Students Need No Special Protection
Tibor R. Machan
David Horowitz, the radical-turned-conservative think tank leader and campus activist, has been making a lot of waves regarding the overwhelming “liberal” bias in university classrooms across the country. He has proposed the drafting of an “Academic Bill of Rights” that, as The New York Times reports, “he says would encourage free debate and protect students against discrimination for expressing their political beliefs.”
The Times was reporting on this in connection with an ongoing inquiry into class room liberal bias in Pennsylvania where some students have protested classroom proselytization by their teachers, especially ones teaching classes that have nothing to do with the issues on which the teachers pontificate. (In particular, an Air Force veteran complained that her physics teacher injected anti-Bush comments in his lectures!)
OK, so, yes, there is a lot of this going on across the nation’s college and university campuses, not to mention in elementary and high schools where teachers routinely advocate environmentalist and other doctrines to really vulnerable captive audiences. I also recall that when I was at New York University, earning my Masters of Arts degree, my professor teaching the philosophy of language (during the Vietnam War) would routinely taunt us with sample sentences such as “LBJ is a murderer.” And given that I was taking mainly courses in the humanities from my undergraduate all the way through to my PhD program, I came across outright preaching by ideologically motivated professors in class after class.
Later when I began teaching I had some fruitful discussions with certain Marxist colleagues (at UCSB) who told me in no uncertain terms that they see it as their revolutionary duty to “teach” students about how oppressive American bourgeois society really is, so as to counter the widespread myth that students are actually faced with genuine choices in this society. They made no excuses for this—the revolution requires vigilance and they were in a good position, as university professors, to lend a hand.
It is difficult for me to imagine any time in human history that many teachers didn’t use their classrooms as a platform from which to preach their ideas. Back in Hungary, when I was in elementary school, the new crop of Soviet-backed “teachers” did this all the time. We were being indoctrinated with Marxist slogans—I recall when one was presenting to us the great merits of the idea, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” (Whereupon I came up with a counterexample that led to my expulsion and reassignment to technical school.)
So, although I am committed to the ideal of liberal education and keep my own lectures as free as I can of my own political orientation—even though I teach political philosophy, ethics, business ethics routinely—I do not believe that students need a great deal of protection against those who try to convert schools at any levels into indoctrination centers. The Marxists in Hungary failed miserably in indoctrinating us, as did the NYU professor, and for a rather simple reason: Students aren’t dummies, not at least those who pay attention. (The others tend to pick up very little anyway.)
It is not all that difficult to spot someone who is corrupting the educational process. The very fact that complaints are being filed attests to this. And once you know what’s going on, I say, “You are an adult, you drive cars, vote, so learn to cope with it. It will provide an additional benefit of your educational experience, since throughout your life—in innumerable circumstances—you will face similar situations in which you will have to act prudently.” I, personally, have never found it very oppressive when a professor took advantage of his or her position and used it to peddle a political agenda. One needs to learn from this, not protest what is nearly unavoidable.
In the end the best remedy against the transformation of classrooms into bully pulpits is to take education away from the government and subject it to the volatile intellectual, ideological and political competition of the free market. Anything else is but a band-aid measure and may even discourage people from being vigilant about resisting indoctrination.
Recently my daughter encountered a professor in a class who intimidated her students by stating that she is ashamed of living in America where Bush is president. (And she wasn’t even an American citizen.) When my daughter told me about this, although I was annoyed I also thought to myself, “Good, this will teach her not to think that educators are free of—while only Enron executives are susceptible to—corruption.”