Indoctrinators and Educators

It's a common theme amongst complaining Conservatives: liberals dominate higher education, liberals indoctrinate our youth with biased proselytizing. If Ann Coulter is to be believed, liberal university professors are the theologists of the liberal religion and we hate any science that doesn't support liberal causes.

And certainly, the statistics do support this perspective in part. Democrats are statistically and stereotypically higher educated and clustered in academia, but, contrary to the line spewed in Conservative pulp-trash like Bernard Goldberg's 100 People Who are Screwing Up America, most of these liberals, though espousing democratic political leanings, are careful not to bias their students.

Several news stories have publicized liberal teachers who have been disciplined for infusing their political leanings into their teachings, and have used these instances to argue that vocal liberals should not be allowed to teach classes, or at the very least to support their diatribe against Democrats in higher education. However, I would argue that the problem here is not Democrats who teach, but teachers who can't distinguish between their political ideologies and their jobs.

Last week, in my ethics class, a professor was lecturing about technology transfer and intellectual property, but ended up trying to indoctrinate us in fiscally conservative, hyper-right-wing capitalism and anti-liberal hate-mongering. Amongst the tidbits that I learned include the choice quotes: “pursuit of money is our patriotic duty as Americans” and “Democrats are happy to let sick people suffer by letting medical technology stay on the vine”. From this professor, I also learned that the federal government protects its people from companies that form monopolies and prevent exorbitant prices resulting from patented technology, and that pursuit of further scientific research will not be hindered by increased prices due to having to pay royalties. The professor also chastised his (liberal) colleagues who refuse to prosecute patents, and poo-poo'd other ethical questions about patenting findings paid for by public money. And let us not forget when the professor went on to declare that “third world countries like Zimbabwe and Vietname” deserve their poverty because they (and they alone) try to control intellectual freedom by denying their populace pork.

I and the thirty other graduate students in this class were forced to sit through this lecture, the second one of the year, although many of us were offended by the content of the talk. Certainly, from this experience, I was all the more sympathetic to Conservative students who feel alienated by their liberal professors, but the problem was not in my professor's political ideologies (offensive though they might be) but in his soap-boxing. Not only was my professor trying to convert his forcibly captive audience into raging capitalists, but, in a class about graduate-level ethics encountered by those pursuing careers in scientific research, we didn't actually learn anything about ethics or how to patent our ideas.

Lecturers like the one I encountered and the ones Coulter and company complain about are not rare, but they certainly do not outnumber the truly good teachers out there who happen to have private political tendancies. And certainly, any professor or teacher is, in my opinion, welcome to introduce political ideology into a class that is explicitly about politics, sociology, or current events.

The talking heads should not be interested in typecasting their political opponents as indoctrinators — rather, as we continue to strive towards improving the level of education in this country, both the left and the right should be able to agree upon one thing: whether conservative or liberal, teachers shouldn't proselytize at the expense of good teaching.

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