Saturday, January 08, 2005

American Freedom?

I've come across the following story via Samizdata.
Professor Woolcock didn’t grade my essay. Instead he told me to come to see him in his office the following morning. I was surprised the next morning when instead of giving me a grade, Professor Woolcock verbally attacked me and my essay. He told me, “Your views are irrational.” He called me naïve for believing in the greatness of this country, and told me "America is not God's gift to the world." Then he upped the stakes and said "You need regular psychotherapy."

I don't really know entirely what to make of it, because the fundamental parts of the story are essentially unknowable - the extent to which the Professor did actually threaten his student. However, to help understand, as through Samizdata, here's a link to the guy's essay.

Now, having a strong interest in the forming of the US Constitution, I think that there is more than enough in the essay that could be questioned, and it is excessive in its praise of America (even if the basic thrust can be easily defended). But if the student is right in what he says about the professor's reaction to the essay, then he is failing totally in his duty to get his students to use critical reasoning to approach any subject. Certainly the question asked in the essay is leading, rather than actually inviting a proper discussion of the subject at hand.

And this, more generally, is something that always concerns me about education. I worry about religious education in schools because a curriculum will be determined by someone with a particular axe to grind. It annoys me intensely I was taught in RE for nearly two terms about Islam without once being introduced to the concept of jihad, for example. I worry that the teaching of history in schools can be used to teach people that the Marxist interpretation of history is essentially correct. Is there anything we can do to stop the indoctrination of children by teachers they respect? I guess there isn't, short of there being strong institutional safeguards. But even these aren't perfect - especially when the educational elite in a country is very definitely of a particular political persuasion. Although the original post at Samizdata suggests the power of the Internet may limit similar professor's actions in the future.

Do I think this sort of criticism is a major problem? Probably not. If our schools were full of political cranks like this then there would be hell to pay in the media. But in many ways, a more limited bias can be just as damaging. Because it is less overt, people are far more likely to be subliminally affected by it. Those things, I suppose, are unavoidable in any walk of life. However, it shows the need for vigilance where educational systems are concerned. There's a reason why the Anglicans in England forced Balfour to protect their Church schools in the 1902 Education Act. There's a reason why the evangelicals in America are so desperate to get creationism on the curriculum.

And that is the reason why we need to be constantly vigilant to ensure our education systems are as objective as possible.