College Changes

No, not changes to the college, changes by it. For years and years now, higher education has been viewed as the perverter of young minds even as it is lauded as the gateway to upward mobility. Although this is usually portrayed as fine upstanding youth becoming leftist socialists, some of us remember the preppie phase where leftist parents lamented the materialistic impulses of their college offspring.

Does this have any meaning? Is it that the teachers at colleges and universities are brainwashing students? Does this reflect a cocoon where disagreement with the party line is squashed?

Let’s start with the second one first. A lot of discussion has centered on things like trigger warnings and what not in universities.  (Not like such warnings are new: the MPAA rating system has, in essence, been such a warning system for decades). As a general matter, ideally, if an instructor issues some kind of trigger warning, it is not to discourage those who might be upset, it is to prepare those people to be ready to be engaged when encountering certain material. (There are cases where there are legitimate worries for some individual with PTSD, which is a separate issue). Arguably this can expand the range of views expressed as those who might have been suddenly silenced when provoked have now been steeled and hopefully are ready to provide a perspective that would otherwise have been absent.

But even more, college might just be the last place where many students will be encountering contrary views in their lives, given the growing geographical and virtual segregation of liberal and conservative peoples. Your classmates, dorm neighbors, or professors are not chosen to be of the same political stripe as you, yet you probably have to interact with them, many times in a substantial way.

OK, but there must be some political bias, right? All those eager conservative minds who go to school and come out wanting to let the government run everything, right? Most professors would be flattered if they had a tenth that much influence.

GG has another option, a sort of teen-rebellion-meets-cognitive-dissonance notion.  If you are brought up with a world view of black and white, right and wrong, then discovering that there is some gray might lead a youth to reject the whole of what they thought they knew. So we see those raised in strict religious families sometimes becoming atheists, or offspring of outspoken atheists joining cults. Imagine a child from a community that felt everything President Obama did was bad; if they find there were some good things there, they might become more liberal.  It is easy to expect the reverse in coming years, as students coming from places where President Trump’s actions are considered uniformly  evil will find there are things he does that aren’t so bad; they might become more conservative.

Hey, its a notion.

And what of the well-known liberal bias in the ivory tower?  There is a funny thing about that: biases from political affiliation drop away when experts work within their fields. Conservative climate scientists will teach global climate change because that is what the science is showing them.  Liberal earth scientists will show that fracking is safe when properly conducted just as liberal food biologists will argue that GMO foods are safe to eat and immunization is important. The materials within courses taught by experts are actually pretty free of the political biases of the instructors.

Of course students do mingle with professors who might well let out some of their non-professional liberal biases, and if students admire the professors, well, they might follow suit. Or, of course, if they despise those same professors, they might go the other way (and  a quick survey of ratemyprofessor would suggest there are plenty of professors alienating their students).

Although we’ve been pushed more and more to view college as glorified vo-tech school, it is ideally a place where students are challenged.  Perhaps we need to better teach them to engage in argument instead of shutting out argument, but the goal is to be able to understand multiple views of the world and deal with them.

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