Careful Not to Get Too Much Education...
Or You Could Turn Liberal
by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
I've been giving a lot of thought lately to a conversation I overheard at a Starbucks in Nashville last winter. It was a cold and rainy night as I worked away at my laptop, but the comforting aroma of cappuccino kept me going. My comfort was interrupted, however, by two young men who sat down in upholstered chairs near my table. One was talking, the other listening, in what appeared to be an informal college orientation.
"The only trouble with David Lipscomb (a conservative Christian college nearby) is that old man Lipscomb apparently didn't like football. So we don't have a football team, but we have a great faculty."
"But you do have to be careful about one thing," he said more quietly, coming closer and speaking in hushed tones, "My professor-I have this great professor-told me that you have to be careful not to get too much education, because you could lose your foundation, your core values."
The neophyte nodded solemnly, his eyebrows raised with worry.
"If you get a bachelors," the seasoned student reassured, "you'll probably be okay. But my professor said that when you get a master's, and definitely if you go beyond that, you can lose your values. He said that college students have to be watchful because if you get too much education, you could turn LIBERAL. He's seen it happen to a lot of good Christians."
Both young men looked around again to make sure no-one was listening (unfortunately my hearing is excellent, even when I wish it weren't), and shuddered visibly. They shook their heads at the terrifying fate that could befall them.
I found it hard to concentrate after that, my mind returning again and again to one question: "What would happen to higher education in America if this fear of "too much education", and this presumption that liberal views are the devil's snare rather than the logical consequences of exposure to science, philosophy, literature and diversity, became widespread?"
Sadly, it has already happened, and is growing on college campuses across the US. A recent article by Justin Pope, "Conservatives Flip Academic Freedom Debate: Liberal professors are accused of attempting to indoctrinate students. But some teachers say pupils are trying to avoid new ideas." (AP, 12/25/04) describes this anti-liberal movement, weakly disguised as "balancing" their courses with conservative views:
"Leading the movement is Students for Academic Freedom, with chapters on 135 campuses and close ties to David Horowitz, a onetime liberal campus activist turned conservative commentator. The group posts student complaints on its website about alleged episodes of grading bias and unbalanced, anti-American propaganda by professors - often in classes.
"Instructors "need to make students aware of the spectrum of scholarly opinion," Horowitz said. "You can't get a good education if you're only getting half the story."" The "other half" of the story may not be factual, however, but doctrinal. As the young man in Starbucks said just before he and the incoming freshman got up to leave,
"Even at Lipscomb, you have to be careful what you pay attention to. My professor said that a few faculty members might lead you astray without meaning to, by bringing in ideas that aren't biblical. He said that if you're ever taught anything that sounds questionable, you should talk about it with your minister to see if it's right."
Even as a Christian raised in the evangelical tradition, this shocked me. I suppose it shouldn't have; the Southern Baptist Convention recently considered a proposal to urge all parents to pull their children out of public schools to prevent their exposure to "non-biblical ideas" which, as it happens, run rampant in fields like medicine, physics, archeology, literature, philosophy, history, astronomy, psychology, theology-in short, everything.
What will happen to that innovative American spirit if radical "conservatives" have their way with our educational system? How will the US fare in the global marketplace when certain ideas, or entire fields, become off-limits to students who've been indoctrinated to consult their ministers before learning new information?
What will happen to medical research, for instance, if this movement proceeds to its logical conclusion: outlawing the scientific method, a method notorious for not relying on biblical principles?
I fear men like Horowitz because uncensored education is essential to our democracy, our people's well-being and the nation's long-term survival. The "conservative" movement that he's spearheading reminds me of the news reports coming out of Iran in the months just prior to the conservative religious takeover of that country when its professors were warned to present the "correct" views in class.
This movement pretends to be about "balancing" liberal with conservative views, but the reality is a lot uglier than that. As the conversation I overheard suggests, this movement isn't about balance, it's about censorship-or even better, self-censorship that's easily achieved by frightening students with social rejection, hellfire or both. Either way, scholarship is degraded in the process. According to the article, "many educators, while agreeing that students should never feel bullied, worry that they just want to avoid exposure to ideas that challenge their core beliefs - an essential part of education. Some also fear that teachers will shy away from sensitive topics or fend off criticism by "balancing" their syllabuses with opposing viewpoints, even if they represent inferior scholarship."
Whether through self-censorship or junk education, our country's children are paying the price for the political aggression of the far right. Robert Frost once wrote, "Education is the ability listen to almost anything without losing your temper."
Tempers are short in today's radical "conservative" America, and the emboldened radical right is in no mood to listen to anyone.
Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn't Have to Choose Just One", which is posted on her website, wwww.JesusontheFamily.org