There are too many examples of college campus craziness to count. There are entire websites—such as Campus Reform and The College Fix—that specialize in reporting the liberal bias, political correctness, and all around daily madness of institutions of higher education. However, for all the attention we give to these episodes at the collegiate level, we miss the root of the problem, and without addressing the cause we can’t hope for a solution.
The truth is, indoctrination of America’s youth begins long before college.
In my own experience, during my years at a public high school, I had a teacher who aired his left-leaning political views on a daily basis, during class hours, when we were supposed to be learning biology. I can remember sitting in the back of the class with my fists clenched asking myself, “What are we learning right now besides what he thinks about politics?” There was no space to debate him. Numerous students told their parents about it, but, at the end of the day, we all knew we couldn’t do anything. He was set to retire in a few years, he had tenure in the school district, and this was an AP class. No one was willing to risk their grade or their chances of getting into college over a forced hour and a half of frustration per day.
But the issues I had in the public school system extended far beyond this one teacher. It was frustrating that the only reason we learned certain things was so that we did well on statewide standardized tests. Every aspect of our education revolved around these tests. There was absolutely no room for critical thinking. Teachers would ask us, for example, what we thought about a Shakespeare play, and if we didn’t have the exact answer that they were looking for, crafted in the exact phrasing that was present on their curriculum guides, we were shot down.
This is problematic as we know that most teachers and educators, at all levels, lean left on the political spectrum, and if they are the ones making and teaching the curriculum we can rest assured that there will be some level of indoctrination and a lack of creative thinking.
This excerpt from a College Fix article on indoctrination in high school states the issue well:
It’s no surprise that a system that is state-funded and state-run advocates for a bigger government.The public school system is a microcosm of the socialist system, one that is bureaucratic, wasteful, and does not serve its original and intended purpose. Education is the cornerstone of Western society, a place where our youth are taught to think broadly and develop their own unique worldview. Instead, we are often taught what to believe instead of how to think.
Don’t just take this claim at face value. There are a myriad of stories from angry parents about their kids being indoctrinated in the public education system. One mom took to social media to display her daughter’s fill-in-the-blank vocabulary quiz that sported questions such as, “It was difficult for me to [blank] my feeling when I learned that Donald J. Trump had been voted in as our 45th President” and “After reading about President Trump’s immigration ban, I did not realize how [blank] the law can be.” More parents at an upscale school in Chicago pushed back when the administration sought to have an all-school social justice day with events such as “Developing a Positive, Accountable White Activism for Racial Civil Rights.” These stories are everywhere, but how many websites, organizations, or network television shows are as dedicated to shedding light on these issues as they are to revealing the issues present on college campuses? None as far as I know.
It’s not all about what students are being taught though. It’s about what they’re not being taught. In a PragerU video titled “Why Isn’t Communism as Hated as Nazism?” Dennis Prager makes the point that, in the education system, Nazism is widely condemned for its gruesome ideology and the atrocities that have been committed in its name. Rightly so, but the problem is many students either only briefly learn about the ills of communism or never learn about them at all. The public education system almost completely ignores this part of history because, although teachers and administrators may not necessarily identify as communists, many are at least sympathetic to communist ideas. As Prager puts it, “Communism is based on nice sounding theories, and Nazism isn’t. Intellectuals, in general, are seduced by words so much so that they deem actions as less significant than words. For that reason they haven’t focused nearly as much attention on the horrific actions of communists as they have on the horrific actions of the Nazis.”
During my time in public school, I never learned about communism, the Cold War, Stalin, or Mao. I was only introduced to communism through a summer program, and, to be completely honest, at the time it didn’t sound so bad because I had no historical context to judge the ideas of Karl Marx fairly. It was only until I took a class, after switching from public to private high school, on modern Chinese history that I even began to understand the horrors of communism.
This issue stems from the fact that the public school system places little to no weight on history education. At least in Pennsylvania, when I was in school, there was no statewide standardized history exam. There was a math and reading exam almost every year, and every few years there was a writing and science exam. Only 21 of the 50 states have statewide social studies or history exams that are issued more than once throughout a child’s primary or secondary education. The results from those tests are telling, though. A 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress report showed that only 18 percent of U.S. high school students were proficient in American history. The thought of many teachers is, why teach history when students aren’t going to be tested on it? And even if they are tested on it, it hardly matters as much as their scores on reading, writing, and math. Why put as much effort into teaching them about how the government works or about important historical figures? If any subject takes a backseat in the educational experience of an American child it’s usually history.
All of these things—the overt indoctrination, the exclusion of certain events in U.S. history to support an agenda, the overall lack of history education, and the strict adherence to teaching only what will be tested on statewide exams—set students up for failure when they go to college. Not only is there a steep learning curve, as students realize they will be tested in a completely different way than they were accustomed to in high school, but they will also be unaware of and ill-prepared to think about any range of topics at a critical level. Thus the protests and outrage when students confront an idea they’re uncomfortable with.
Luckily for me, when I started attending private school, I was thrust into the educational environment that public schools should be aiming for. I learned how to think critically and voice my opinion, and I learned that we don’t all necessarily have to see the world in the same light, only that we must show respect to one another and what we believe. Most students, however, have to figure those things out in their first year or two of college, and some, unfortunately, never do.
