Be Careful Not to Get Too Much Education

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to a conversation I overheard at Starbucks in Nashville last winter. I was distracted from my work on that cold and rainy night by two young men who sat down in upholstered chairs next to my table. One was talking and the other was listening, in what appeared to be an informal college orientation.

“The only trouble with Lipscomb {a conservative Christian college
nearby] is that old man Lipscomb made a rule that the college couldn’t have a football team, so that’s a bummer. But it’s a great school, and you’re gonna love it.

“Now you do have to be careful about one thing,” he said more quietly,
coming closer and speaking in hushed tones, “My 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 bachelor’s degree,” 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.”

The young men paused for a moment, shaking their heads at the dangers that lie ahead.

I found it hard to concentrate after that, my mind returning again and again to one question: “What will 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 natural consequences of uncensored exposure to science, philosophy, literature and diversity, becomes widespread?”

Too late-it’s already happening, and with Bush installed for a second emboldened term, the campaign to remodel our universities is growing like wildfire. Professors are feeling the chill, but in the long run it’s America’s youth who’ll pay the price. Justin Pope describes the anti-liberal movement to “balance” college courses with the politically correct and religiously correct rightwing views (justified by research or not), but not just on conservative Christian college campuses:

“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.””

That “other half” of the story may not be factual, but doctrinal. As the young man in Starbucks said just before he and the incoming freshman got up to leave,

“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 ideas that conservatives may consider “godless” but that are in fact essential. Non-biblical, non-conservative ideas run rampant in fields like medicine, physics, archeology, literature, philosophy, history, astronomy, psychology, theology-in short, everything.

Religious Takeovers are Never Good for Business

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 its emphasis on unfettered and unbiased inquiry? How long until scientists are obliged to first consult with their ministers to see if their hypotheses, methods or conclusions are right?

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.”

But as I’ve written before, tempers are short in today’s increasingly aggressive “conservative” America, and the emboldened radical right is in no mood to listen to anyone.
Dr. TERESA WHITEHURST is a clinical psychologist and writer. Her most recent book describes the nonviolent guidance of children, Jesus on Parenting, Baker Books, 9/2004.

You can contact her at DrTeresa@JesusontheFamily.org





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