Photo of the day

A distractify gallery of finalists from the 2014 Wildlife photographer of the year competition.  These are phenonemal:
%27Shoulder%20Check%27%20by%20Henrik%20Nilsson

‘Shoulder Check’ by Henrik Nilsson

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On liberal indoctrination by college professors

Duke Political Science department chair, former Libertarian candidate for NC governor, and nice guy, Mike Munger, shared a link to a story about his recent comments at a conservative thinktank (yes, Art Pope funded) in NC.  In general, he makes a good point– if liberal professors don’t actually challenge the views of their liberal students, they have done them a huge dis-service.  But then, sadly, he goes way overboard in his depictions of academia:

Too often, American college students face a one-question test, one based not on facts, but on ideology. The test: “Are you a liberal, or conservative?”

The correct answer is, “I’m a liberal, and proud of it.” That concerns me.

However, the nature of my concern may surprise you. I’m not worried much about the students who get it wrong; for the most part, they actually get a pretty good education.

I’m worried about those who get it right. The young people that our educational system is failing are the students on the left. They aren’t being challenged, and don’t learn to think.

Students on the left should sue for breach of contract. We promise to educate them, and then merely pat them on the head for having memorized the “correct” answer!  …

So, the absence, in many departments, of dissenting voices is harmful. Not so much harmful to those who would agree with the dissenting voice, but those who are denied the chance to collide with error.

It’s as if we asked students to play chess, but only taught them one-move openings. They think that pawn to king four is a better move than pawn to king’s rook four, but that’s simply a matter of faith.

Conservative students, by contrast, actually learn to play chess. They study the whole game, not just the first move. They learn countermoves, they consider the advantages of different approaches. They search out empirical arguments, and they read articles and white papers.

As a super-productive researcher, teacher, and traveller of the globe, I do wonder how often Munger is truly getting into all these other classrooms to see the patting of liberal heads.  All I can say is that in my classes, the components of liberal and conservative ideology are such a tiny portion of what I teach them.  Look at something as potentially politically-charged as “the presidency,” but I’m pretty sure that I and my liberal colleagues are doing more than saying “oohhhh, Obama’s awesome.”  No, we encourage all the students to think critically about the nature of presidential power, the limits of that power, the sources of that power, etc.  Whether you like Obama or not or agree with his policies hardly comes into play.  And it is quite easy to make liberal students question an un-reflective, purely partisan support for Obama just as it is to make conservative students question a knee-jerk opposition.  Among the many skilled political science professors I know, I cannot imagine too many simply nodding at the former while questioning the latter.  That’s no way to teach students how to think about politics– which I think most of us (regardless of ideology) do a pretty good job of.

Are there some professors out there who are short-changing their students by simply approving of views they share without forcing students to think critically?  Absolutely.  Are many of them liberal?  Surely.  But any decent professor is constantly trying to get their students to think critically about a whole range of issues and political ideology is ultimately just a smidgen of this.

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