Colleges are slowly changing to mirror what students are used to from high school. In a documentary entitled “What Has Yale Become?”, Rob Montz of YouTube’s We the Internet TV comes to the realization that elite colleges are no longer focused on giving their students knowledge and truth. Rather, places like Yale seek to give college students an “experience”—a constant 4-year party until they graduate and fall into cushy jobs.
During the Yale controversy in 2015, which ensued after Professor Erika Christakis questioned a university-wide email that told students what they could and could not wear on Halloween, protesters marked the professor and her husband as insensitive racists. One notorious video from the altercations depicts a girl screaming at Nicholas Christakis, “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are not doing that. You’re going against that.” One’s knee-jerk reaction might be to say “No! It is an intellectual space! You’re wrong!” But then again, is that really what colleges and universities seek to provide these days? I’m starting to doubt that. For now, militant student protesters probably represent a minority on campus, and elite university academics still give students the education that they’re paying for on a day to day basis. But as time goes on, and protest culture permeates through campus, I think that we will begin to see the shift that Rob Montz points out. If the university system continues down this dangerous path it will, effectively, be giving in to what students want, not what they need.
My question from the beginning still remains though. If students are being prepped throughout their secondary educational years to become social justice warriors once they get to college, why do the media and nonprofits put so much emphasis on reform at the collegiate level? Don’t they realize that, for most students, it’s too late? Wouldn’t it make more sense to address the problem at its foundation?
To be clear, I have the utmost respect for organizations and media outlets that seek to spread conservative ideas and call out campus ridiculousness when necessary. Without these groups, professors, students, and administrators would never be held accountable for their words or actions. My critique is that these organizations can only ever hope to effect change by addressing the indoctrination that occurs at the secondary education level. If we want to make a difference, and curb the tide of snowflakes and SJWs entering college, we have to deal with the issues present in our education system before they manifest.
Dealing with those problems is a far greater task than meets the eye. It would require a rethinking of our whole public education system. One would have to work within the confines of Supreme Court decisions involving pre-college students. A substitute to statewide testing would have to be considered. Teachers, who may have dedicated good portions of their lives to their careers, may have to be fired (and then there’s the whole other issue of those teachers with tenure). Curricula that may not have changed too much from year to year would have to be completely redone. Who really wants to take on that monster of a project?
So maybe that’s one reason we focus on indoctrination at the collegiate level. The public school system is too broken, and it would take years, maybe decades, to fix. At least these conservative/free speech groups can win some smaller battles for college students by defending their First Amendment rights or exposing a professor who brings his or her liberal bias into the classroom. It’s better than nothing.
There’s also the fact that college students have a lot more freedom and power to fight back against their professors or administrations than younger students do. If a college professor spewed some of the remarks that my biology teacher touted daily, he would’ve ended up on a viral video for the whole country to see. The administration would’ve either fired him or his reputation would’ve been so badly damaged on campus that enrollment in his classes would’ve dropped. There would have been justice.
However, high school students would have been afraid for their grade in the class, of the consequences they would have had to pay if the school district or their parents disciplined them, or for their chances of getting into a good college with a blemish on their record. They would have had to fight on their own, whereas at the collegiate level there are more resources—and more students—to back them up if they go head-to-head with their administration. College students can form alliances with other groups so they have more influence, but at the secondary education level, groups are largely run by teachers and parents who keep the students in check. There are risks involved in challenging professors and the administration in college, but it is far less risky than it is in high school.
On a deeper level though, class differences may play a role here. About two-thirds of Americans do not have a college degree, but almost 90 percent of the population has a high school diploma. Therefore, becoming an “intellectual” by attending university is still somewhat of a rarity in American society. With the rise of Trump, we witnessed America’s resentment towards “elites” and “intellectuals.” Having a college degree or having years of political experience was not a selling point in 2016 because the American people, with the goading of Trump, pinned the country’s problems on these individuals. They were supposed to know better than anyone else how to get the country back on track after the 2008 recession, but many Americans were still feeling the side effects eight years later. So Trump, and many others, cast a dream-like quality over the common American man who didn’t need a fancy degree to make something of himself, and he assured his supporters that he would make that dream a reality yet again. It makes sense, then, that a majority of our population would place the blame for the cultivation of militant youth on colleges and universities—those institutions that created the corrupt and ineffective elites—instead of on the public education system, which most of them grew up in and still support.
A final reason we focus on the issues at the university level is that the conservative movement, and some of its most famous leaders, have made a talking point out of liberal bias and indoctrination in college. From the time William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote God and Man at Yale to the present, conservatives have been the ones to place the blame on colleges instead of on the public secondary schools. Maybe that’s because most conservative intellectuals and pundits began their professional careers critiquing their own experiences in college (Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro, Marc Thiessen, Laura Ingraham, Dinesh D’Souza, Ross Douthat, Rich Lowry, and Jay Nordlinger are just a few examples). Or maybe it’s easier for them, and fits their agenda better, to place the blame on bad parenting habits or mass culture. Liberal bias is easier to spot and critique in college, no doubt, but the leaders of the movement that brought this issue to light haven’t seriously dealt with the question of how we got here and how we might go about fixing the problem. Maybe they don’t want to.
Maria Biery is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Political Science and Journalistic Writing. She currently serves as the Content Editor, and was the former Editor-in-Chief, of Penn’s Collegiate Network publication, The Statesman. She is a summer editorial assistant at TAC.