The War on Higher Education: Part Two

by Matthew Smith

Beware of college professors. They’re part of a vast public university conspiracy theory to indoctrinate the American youth in a liberal agenda and turn them into atheists. That’s what some people on the far-right wing want the American public to believe.

Along with the financial war already being waged on college students by greedy politicians and school administrators, ideological purists, such as former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, are waging an ideological war against higher education. It’s based on anti-intellectualism, hysteria and paranoia.

Last year at a Michigan Tea Party rally, Santorum claimed President Barack Obama was encouraging people to go to college with the secret goal of indoctrinating them in the aforementioned liberal agenda. Santorum also claimed 62 percent of American college students lose their religion after going to college. Santorum’s claim comes from a study he took out of context. While the study found 64 percent of current college students attend church less often, 76 percent of those who never went to college also have lower church attendance, and has no explicit statistics on college students becoming less religious.

It’s not plausible to claim schools, such as San Diego State, are breeding atheists considering the number of Christian-oriented student organizations and religious studies classes. SDSU has several Christian organizations, one secular organization, more than 10 different classes related to Christianity or the Bible, but only one atheism class since last spring.

To be fair, there is evidence to suggest most college professors are at least liberal leaning. However, it’s not because of some conspiracy theory by the public university system to shove liberalism down people’s throats. In reality, the pool of available professors tilts to the left. Exit polls from previous elections consistently show voters with a college degree are either split among both major political parties or lean slightly Republican, disproving Santorum’s claim. The same exit polls also show voters with postgraduate degrees (the minimum requirement for most public and private university professors) vote between 55-58 percent Democrat.

Using a little common sense, one can determine the smaller pool of conservative leaning professors will be more likely to take jobs at religion-oriented private schools such as the University of San Diego, while public universities, such as SDSU, will have to hire professors from an already liberal leaning pool of postgraduates.

College education is about teaching students how to think with the use of critical thinking skills, not what to think. Critical thinking skills include analyzing evidence, examining different points of view and reading texts, such as journal articles and primary sources, from a critical perspective. As it turns out, conservatives fear critical thinking will lead to people becoming more liberal and less religious. Last year the Texas Republican Party made opposition to critical thinking a part of its platform.

“We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning), which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

The “fixed beliefs” the platform is referring to are fundamentalist Christian values, which makes it no secret that it’s what the Texas Grand Old Party would like to use to replace critical thinking. “We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded.” This shouldn’t be surprising since loathsome characters such as George W. Bush and Rick Perry started their careers with them. Chris Elam, Texas’ party Communications Director, claimed it was a mistake, but refused to remove the language opposing critical thinking since it was adopted at a party convention.

True indoctrination happens from churches, private schools and parents who spoon feed children theology every day, similar to what’s being proposed in Texas. Kids are raised to believe something their parents expect them to, without being given a chance to decide for themselves.

This ideological war on higher education is meant to silence thinking. Critical thinking allows people to think for themselves, which is what anti-intellectuals are afraid of. Let’s remember a quote by George Carlin: “Governments don’t want a population capable of critical thinkers. They want obedient workers, people just smart enough to run machines and dumb enough to passively accept their situation.”

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