Susan Wise Bauer over at The Well-Trained Mind Blog has put together an excellent post on how many decent folks are asking the wrong questions when looking for a university or a department (either for their kids or for themselves), trying to avoid being barraged with a “liberal agenda.” I’ve heard similar sentiments myself—”I just want my kid to go somewhere that won’t brainwash him/her,” “I don’t want my child to go to UNC because there is so much intellectual arrogance there,” or “I want him/her to go to a Christian college or someplace where he/she will be able to grow and not be attacked.”
As Bauer points out, though these sentiments are based on reasonable concerns—nobody wants their children to be mocked for what they believe or wants their child to be converted to a viewpoint opposing their own, they reflect a lack of understanding of the purpose and methods of higher education (especially a traditional “liberal arts education”). Bauer points out the flaws while trying to point the way towards understanding the purpose of higher education—a large part of which involves training a person to think for himself/herself, learning how to reason, debate, and understand other perspectives.
Bauer’s experience with students who enter classes primed to resist “liberal” faculty mirrors my own experience:
I myself have had a very frustrating time teaching students who come into William & Mary primed to resist the lies of “liberal faculty.” (That includes a lot of home educated students, who register for for my classes because they think I’m safe.) Every time I say something that strikes them as possibly “liberal,” all of their defenses go up and they tune me out. I can’t play devil’s advocate or dialogue with them–they immediately put me on the list of untrustworthy professors and stop listening.
And at that point they become unteachable.
I’m often asked how home educated students stack up against others in my classes. My overwhelming impression is that they’re more fragile. They’ve got little resilience; I can’t push at their presuppositions even a little bit. Maybe they’re afraid those presuppositions will shatter.
(Understand that Bauer is a proponent of home-education; she isn’t suggesting that home-schooling is inferior, only pushing for a bit more emphasis on resilience and critical thinking than learning how to put up a prickly defense.)
I also entirely agree with Bauer’s conclusion, which assumes that students ultimately should be trained how to live in the real world:
What should these parents be asking instead? How about: How can my student find a group of likeminded peers, a religious community, a church, to support them as they study? In my opinion, that’s far more important than finding faculty that agree with you. How can I find a Dean of Students office that thinks parents should be partners in education, rather than telling them to bug off and leave eighteen-year-olds to their own devices? I think the most destructive attitude to encounter in university staff and faculty is the one that says: They’re grown-ups. Pay your tuition and get out of their lives. Do you know of a faculty member in literature/philosophy/biology/history who is thoughtful and trustworthy and willing to mentor? One or two close relationships are important; a whole faculty that agrees with your entire belief system is not.
The article is worth the read…