Left at College?

One of the students in this month’s blogging challenge wrote yesterday about discovering the predominance of “leftist” ideology at the college. He had heard that places of higher learning were hot-beds of left-wing activism and thinking, but was surprised at the extent to which the stereotype was true.

Of course, no one would be surprised by the notion that college and university students were “lefties,” but what gave me pause was this student’s assertion that his instructors were all left-leaning as well. But I don’t disagree with him. On reflection I admit that I and many of my colleagues espouse leftist principles to one degree or another; my own political position, in fact, is probably somewhat to the right of that of some of my colleagues. And I don’t think this is surprising; it’s not called a “liberal” arts education for nothing. What makes me stop and think, though, is that this is so obvious in the classroom. I’m not saying that we should censor ourselves: heaven forbid. But – as dear to our heart as many of our principles are – isn’t it our responsibility as educators to present both sides? A balanced view? Is it “okay” to teach what we believe because we believe it’s “right”? Even if it’s “left”?

Any thoughts?

nablopomo #2


2 Responses

  1. I think it varies a lot by discipline. Most social scientists, with the exception of economists, are left leaning. Most people who teach business or law aren’t. Scientists tend to be all over the map.

    Part of the reason academia is characterised as “left wing” is because hardly any other information source is. Thus people of right wing views are shocked when suddenly presented with a POV they haven’t been getting from the mass media. Lefties grow up in a world permeated by right wing media so views that differ from our own tend not to shock.

  2. I would actually agree with this particular student’s assertion that the instructors (at least several of them) seem to espouse liberal ideals – and I didn’t notice this so much in college as in university.

    It seems to happen most noticeably a difficult topic comes up in class (for example, race and racism, abortion, etc). It is as if the instructor feels obligated to present and defend the left, or “correct” point of view to avoid controversy, because there’s a pretty good chance that most students will ascribe to that point of view. But the few that don’t often aren’t encouraged to speak up, or are made to feel badly for having a different point of view. I think that it is probably likely that several instructors are caught between a rock and a hard place: it’s risky to be controversial (or even even-handed) if you can’t “pull it off” in a manner that doesn’t upset somebody – and that is often hard because there are a lot of sensitive students out there who feel entitled to riot if someone’s opinion doesn’t fit into their ethos – especially an authority figure’s opinion.And vice versa. And that’s another problem: presenting both sides can be misconstrued as personal opinion and lead to conflict.

    The experience of post-secondary would be far more enriching if more instructors presented both sides without an obvious bias. I have had some fantastic instructors over time who absolutely have done this, and done it very well – surprising and challenging students instead of falling back on the prevailing liberal view. I hope I can see it more often in the future, because it is important that every side is represented, even if that particular side is disagreed with vehemently.

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