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My Turn

 

November 29, 2016  | View PDF



Some of the stories circulating today really crack me up, especially the ones about the liberal college professors who indoctrinate rather than teach and how conservative students finally have the courage to defiantly stride straight out of those evil indoctrination chambers. Oh, my. Here’s a very simple truth about college — there are good professors, and there are bad professors. Here’s how you deal with them.

I took a class on social issues my junior year, and the professor was a very right wing, very up-tight, hard-core conservative. We were discussing the plight of Native Americans today, and he said when an inferior culture comes in contact with a superior culture, the inferior culture will always lose. Every time. Then he added the inferior culture should be thankful because eventually it will be lifted up to the level of the superior culture. The Native People’s problem is that they don’t joyfully accept this truth, this fact. I bit my tongue for a few minutes, but finally I succumbed and had to object.

Begging the question of inferior versus superior, I said, are you saying if little green men come down from outer space, abuse the women, take all the resources, plunder the land, destroy our culture and our way of life and force us to live and speak like little green aliens, we should say thank you? He said yes. I said you can’t possibly believe that. He said he did. I sat back and said, wow.

Another conservative professor asserted only white men with more than $500,000 in assets should be able to vote because they’re the only ones with skin in the America game. Right.

I was the only white student enrolled in a black studies class (I called it my black power class at the time). I was absolutely the worst of the worst until we started talking about the blues — a subject I can discuss with a little precision. Suddenly to my surprise I was very cool.

Ah, I took a graduate course on Virginia Wolfe from a feminist professor who made the famous “Room of One’s Own” argument that historically there are so few great women writers because of the economic repression of women by men. OK. But I couldn’t help but point out we’re not really talking about gender, we’re talking about class — that a poor man working 15 hours a day on the docks of Liverpool would be just as unable to become a great writer as any repressed woman for exactly the same reasons.

Although the women in this workshop sneered and hissed at me, the professor acknowledged I had a point. Luckily, I made it safely to my car after class.

In a poetry writing workshop, a professor launched into a lengthy discussion of the source of poetry — how it comes with a flash of divine inspiration from some unknowable place out there in the inexplicable void of nothingness, a single almost imperceptible spark in the great darkness beyond thought, beyond words. Poems always come from the unconscious and never from ideas, he said. I understood what he was saying and can agree up to a point, but poems don’t come from ideas?

Excuse me, I said, holding up our anthology textbook. Every single poem in here comes from an idea, I said, and you can pick any poem you want, and I can show you the idea it came from. He sheepishly retreated.

He was a tea lover and a writer I truly respect, so immediately after class I showed up at his office with a couple of cups of hot water and some tea bags so I could apologize.

Don’t forget getting an education means exposing oneself to information from a wide variety of sources and perspectives. Yes, some professors push students toward their point of view, but no one ever said one must agree with everything a professor says. It’s not about agreement, it’s about differing views. It’s not about affirmation, it’s about a marketplace of ideas. Stand up for yourself. Loudly disagree and debate, but don’t just lamely run away from ideas with which you disagree as if just hearing them or simply being in their presence will corrupt your soul and rot your mind. And who knows? You might learn a thing or two.

But beware. Those who attend college and only accept what they already believe and decide to only know what they already know will come out the very same numbskulls they were when they went in.

 

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