College’s Liberal Agenda: Critical Thinking Skills

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The standard consensus is that colleges are bastions of liberals pushing their agenda onto helpless and unsuspecting 18-22 year olds. Bill O’Reilly, conservative commentator masquerading as a populist, has even called for a kind of affirmative action to increase university hiring of conservative professors. Never mind that there is almost no evidence that this liberal agenda has almost no impact on students, and forgetting that the other general consensus about higher education is that we aren’t teaching anyone anything, if college’s are doing such a bad job and creating such awful students, isn’t it odd that “data shows that your chances of being unemployed increase dramatically without a college degree?”

It’s possible, of course, that O’Reilly is not entirely serious, especially in light of his opposition to other affirmative action policies. I can’t imagine he would stoop to such hypocrisy and wallow in inconsistency. All this conversation about the liberal agenda of my colleagues and I, employability after college, and value seems strangely prescient as we watch my older son and his friends make decisions about where they will go to college. More importantly, we listen to our friends and relatives discuss which schools their children should attend.

No one doubts that a university education is as valuable as you make it. A part of me recognizes that a student graduating from Angelo State University (where I teach) has the potential to be just as well educated as a kid from Harvard. Simply put, a student who works hard, studies, reads, and wants to learn will learn (and graduate with less debt!) regardless of the political beliefs of her professor. Likewise, a student who is apathetic and disengaged will leave college just as unprepared academically.

We would be foolish, though, if we claimed that a degree from ASU was just as valuable as a degree from Harvard, Yale, or even University of Texas. Fairly or not, the elite schools are, in fact, elite. “I went to Harvard” sounds different than “I went to ASU.” Top tier schools have academic resources and greater opportunities than other schools. It is also worth noting that when critics attack universities for their liberal agenda, they are talking about Harvard, Yale, and those elite schools. (I’m perpetually annoyed, in fact, that we speak of universities in this universal way but that’s a blog for another day.)

So, and I say this with all due respect to my colleagues, I don’t want my son to go to ASU. Financially, it would be a good thing. He could live at home, continue eating my food, and I wouldn’t have to pay housing costs. Kaching! I know plenty of parents who are encouraging their children to attend college and live at home for these very reasons and I have some sympathy for their decision. Tuition isn’t getting less expensive. Housing costs, driven by opulent dorms, climbing walls, and increased student life amenities are creating incredibly comfortable college campuses. Comfort comes at a cost and I understand the sticker shock.

But I also know that this decision to “encourage” their children to attend college locally (whether ASU or their local school) is being driven by a different kind of value. While college professors are increasingly criticized for graduating students who lack critical thinking skills, we are watching enrolled students who have been raised to resist thinking critically. One of the reasons, quite frankly, that the “liberal agenda” of college professors has very little impact is that our students too often simply ignore or reject political philosophies that challenge long held beliefs. Often, as you can imagine, the most resistant students are those who have never left the safety of their own nest.

Asking my son to attend our local college would, in fact, be a disservice to his future. To become educated he must be challenged educationally and emotionally. I want his college professors to politicize the classroom and I want them to ask him challenging questions that force him to confront his beliefs. Quite frankly, I want him to go to a school with an agenda. An agenda implies ideas, thoughts, conversations, and all those other things that require critical thinking and analysis.

The value of a university education isn’t in an apolitical skill-set they might learn. The value of a college education should be in the independence they earn by confronting ideas that make them uncomfortable. I can only hope my son’s professors have a liberal agenda or a conservative agenda or, at the least, an agenda so that when he comes home to visit that nest he left seems smaller and different. At least then I’ll know I’m getting my money’s worth.

 

 

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

6 Responses to College’s Liberal Agenda: Critical Thinking Skills

  1. trokspot says:

    I think that ‘the standard consensus” is the standard consensus among conservatives…we see this a lot (especially from O’Reilly) when it comes to anything that they don’t like or agree with – “the far-left, liberal media/universities/etc. pushing their agendas…”

    It’s a quick and easy way to refute something they find disagreeable. This happens even for a lot of objective facts – i.e. the economic gap in the US has widened: “there goes that liberal media” or Nate Silver almost perfectly predicting election results: “there’s that liberal Times guy talking about the election…”

    The critical thinking skills thing is important to bring up, though. I teach classes at a large university (on the way to my phd) and I always want to challenge and stretch them, but it’s difficult to do – for a host of reasons…

    I was disappointed when home on break recently because I spoke with my younger sister who is a junior and has nearly a 4.0 at a large university but says that she has never had to critically think while in college.

    It’s a tricky problem…

  2. sagescenery says:

    I took some on-line courses from our local community college to renew my FL Teaching Certificate last Spring…could not believe the lack of writing and communication skills of those I had to interact with on the “message board.” Let alone critical thinking skills!! Ha!

    Also, I substituted at the high school level in a school that offers only Honors classes, but admits anyone…go figure! I don’t think elementary, middle, or high schools are preparing students to be critical thinkers! Or they’re trying to, but the students are not prepared at home, and so are not ready when they have to actually think for themselves at school! What happens when they get to college?!

    • mamajoyx9 says:

      I guess I could understand putting the responsibility of teaching kids to become critical thinkers on the parents if the children are being educated by the parents; but if I were to send my child out to be publicly educated on my tax dollars for eight hours a day (which I don’t), I would be pretty darn frustrated if they came home at the end of the day not knowing how to think critically.

      What the heck are they being taught all day? Raw data without being taught how to interpret it?

      The vast majority of kids in the US start public school at age 5. That’s not even counting the huge population that are now in Head Start programs around the country.

      Maybe it’s me, but I have great difficulty teaching my 3-year-old critical thinking skills. If I didn’t believe so strongly in my responsibility to educate my own kiddos (homeschool), I would certainly expect critical thinking to be covered sometime after the first day of kindergarten.

      Discipline, honesty, integrety, character – that’s a parent’s job whether they are homeschooled, publically schooled or privately schooled. If the parents are delegating out the chore of education, they ought to be able to expect a college prep education after 12 years of state schooling, dontcha think?

      Just my 2 cents.

      Blessings,
      Alyson

  3. mamajoyx9 says:

    So many good points here; I agree with some and disagree with others.

    Did the political agendas or world views of professors impact students in the classroom to an unhealthy degree? Definately.

    In a state university one of my step-daughters was required to read a book she considered pornographic (and it was most definately (homosexually) pornographic). She refused to do it because she did not want to have those images in her mind. The teacher gave her a choice, read the book and consider the content or receive a zero for that portion of her grade. She took the zero. I think the teacher’s agenda was along the lines of get these kids exposed to things and ideas they have never thought about before.

    Some ideas are better left unexplored.

    A very unpopular idea in academia, I suppose, but I stand by it.

    I enjoy your writing – you take a strong stand but somehow manage to do it without being offensive. I hope I do the same.

    Blessings,
    Alyson

  4. With all due respect, there are many other ways for a young person to begin expanding their horizons before they go to college, or even if they stay locally for college — try reading and listening to media from a very wide variety of sources. I do not mean mass American media, but those published in Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa…all places that publish in English, all of them available online. BBC Radio offers an hour of news every day (all available on-line) and there is much they cover that no one in the American media (I am a journalist) never even considers news. There are some great blogs written by people far from where you live. Travel is also a highly effective way to quickly learn how differently people feel — even a few 100 miles away can be sufficient.

    • mamajoyx9 says:

      Excellent point! Love the idea of pursuing foreign journalism as a source for perspective. I would like for my kids to do that in high school.

      Blessings,
      Alyson

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