How Widespread is Student Indoctrination?

Jason Fertig

I face a certain degree of cognitive dissonance when I encounter assertions of student indoctrination at college.  On one hand, I know it exists; one has to learn that separate gender bathrooms are stress-inducing.  But I’ve often questioned how widespread the indoctrination really is.

My critique does not stem from a belief that there is an abundance of right-wingers on campuses.  Rather, I believe that there is a third option – students have no opinion.  I actually wish more students were being indoctrinated because that would mean that if we just exposed them to alternate views of pressing issues, they would welcome wrestling with those topics.

In general, today’s college students are fine human beings, but they are not intellectually curious; what amounts to their worldviews are formed by pop culture.  Students know how to Jersey Shore Fist Pump, but most of my students were unaware that Occupy Wall Street existed until I told them.  Some students don’t even seem aware of what is happening in their intended career fields, as I learned in 2008 when I was at a large public university where a representative from a mortgage company was greeted with blank stares when she asked business students “what’s going on in the mortgage industry?”

Allan Bloom is still relevant; student minds are closing at a rapid pace.  Many of them only see college as buying an employability certificate with as little pain as possible.

Hence, in order to love teaching in 2011, the teacher has to be prepared for delayed gratification.  At times weeks will go by when you somberly wonder if your students really care about the topics you dearly love.  But never fear.  Even with the gloomy picture that I painted up front, if challenged enough, there will still be times where students leave you grinning from ear-to-ear.

I have highlighted such an example in the past.  Here is the latest work of art that recently arrived in my inbox.  My student has given me permission to share her reaction to a gender pay gap article that we read in class. 

Do men really make more than women on average?

In some cases this may be true, but on average, this statistic is based on flawed analyses. The article we discussed in class today clearly had outlier data in its averages. These averages may not have considered voluntary time taken off, hours worked, or the level of the position; it was comparing apples to oranges.

Gender equality in the workplace is of course ideal, but causing awareness to an issue that has been massively improved over the years is redundant. The bill that President Obama signed into law that targets this pay gap addresses what seems to be an underlying form of discrimination, but ultimately it causes more harm than good (reverse discrimination).  

I am a Latina who has benefited from affirmative action in the past, yet it is still a policy I feel needs to be omitted. Students, such as myself, who have a disadvantaged background may need that boost to help them get past the levels of failure predetermined among the larger urban cities. Without affirmative action, I may not have been accepted into a very prestigious university, but more importantly I would not have been able to afford it without the state being beyond generous with all the grant money I received.

So yes, affirmative action can be good, however, with that being said, it also leads to reverse discrimination. Students and possible employees who are white and more qualified for a position may be passed because quotas (real or imaginary) for race do exist.  Plus, Affirmative Action also demeans true minority achievement. Success in the workplace feels less credible because observers don’t know whether the success is due to hard work or affirmative action. Promotions, compensation levels, etc. are all things that should be left to skill and ability, not race or gender. But where are the articles addressing this, or are they unaddressed in fears they will be seen as discriminatory?

Instead of focusing on how men on average make more than women, more energy should be put into more important issues, such as creating a better defense for my favorite football team or fighting diseases with no cure.

Indoctrination should be fought when appropriate.  But I question whether indoctrination is a given as a generalization. Many professors themselves hold views that are generally associated with student indoctrination, however not all of those views are effectively transmitted to students because of the large amount of intellectual apathy on campuses. While two wrongs do not make a right, those of us who desire to provide a true liberal education must not become downtrodden with doom and gloom scenarios.  Free thinking students like the one above do exist.  We need to allow them to shine.

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