Higher Ed

A new poll from The Chronicle of Higher Education and Gallup asked if people believed that college professors use their classes as vehicles for their personal political views and beliefs.  And a surprisingly large percentage of the respondents to the survey, did believe so:

Only 29 percent of those age 25 to 34, and who are more likely to have spent time on a college campus in recent years, responded that professors "often" use their classrooms to espouse their political views. But that response grew to 41 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 54, and to nearly 60 percent of those over age 65.

Now, it appears that among those who attended college -- there is a more realistic view.  However, I -- for one -- find this trend quite disturbing.  Imagine if Lynn Cheney or David Horowitz set the standard for American education?  Makes Alan Bloom look positively centrist.

Clearly the Right-wing and nut-wing of the conservative movement have seen their ideology take flight. 

On the question of political indoctrination in the classroom, Americans are also divided by political party. About 70 percent of Republicans but only 17 percent of Democrats said professors often use their classrooms as political platforms, the Chronicle/Gallup survey shows. That puts politics on the campus in a league with abortion and gay marriage, say professors, among the biggest wedge issues today.

But as someone who has spent some time at several schools.  Enrolled and attended a few myself, I never saw political indoctrination.  Never.  I saw passion, spirited attacks from the right and the left (although we have never had much of a left in the United States), but never an attempt to control the thoughts of others.  I am reminded of the admonish of the 19th century German thinker, Max Weber with his excellent essay, Science as a Vocation where he speaks about the nature of education and scholarship:

To take a practical political stand is one thing, and to analyze political structures and party positions is another. When speaking in a political meeting about democracy, one does not hide one's personal standpoint; indeed, to come out clearly and take a stand is one's damned duty. The words one uses in such a meeting are not means of scientific analysis but means of canvassing votes and winning over others. They are not plowshares to loosen the soil of contemplative thought; they are swords against the enemies: such words are weapons. It would be an outrage, however, to use words in this fashion in a lecture or in the lecture-room. If, for instance, 'democracy' is under discussion, one considers its various forms, analyzes them in the way they function, determines what results for the conditions of life the one form has as compared with the other. Then one confronts the forms of democracy with non-democratic forms of political order and endeavors to come to a position where the student may find the point from which, in terms of his ultimate ideals, he can take a stand. But the true teacher will beware of imposing from the platform any political position upon the student, whether it is expressed or suggested. 'To let the facts speak for themselves' is the most unfair way of putting over a political position to the student.

Why should we abstain from doing this? I state in advance that some highly esteemed colleagues are of the opinion that it is not possible to carry through this self-restraint and that, even if it were possible, it would be a whim to avoid declaring oneself. Now one cannot demonstrate scientifically what the duty of an academic teacher is. One can only demand of the teacher that he have the intellectual integrity to see that it is one thing to state facts, to determine mathematical or logical relations or the internal structure of cultural values, while it is another thing to answer questions of the value of culture and its individual contents and the question of how one should act in the cultural community and in political associations. These are quite heterogeneous problems. If he asks further why he should not deal with both types of problems in the lecture-room, the answer is: because the prophet and the demagogue do not belong on the academic platform.

The NeoCons have clearly won on the issue of how Americans should "see" higher education.  They have attacked all forms of education that does not meet their goals.  And it appears that they are winning... what does this mean for higher ed or any level of education in the next several decades?  It would do them good to read Weber's advice, although he was a progressive so I am certain they have dismissed him already as a form of left wing indoctrination.

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