Fairy Tales for Freshmen: Mile-High Propaganda

Ashley Thorne

  • Article
  • September 17, 2008

WorldNetDaily recently published an article based on complaints from students at Metropolitan State College at Denver who said their professor showed political bias in his teaching.

The complaints were about Andrew Hallam, who teaches ENG 1010 Freshman Composition: The Essay, and has given his students a writing assignment—an essay about Sarah Palin's nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. In the written explanation of the assignment, Hallam asks students to compare Sarah Palin’s image to a fairy tale: 

Arguably, the entire event was designed to present Sarah Palin in an idealized [Sic]– indeed, as if her life is like a fairy tale in which America could be included if she is voted into office with John McCain. Note her body language, facial expressions, the way she dressed, what she said and who she pointed out or talked about in her speech. How do these elements form a 'fairy tale' image about Sarah Palin as a person and as a politician that the Republican Party may wish its members and the American public to believe? How may the story 'Sleeping Beauty' and/or Tanith Lee's 'Awake' be used to compare the image of Palin with fairy tales, especially as they portray women, their behavior, and their lives?

Hallam may have gotten the idea for this assignment from Matt Damon, a celebrity film actor who appeared in an AP video denouncing Palin’s vice presidential nomination and saying “it’s like a really bad Disney movie.” The English professor specified that students should look for an “appearance vs. reality” theme in discussing Palin’s image:

Using clear reasoning, explain how these sources may undermine or otherwise paint a different picture of Palin as a person and as a politician than what she or the Republican Party may wish the American public to believe.

Hallam didn’t allow for the possibility that some students would want to write in favor of Sarah Palin.  According to WorldNetDaily:

There was no opening for students to find commentaries or statements supporting Palin or her positions. But Janna Barber, who is among the students who have raised concerns about the instructor, said she would do the assignment and include a number of supportive arguments as well.

Let’s hope Janna doesn’t get a lower grade for expressing her views in her essay. But even if students aren’t penalized for not sharing Hallam’s point of view, is it fair to give such an assignment in the first place?

NAS is a non-partisan organization. We don’t  have a political affiliation and do not endorse specific politicians. We do, however, express concern when faculty and administrators impose their political views on students—an imposition that is especially egregious in graded assignments. The assignment at Metro State is an instance in which an instructor allowed his personal opinions to dictate the way he teaches a college course. Some students in the class have been keeping records of things Hallam says and does in class, including his telling them, “Bush-bashing is one of my favorite things to do.”

The record keeping might be helpful in view of the frequency in which the academic Left denies the existence of abuses like this. The latest denial comes in the form of a book titled Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities published by Brookings Institution. The authors, George Mason University professors Bruce L. R. Smith, Jeremy D. Mayer, and A. Lee Fritschler, find the “evidence for the hypothesis” of classroom misconduct (in the form of professors misusing their positions to advocate political views) “to be weak or nonexistent.” Perhaps the students should forward their findings to Smith, Mayer, and Fritschler. 

Every fairy tale ends with a moral. Good comes to the good, bad comes to the bad, and the main characters learn a hard lesson.  We’ve been trying to think of what fairy tale best capture Instructor Hallam’s attempt to draft his students into writing Democratic Party propaganda. We welcome suggestions from readers, but our choice is the Icelandic tale of King Frode who came into possession of two magic millstones. Like ENG 1010, the millstones couldf be put to almost any use. The King forced his maidservants to use the stones to grind him a copious supply of gold, peace, and happiness. They, however, rebelled at their hard working conditions and instead ground out an army that overthrew their tormentor. 

That’s the fairy tale ending for Instructor Hallam, but life isn’t a fairy tale and we rather suspect that Metro State College will do nothing to interfere with Hallam’s “academic freedom” to treat his students like millstones. We hope we’re wrong.


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