College Students Smarter Than Santorum Thinks

By Call, Jack E. | The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA), March 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

College Students Smarter Than Santorum Thinks


Call, Jack E., The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA)


Presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently called President Barack Obama a snob for wanting all young people to go to college. He suggested that the president wants this so college students can be shaped into the president's "image" by liberal professors.

The media and other political leaders, including some Republican governors (even our own Virginia governor), have criticized Santorum for his comments. Not surprisingly, they have stressed the importance of higher education as essential to an economy that continues to demand more and more workers with high levels of education.

As a college professor myself, one might expect that I would join this chorus and be quick to defend my colleagues against charges of liberalism. However, I do not want to defend myself and my colleagues from Santorum's comments. I want to defend our students.

For purposes of discussion, let's assume that college students are confronted daily by liberal professors who are intent on indoctrinating them to adopt their teachers' perspectives (two very questionable and, it bears noting, separate charges: that is, that college professors are liberal and are attempting to indoctrinate their students). College students can be indoctrinated only if they allow themselves to be.

Implicit in Santorum's charges that college students are reshaped into liberals by their professors is an assumption that students are not smart enough or mature enough to resist whatever indoctrination efforts they face from their professors. Not only is that an insult to these students, but it simply does not jibe with my own experience.

To be sure, the college experience often changes both the perspectives and values of students. That is part of what we expect and hope will happen while students are in college. One of our objectives as educators is to teach students to think critically. That requires students to open their minds to new ideas. It also requires that they not accept unquestioningly everything they are told - including what we professors tell them. But none of this requires students to change their values or their perspectives. It only encourages them to examine these things.

There is no question that my college experience changed my own values. I came from a very conservative, Christian fundamentalist family. When I got to college, I began to examine critically many of the things I had learned from my parents. I came to reject some of the prejudiced notions they held, but I also held on to much of what they taught me. …

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