Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Targeted by Conservatives for Teaching Philosophy

More on the "Academic Bill of Rights" that I mentioned in my earlier post today. This part struck me:

Conservative students have complained to each other: “How can she call herself a philosophy teacher when she doesn’t’ allow students to express their opinions?”

Students labor under the false presumption that philosophy is about the expression of “their” opinions and that all opinions are equally valid. Never mind that most students haven’t read a single philosophy book in their entire lives. Never mind that they do not hold a single college degree on the subject. Degrees in philosophy are irrelevant to today’s students. Generally, students don’t value reading, which means that they don’t value learning, and if they don’t value learning, they don’t value teachers. There are exceptions, thank goodness, but this downward trend of poor reading and writing skills is getting worse with every year that passes.

Nevertheless, college students believe that they have equal status with their professors. And that is how this movement began—with the absurd notion that students’ opinions, no matter how stupid or wrong those opinions may be, have as much validity as academic scholarship.

I think this is what it comes down to -- that people really believe that years of study make no difference, and that if a professor claims some kind of expertise, then they're just being elitist. The simple fact is that some folks know more than other folks. Now, it is entirely possible for equally qualified people to disagree, but at least they are arguing on a level that shares certain basic premises about what constitute proof and a good argument. This professor's lecture was on Plato; the students were supposed to be applying that philosopher's principles to the war in Iraq -- instead it broke into a melee. Some of these kids clearly didn't know the difference between arguing from a particular philosophical viewpoint, and getting into a political wrangle. I could, as an academic exercise, argue something from a conservative Christian point of view, even though it's one I don't share. (In fact, I do it all the time, because I have to explain these people to Grandma, who just thinks they are nuts.)

I've often mentioned to my friends that before I came onto the Internet, I didn't think I was a good debater -- but I found out very quickly that there are a lot of people who will think they have proven something absolutely, when they haven't, who don't know how to stick to a point, and who think ad hominems and accusations are a good way to win an argument. Looks like things are as bad in the classroom as they are on the 'Net.

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