Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Challenging students' views

Over at Salon, Glenn Greewald wrote:
"My real question is this: what kind of person goes to an academic institution and then demands to be shielded from political ideas that they find objectionable? Of all places, academia is supposed to permit and encourage the challenging of one’s assumptions and beliefs. At least in theory, that’s the prime value of studying at a university: learning how to think critically, which requires subjecting one’s views to rigorous dispute. The petulant entitlement needed to demand that nobody in that setting ever cite or mention objectionable political views is just staggering; it also reveals a severe lack of confidence in the validity of one’s own views."

I reckon it's fair to not demand shielding from political ideas so long as:

  • the unit is optional rather than compulsory,
  • the teachers give both sides of the argument,
  • the teachers have thoroughly researched the issue,
  • the teachers fully inform the students about course content before the unit starts.

Surprisingly, these conditions are rarely met in arts and social sciences. Many teachers in these departments are politically motivated rather than educationally motivated, and they take the opportunity to push their political agendas. Also, course descriptions are often vague and downright false.

The universities let the teachers do it using the same argument Greenwald uses: education involves hearing views you don't like. As if we haven't heard enough views we don't like! Also, universities cite "academic freedom" to justify the actions of such teachers. But what about student freedom? What about educational ethics?

Students pay for education and have their own purposes for studying. Teachers should not misuse their power and freedom to push their own agendas.

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