Tuesday, December 27, 2005
why our college students can't read: they're afraid of big ideas
this article about the possibility the federal government could censor university professors chapped my hide. so fair warning: i'm about to step up on my academic elite soapbox.
here's a tip to questing undergrads: if you want a valuable undergraduate education that will perhaps challenge you to be something more than a corporate cog, don't whine that your professor hurt your feelings by saying bad things about the president. if you want to have your parents' ideologies comfortably reinforced and you never want to hear something that's different from what you already think, then go to a christian university.
first, i think these stories of university professors discriminate against students based on their students' political beliefs are crap; i don't even know what that means. how are these whiny students discriminated against because they hear something they don't agree with? besides, i don't think these stories are really true.
if anything, i think instructors are offended and horrified by our students more than the other way around. was i horrified by some of the conservative ideas of my students, both at ucla and the university of michigan? hell, yes. but everyone knows you don't fail a student because you secretly think they're idiots.
i once had a student at ucla write a paper trying to justify the internment of the japanese during ww2. i gave young billy a C not because his paper was shit because it was shit AND it was poorly researched and badly argued - but i also met with him to discuss it. i told him i was completely horrified by the paper; but when we talked i understood he wanted a provocative topic and thought the more controversial, the easier i'd grade. (he thought wrong.)
eventually, after i'd been teaching for a few years, i began announcing that certain topics were off limits: abortion, homosexuality, religion/God, denial of the Holocaust, anything resembling white supremacist/pro-slavery propaganda. did i do this because i was a flaming liberal trying to suppress the free thoughts of my students?
no. i did it to spare myself the chore of grading the crappiest papers in the universe. in the clumsy hands of those barely out of their teens, those topics are hideous, awful, boring, pedantic, and narrow. if i'm going to have to read something that says the japanese deserved to be in concentration camps make it a piece of sophisticated drivel, not inexperienced and, most likely, plagiarized drivel.
second, and call me old-fashioned, when did these kids get the idea that what they feel actually matters? yes, i realize that makes me sound terribly snobbish and so very Paper Chase, but so what. i believe that a university exists to educate people for the scant four years they're there. there is time enough for the tender young subject to revert to their type and become a shallow corporate breeder. and if it means hearing some bitter physics professor (who probably hates teaching anyway because he's stuck in podunk instead of someplace REAL) bitch about the president and the stupid war in iraq, then suck it up, young person.
and if the federal government gets into the business of 'approving' what professors can/can't say in their classrooms, that's censorship. and THAT hurts my feelings more.
[edited for some much needed clarity.]