Careful Not to Get Too Much Education...
Or You Could Turn Liberal
by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
I've been giving a lot of thought lately
to a conversation I overheard at a Starbucks in Nashville last
winter. It was a cold and rainy night as I worked away at my laptop,
but the comforting aroma of cappuccino kept me going. My comfort
was interrupted, however, by two young men who sat down in upholstered
chairs near my table. One was talking, the other listening, in
what appeared to be an informal college orientation.
"The only trouble with David Lipscomb
(a conservative Christian college nearby) is that old man Lipscomb
apparently didn't like football. So we don't have a football team,
but we have a great faculty."
"But you do have to be careful about
one thing," he said more quietly, coming closer and speaking
in hushed tones, "My professor-I have this great professor-told
me that you have to be careful not to get too much education,
because you could lose your foundation, your core values."
The neophyte nodded solemnly, his eyebrows
raised with worry.
"If you get a bachelors," the
seasoned student reassured, "you'll probably be okay. But
my professor said that when you get a master's, and definitely
if you go beyond that, you can lose your values. He said that
college students have to be watchful because if you get too much
education, you could turn LIBERAL. He's seen it happen to a lot
of good Christians."
Both young men looked around again to
make sure no-one was listening (unfortunately my hearing is excellent,
even when I wish it weren't), and shuddered visibly. They shook
their heads at the terrifying fate that could befall them.
I found it hard to concentrate after
that, my mind returning again and again to one question: "What
would happen to higher education in America if this fear of "too
much education", and this presumption that liberal views
are the devil's snare rather than the logical consequences of
exposure to science, philosophy, literature and diversity, became
Sadly, it has already happened, and is
growing on college campuses across the US. A recent article by
Justin Pope, "Conservatives Flip Academic Freedom Debate:
Liberal professors are accused of attempting to indoctrinate students.
But some teachers say pupils are trying to avoid new ideas."
(AP, 12/25/04) describes this anti-liberal movement, weakly disguised
as "balancing" their courses with conservative views:
"Leading the movement is Students
for Academic Freedom, with chapters on 135 campuses and close
ties to David Horowitz, a onetime liberal campus activist turned
conservative commentator. The group posts student complaints on
its website about alleged episodes of grading bias and unbalanced,
anti-American propaganda by professors - often in classes.
"Instructors "need to make
students aware of the spectrum of scholarly opinion," Horowitz
said. "You can't get a good education if you're only getting
half the story."" The "other half" of the
story may not be factual, however, but doctrinal. As the young
man in Starbucks said just before he and the incoming freshman
got up to leave,
"Even at Lipscomb, you have to be
careful what you pay attention to. My professor said that a few
faculty members might lead you astray without meaning to, by bringing
in ideas that aren't biblical. He said that if you're ever taught
anything that sounds questionable, you should talk about it with
your minister to see if it's right."
Even as a Christian raised in the evangelical
tradition, this shocked me. I suppose it shouldn't have; the Southern
Baptist Convention recently considered a proposal to urge all
parents to pull their children out of public schools to prevent
their exposure to "non-biblical ideas" which, as it
happens, run rampant in fields like medicine, physics, archeology,
literature, philosophy, history, astronomy, psychology, theology-in
What will happen to that innovative American
spirit if radical "conservatives" have their way with
our educational system? How will the US fare in the global marketplace
when certain ideas, or entire fields, become off-limits to students
who've been indoctrinated to consult their ministers before learning
What will happen to medical research,
for instance, if this movement proceeds to its logical conclusion:
outlawing the scientific method, a method notorious for not relying
on biblical principles?
I fear men like Horowitz because uncensored
education is essential to our democracy, our people's well-being
and the nation's long-term survival. The "conservative"
movement that he's spearheading reminds me of the news reports
coming out of Iran in the months just prior to the conservative
religious takeover of that country when its professors were warned
to present the "correct" views in class.
This movement pretends to be about "balancing"
liberal with conservative views, but the reality is a lot uglier
than that. As the conversation I overheard suggests, this movement
isn't about balance, it's about censorship-or even better, self-censorship
that's easily achieved by frightening students with social rejection,
hellfire or both. Either way, scholarship is degraded in the process.
According to the article, "many educators, while agreeing
that students should never feel bullied, worry that they just
want to avoid exposure to ideas that challenge their core beliefs
- an essential part of education. Some also fear that teachers
will shy away from sensitive topics or fend off criticism by "balancing"
their syllabuses with opposing viewpoints, even if they represent
Whether through self-censorship or junk
education, our country's children are paying the price for the
political aggression of the far right. Robert Frost once wrote,
"Education is the ability listen to almost anything without
losing your temper."
Tempers are short in today's radical
"conservative" America, and the emboldened radical right
is in no mood to listen to anyone.
Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist,
author of Jesus on Parenting (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent
Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds
discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column,
"Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn't Have
to Choose Just One", which is posted on her website, wwww.JesusontheFamily.org