Thursday, June 15, 2006


Yes, but...

Underneath all their whining and carrying on about their alleged persecution, right-wingers sometimes do present an element of salient truth. In this case I speak of liberal orthodoxy on the college campus. Too bad the hyperbole and hystrionics that so often characterize conservative discourse often make any truth easily dismissable. Truth should never be dismissed out of hand, no matter how badly it's portrayed. Yet, conservatives often make it so easy to do just that.

I reflect on this as I've returned to college this summer to pursue a master's degree in educational administration. Essentially, I'm going to principal's school, and after two days in class, I'm wondering if buried way down beneath all the foolish ideological rhetoric about liberal political correctness, lies more than a kernal of truth.

Certainly we've all heard the right-wing horror stories about tenured radicals on college campuses and how universities are hotbeds of leftist subversion. These allegations go back at least 100 years, and perhaps they really have their roots in the Middle Ages when practicing mathematics was equated with witchcraft.

To be sure, much of this hysteria seems to have an anti-education, closeminded tone, such as the pervasive myth that we teachers are engaged in all sorts of social engineering (Frankly, we teachers just want the kids to put down their Game Boys for a few minutes so we can teach them to read and cypher a little math.) We see this mindset as Southern Baptists reluctantly voted yesterday not to call (at least not yet) for the complete withdrawal of Baptist children from public schools. Instead, they called for Baptists to run for school board posts so they can propogate their own social engineering agenda. I could go on about College Republican types who fly off the handle the second they disagree with their professor, religious fundamentalists who forbid their children to go to college lest they form a different worldview from their parents, or pro-business types who believe that any learning that doesn't contribute to the bottom line of a corporation is frivolous and contemptible.

Yet, amid all this conservative closemindedness, I increasingly can't help but wonder if we liberals are pretty damned closeminded, dogmatic and orthodox ourselves. One of my classes essentially addresses political issues in the educational arena. It's mostly discussion, and really it's loads of fun to discuss and sometimes argue politics with classmates and the professor. Our professor is a pretty laid-back sort, a self-described liberal who enjoys a lively debate and doesn't mind disagreement with his line (or at least I hope, for the sake of my grade). Certainly, the class is not politically monolithic. We have a guy who believes that for-profit schools and school competition will fix everything. We have another gentleman who believes that Christians are under attack in America and the world went to hell with Abington v. Schemp.

As we discussed on, a liberal consensus emerged, one that I sometimes agreed with. At the same time, a rather disturbing charicature of political correctness and liberal orthodoxy began to emerge. Let me outline two rather valid characterizations a conservative would have made about our discussion:

1) Liberals believe in tolerance only for liberal viewpoints. We all started with mostly universal agreement that we should not be leading prayers or other religious observances in the classroom, an admitted minority viewpoint in America today. But as the discussion evolved, some, including the professor, argued that we shouldn't eveb be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in our classrooms, lest someone be offended, and I found myself as the only vocal dissenter to that idea. Yet, many of my classmates felt that it's morally and ethically OK to preach their political and social agenda, whether it be against the war in Iraq or for gay marriage. In essence to me, and I argued quite vocally for this point, it appears that a conservative perspective is verboten in classroom, yet liberals should feel to vocally preach their own worldview.

2) Liberals continue supporting the same empty-headed approach to education that got us into the mess we're in. Here's what I heard: Teachers unions can do no wrong, and perhaps teachers should even be compelled to join. If a child treats you disrespectfully, blame yourself or the system because many teachers are not respectful to children. There is zero benefit to standardized testing. A Christmas tree, no matter how secular, is a true threat to any non-Christian, and must be eradicated from the public arena. Education is really not in crisis; the crisis is merely an invention of right-wing politicians. Have you heard all this before? Any wonder why nothing ever changes?

Am I oversimplifying? Of course. Yet as liberal as you know I am, I found myself in this class discussion frequently saying "Yes, but..." This isn't to say that I'm switching sides. The right's approach to education I still find anti-intellectual, intolerant and often elitist. But if the dogma that's being presented as truth in my graduate classes is all liberal America has to offer in the realm of education reform, then we might as well pack it up and go home, because our non-liberal neighbors ain't buying it, and frankly I'm not either.

Furthermore, if we're so predictable in our logic, then I suppose the reprehensible likes of Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh aren't so off-base after all when they can so predictably charicaturize us.

So how about it liberals? Are you truly the independent thinker you like to think you are? Or have you crammed your entire philosophy and beliefs into some pre-ordained box as we enjoy accusing conservatives of doing?

Something to think about

I rejoiced as everyone did last week with the news of al-Zarqawi last week, but Sylvester Brown makes a good point in his column in today's Post-Dispatch:

It's hard to draw a moral line between a civilized government that proudly displays photos of a bloody corpse and the "uncivilized" insurgents who distributed videos of beheadings. How exactly is the Pentagon behaving better than those soldires who e-mailed photos of sexually and physically brutalized Iraqi detainees?

Ever wonder if we at least sometimes show at least glimpses of the same characteristics as those we claim to be evil-doers?

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