The ‘Liberal Brainwashing’ of College Campuses

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I have read quite a few articles now that assert that many republicans/conservatives think that college is a BAD thing and that higher education is, in effect, liberal brainwashing. Maybe because I am an educator and a huge proponent of higher education, I take issue with this. I do not think it is brainwashing at all, but development of critical thinking, exposure to new culture and ideas, and a new sense of empowerment as students navigate through the transition from high school to career-bound adult.

Students must take a critical thinking course to graduate college. An entire class that teaches them how to analyze information, evaluate claims and determine whether or not to accept them based on the strength of the logic, evidence and reasoning used. They are NOT taught to accept liberal claims and reject conservative ones.

When people go to college they are often exposed to other kids from all over and a variety of races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, beliefs, and in their classes they speak up and in turn, they learn from each other and realize hey maybe it’s stupid to hate this guy or wow “_____” people are not so bad. This repeated exposure to diversity leaves a mark on them. As a byproduct, when they graduate they may have very little tolerance for biogtry and narrow-mindedness anymore. This then is communicated to their families and then it must’ve been those liberals brainwashing them. Not possibly that exposure to many different subjects and people over 4-8 years might possibly have shaped them to think about how decisions or policies may affect others outside their group?

I think many students feel frustrated and passionate and, perhaps for the first time, realize they have a voice they can use to raise awareness and bring about social or political change. They also have the benefit of being together for months at a time all on the same campus discussing their perspectives and this often unites them. They begin to work collectively to express themselves. This often manifests itself in demonstrations and protests.

There is a perfect storm of conditions for a ‘liberal’ mindset:

  • Young adults shedding the last vestiges of childhood and moving towards adulthood.
  • Time to think through concepts with greater depth
  • Constant exposure to other cultures/backgrounds which may reveal biases they may not even realize they had
  • Close proximity to large numbers of people, which makes uniting easier
  • Reaching voter age
  • The realization that their age group has a voice
  • The desire to make a difference

I did a simple google search for the definition of the term liberal and the very first definition given says “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” I fail to see what is problematic about that unless you get stuck at ‘traditional’ values. If we were never opened up to new ideas or modified our stances, we would still be owning slaves, women would not be voting, no progress could be made.

Perhaps you have a problem with these things and prefer to identify as conservative. I performed the same simple search to take the first definition and it is this: “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.” While college campuses do encourage innovation and exposure to new ideas, that does not mean that conservatism is checked at the door.

Make no mistake. The conservative viewpoint has not been eliminated from college campuses. Far from it. I regularly have students proclaim their faith. There are Republican clubs, pro-life rallies, and the simple fact that Milo Yannolopis has made his way across the country speaking as a guest on campuses all over the nation speaks to the presence of not only right leaning perspectives, but alt-right ones. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious superiority are also alive and well on campus. We have disturbing comments posted on the free speech wall. Harassment of minorities, campus rape, and plenty of other adverse actions are still being heard and spread. However, some of these ideas are challenged not by instructors, but by fellow students.

Last year, I had a young male student in a public speaking class argue that abortion should be criminalized and when asked by the females in the class, he agreed (reluctantly) that he would have them imprisoned. What is lamentable about his position is that he was unable to address their concerns as his knowledge of fetal development did not seem to extend beyond the creation of the blastocyst. They asked him his thoughts on the morning after pill which creates a spike of estrogen that thins the uterine lining and allows the blastocyst to pass from the uterus just as nearly 50% of them naturally do. When this was shared, he became flustered and had no script for whether this was okay or not. It was a bit painful to watch but enlightening I think for the entire class on all sides. I had many religious students close up the quarter speaking about acceptance, tolerance, and love from a religious perspective in their final value speech. They used their platform to address their peers and encourage what they saw as essential American values: freedom, autonomy, the rights of an individual.

I have had students argue against raising the minimum wage, discuss what they believe to be threats against free speech, argue that welfare recipients should be drug tested, and many additional conservative viewpoints that the rest of the class takes in and listens to. We get topics from all sides and students learn to LISTEN to opposing viewpoints in their entirety.

I don’t forbid my students from sharing what is important to them if it is relevant to an assignment. That is how they learn from each other. Unlike some teacher memes I’ve seen that suggest god put every kid in your classroom for you to convert, I do not believe that my job is to shape opinions so that they all come out believing the same thing I do.

Rather, it is my job to spark critical thinking and teach them how to evaluate all ideas critically in order to determine what to accept or reject. No one can do that for them. They must do it for themselves. Thinking critically does not lead to one outcome or one belief or one idea. Their decisions are still determined by their own experiences and research. My “agenda” is to produce better communicators at the end of the quarter than the ones that walked in.

Closed mindedness does not allow learning to take place. It is okay for kids to go to college and hear a melting pot of experiences and ideas on which they reshape, revise, or reinforce their own. This isn’t something we should be scared of. If they come out with different beliefs or attitudes than their parents, so be it. The goal of child-rearing is not to create ideological clones (or at least it shouldn’t be). After all, it is their mind, their journey, their discovery, their education.

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