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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Evil Liberal Humanist Professors Indoctrination Conspiracy Fails Miserably

"An article of faith among conservative critics of American universities has been that liberal professors politically indoctrinate their students," begins Patricia Cohen in her Nov. 2 New York Times article. We hear exactly that sentiment from cobwebby corners of our own South Dakota blogosphere (see also here and here for whiffs of this thinking). We liberal secular humanist demons are brainwashing the undergrads into Marxism. How else could a socialist like Obama win the White House?

The radical conservatives love to find boogeymen on whom to blame their woes. Alas for them, another conservative boogeyman gets whacked by reality: Patricia Cohen goes on to report that three new studies have found that we godless Commie academics evidently can't indoctrinate our way out of a paper bag:

...Three sets of researchers recently concluded that professors have virtually no impact on the political views and ideology of their students.

If there has been a conspiracy among liberal faculty members to influence students, “they’ve done a pretty bad job,” said A. Lee Fritschler, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and an author of the new book Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities.

The notion that students are induced to move leftward “is a fantasy,” said Jeremy D. Mayer, another of the book’s authors. (Bruce L. R. Smith is the third co-author of the book.) When it comes to shaping a young person’s political views, “it is really hard to change the mind of anyone over 15,” said Mr. Mayer, who did extensive research on faculty and students.

“Parents and family are the most important influence,” followed by the news media and peers, he said. “Professors are among the least influential.”

A study of nearly 7,000 students at 38 institutions published in the current PS: Political Science and Politics, the journal of the American Political Science Association, as well as a second study that has been accepted by the journal to run in April 2009, both reach similar conclusions.

“There is no evidence that an instructor’s views instigate political change among students,” Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner, a husband-and-wife team of political scientists who have frequently conducted research on politics in higher education, write in that second study.

Their work is often cited by people on both sides of the debate, not least because Mr. Woessner describes himself as politically conservative [Patricia Cohen, "Professors' Liberalism Contagious? Maybe Not," New York Times, 2008.11.02].

These studies only confirm what any professor could have told you: the kids aren't listening anyway! ;-)

Seriously, teachers and professors make easy punching bags for folks with a political agenda. But if you don't like the kids' politics, well, you can't blame us. As I've said before, if you think skinny secular humanists like me are the greatest danger America's youth face, you aren't paying attention.


  1. In my field, I have witnessed many students adopt philosophical and political stances that have been influenced by what they read and how it applied to their own experience. I taught an introductory literature course many years on the immigrant, the African American, and the Native American. It included authors such as Rolvaag, Willa Cather, tales from ex-slaves, Ralph Emerson, Plenty Coups, Black Elk, etc., and teaching involved mostly disucssing the literary aspects of the stories. The students worked out their relationships to the materials on their own. And that kind of experience held true for all of the courses throughout the years. If the students developed a "liberal" perspective, it was because they were interpreting their own experiences with that told in real literature. There was no agenda, but that is what the conservatives whine and about: they want college curriculum designed around their agenda, and if it isn't they cry "bias."

    A sad trend during the Bush years in South Dakota is the appropriation of the academic profession and institutions as the authority for crass political hackery in the name of freedom of speech. No distinction is made between examined lives and indoctrinated lives, and we can be grateful that the rest of the country has decisively rejected the mindset that diminishes higher education in our state.

  2. The above should read Ralph Ellison, not Emerson, who Ralph Waldo Elllison was named after.

  3. I believe the professors are colleges are definitely left leaning, if not off the deep end.

    They teach the theoretical and esoteric views of utopia.

    This is both good and bad. The good is that college students are getting knowledge of what could be, the bad is that real life comes as a real shock when they start paying taxes and wonder, "Where is all my money going, and why?"

  4. In order to convince a person, you need to create a moment with that person as the author of the book PERSUADING PEOPLE WHO DO NOT WANT TO BE PERSUADED said. Plenty of kids are not accustomed to reality. Plenty of college men have played video games throughout their adolescent years. Plenty of college people are unaware of reality beyond the reality that they are given in college, at home, and at social events. (I was somewhat unaware of reality beyond what my professors gave.) Therefore, there must exist some professors who recruit kids onto their radical agenda. A person has to basically relate to the experiences of the person whom they want to influence. There are plenty of wolves in sheep's clothing who want to offer our kids fleeting pleasures.

  5. "there must exist some professors who recruit kids onto their radical agenda" -- Conrad, your statement is a complete non sequitur. It has no logical connection with anything else you said. You offer no proof, just an assertion that evidently reflects what you want to believe, rather than the reality demonstrated by the scientific research cited in the original post.

  6. Terry, the issue you cite is not one of politics. In the old sense of the word, a "liberal education" means giving students exposure to a broad range of knowledge, not a narrow, specialized, vocational field. That liberal education should include a heavy dose of the arts, sciences, and civics. I'm certainly open to arguments that higher education has moved away from a model thoughtful, thought-provoking intellectual inquiry and challenge to mere job training. Perhaps the problem is not that university is not preparing students for real life, but that many students should choose vocational training or apprenticeships rather than university for their further education. University is not for everyone... and, back to the point, even if professors lean left, they aren't indoctrinating students to do the same.

  7. Conservatives find "liberal bias" anywhere they want to. Conservatives have decried that Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, has a liberal bias and so they started Conservapedia. They've decried that YouTube, the website in which anyone can upload a video, has a liberal bias and so they started CubeTV. Apparently, conservatives think that reality has a liberal bias. But that's not suprising from someone who thinks Fox News is "Fair & Balanced."

  8. >Conrad, your statement is a complete >non sequitur.

    I was reasoning from the fact that we, humans, are imperfect and depraved by our very nature. Yes, that applies to even people whom you believe are very good. My grandmother had strong opinions and wanted people to agree with her. I thought she was a very good person. But she was depraved by her fallen human nature. She had trouble forgiving people at times. So do you suppose that an professor would have an imperfect human nature? Do you suppose that all professors are not subject to their emotions, but to facts alone?

    >University is not for everyone... and, >back to the point, even if professors >lean left, they aren't indoctrinating >students to do the same.

    Well, how can you make education value free?

  9. In my opinion, any institution substantially funded by public funds owes it to the public to be as unbiased as they can. This would include most state universities as well as public radio and TV.

    Whether or not these institutions are biased can, and should, always be debated.

    I was a college student in the relatively radical 1970s. I turned out to be a moderate Republican. One might argue that had it not been for some of my left-wing professors and fellow students, I'd have ended up as a far-right wingnut. But as a mathematics student, I don't think college had much of an influence on my political views.

    I agree with Terry 2:14: "The good is that college students are getting knowledge of what could be, the bad is that real life comes as a real shock when they start paying taxes and wonder, 'Where is all my money going, and why?'"

    The Real World University (RWU) has a way of "indoctrinating" people that no college professor can match.


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