Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Do Radical Professors Produce Radical Students?

Maybe not.

I haven't looked at the details of the study yet, so I don't have any opinion about its value...though, sadly, I have a sort of background skepticism about such studies...

There are still obvious reasons to be concerned about the prevalence of radical professors, of course. But it'd be a relief to find out that they weren't effectively brainwashing their students.

Howley refers to right-wing "hysteria" about this issue...and that's probably an accurate term. What puzzles me, however, is why liberals are so dismissive of the problem. (a) Radicals are not liberals; radicals tend to have decidedly illiberal views. So if liberals think that radical professors are their allies, they are largely mistaken. (b) Even if (and to the extent that) radical professors are the allies of liberals, I take it that liberalism is opposed to bias and brainwashing in all their forms. Ergo liberals shouldn't be sanguine about students being brainwashed, even if they are being brainwashed with liberal-friendly doctrines.

My own experience suggests that exposure to radical professors does influence students. Many students are savvy about this stuff, and just dismiss the brainwashers. On many students, the propaganda has the opposite of the intended effect, and they are driven to the right. But many students are led down a path to moonbatism...a path they would probably never discovered on their own. Perhaps it all balances out...but I'd be rather surprised if it did.

Guess I'd better actually read the paper in question, huh?


Blogger Luke said...

From my own experience as a student, I've noticed in myself and others that our viewpoints are most influenced by one trait: personality. Any speaker worth listening to understands that the first thing he or she must do with an audience is build rapport. With professors, there will always exist a dichotomy of students who agree with material presented and those who disagree. (Of course, this is the most desirable situation, since debatable lectures are engaging and often provide some of the best opportunities to learn.) However-and perhaps this is difficult to notice as a professor since students are excellent at feigning interest-those students who agree also tend to be the students who like the professor as a person the most.
I’ve seen countless sound and interesting arguments go over the head of students who dislike a professor. Sadly, this phenomenon of material going in one ear and out the other is usually the result of rather trivial matters. Students quickly build opinions of teachers that only ever change, if ever, slowly over time. These opinions can turn sour from any number of trivial matters: a bad test grade, too much homework, missing an office hour appointment, etc.
That’s why, if a professor wishes to teach a successful year or semester, the first step is to build rapport. Like-minded individuals have the easiest time doing this, perhaps that’s why radical professors might produce radical students.

In my personal experience as your student, I found that the reason I had such an easy time agreeing with the majority of your points was because I liked you as a person. Had your class been something I dreaded going to and you someone I despised, I doubt I would have agreed with you so readily, if at all with the things you had to say. When a student dislikes a professor, he or she tends to see every remark as a battle, something to disagree with to create conflict. I see it all the time.

At the end of the day with all of this, I guess the real answer is, “Who’s to say?” ; ) Hope your enjoying your summer, I know I am.

4:50 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

After 60+ years of increasing post-secondary education - including 40+ of radicals on campus, however large or small their proportion, the results are in on a slightly different question: College education doesn't radicalize large numbers of Americans.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Hey, good to hear from you. (Though I'm puzzled about how my students keep finding out about this site...) This is scary news to me--that what a student learns is so heavily affected by whether or not he likes the professor. I guess I must have--or should have--known this...but I hoped the power of the ideas could transcend all that stuff.

Anyway, thanks for that extremely thought-provoking point.

8:54 AM  

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