From the pre-school teacher, who on her knees introduces the young to the world, to the elementary teacher who teaches his students how to count and think, to the high school teacher who gets her students ready to face the world as it is, to the college professor who teaches his students how to seek wisdom, gain understanding and prudence – teachers are responsible for making their students better than they receive them. That is why it is said, “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that [you] shall receive a stricter judgment.”
It is with this perspective that I address conservative commentators who attack a particular group of teachers – college professors. While running for president, Rick Santorum complained that colleges today are “indoctrination mills” run by liberals who reject conservative ideas and values.
Liberals like Neil Gross counter that the main reason for “attacking liberal professors as elitists serves a vital purpose. It helps position the conservative movement as a populist enterprise by identifying a predatory elite to which conservatism stands opposed – an otherwise difficult task for a movement strongly backed by holders of economic power.”
Conservative attacks on academia date back to the intellectual debates on the virtues of socialism vs. capitalism both before and after World War II. They also date to the academia’s embrace of the New Deal and macro-economics in the 1920s – 1940s, liberal support of desegregation in the 1950s, academic support of the Great Society and the expanded role of the federal government in the 1960s. Conservatives were further alienated from academia in the late 1960s – 1970s when academia defended the proposition that social, economic and physical environmental factors were the causes of crime. Conservatives assert crime is the result of moral turpitude and the lack of moral clarity of the poor. Academia’s support for black civil rights in the 1960s and for forced integration in the early 1970s settled the rejection of academia in the conservative mind. The revisionist approach to history and the rise of the gender and race studies movement (1970s – present) within academic research, in which many of the conventional views on the history of America are challenged as either untrue in total or highly Eurocentric and biased against the contributions and abuses of non-Europeans, solidified conservative rejection of American academia.
An example of this reviled revisionist perspective is focusing on the fact that Washington and Jefferson, the beloved heroes of conservatives, were slave owners and believed that they were, by right of God, authorized to enslave blacks, or at the very least they believed that blacks were inferior to whites by design. The point is this: to acknowledge that the views of Jefferson and Washington about blacks are racist, what does that say about conservatives, that their heroes were racists? What does it say about America that from its inception, it supported slavery and it had to endure a civil war, with more than 600,000 dead to end it? It’s the question that offends conservatives. Conservatives would rather not admit, much less address, the question or answer. Washington and Jefferson created America and America is just. That’s enough history as far as conservatives are concerned.
The problem with conservatives is that they view the perspective of academia, which asserts that American history is complex, as anti-American indoctrination. Conservatives support a sanitized and simple version of America that advocates there are no evils or abominations in her history, but rather there is only nobility. It’s not that conservatives really resent that colleges are indoctrination mills; they resent the fact that the indoctrination doesn’t go their way.
But now, here comes the rub, liberals tend to do the same in reverse. They argue that American history is nothing but evil and full of abominations, and they sanitize and ignore the greatness and nobility within American history. Under the moral stature of Washington, Hamilton and Madison lead the drafting of a written constitution that is the oldest in the world, and the idea that nations should be governed by written constitutions is their legacy.
The purpose of a college education is to reject the sanitization of knowledge and facts. The purpose is to educate and allow students to understand truth. But first, students must be provided facts in a fair and honest context in order for them to discover the truth. The first discovery being, the truth is complicated. This is where teaching comes in. It is this approach that separates teaching from indoctrination.
What college education does is allow students to be exposed to all ideas. The nobility in being a college professor is being a guide in that exposure. What conservatives don’t like is that their ideas are not the only ones taught, and liberals should be mindful that they should not only teach their ideas.
Dr. Arthur Garrison is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University. This piece is the work of Dr. Garrison and does not reflect the opinions or Kutztown University or its faculty, staff, students or alumni.