At his very popular class on contemporary politics at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., during the evening of Sept. 18, Kenneth Hearlson raised questions with his 180 students about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The 58-year-old former Marine and born-again Christian wanted his students to think seriously about what had happened, he tells Insight.
Who are these terrorists, he asked the class, and why did they do what they did? How should the United States respond? Was the Muslim world being hypocritical by giving lip service to America's war on terrorism while at the same time approving of terrorism and suicide bombers in Israel?
During the wide-ranging "open forum where every opinion counts," as Hearlson likes to describe his classes, the atmosphere got heated as several of the 10 or so Muslim students present joined in the discussion. Tempers flared and voices were raised, but that's what Hearlson, who styles himself "the blue-collar, common-man professor," hopes will happen in his classroom. Learning isn't passive, Hearlson contends, it demands personal involvement -- and the more passionate that involvement, the more a student is likely to find himself learning the subject and caring deeply about it.
The topic wasn't unusual given the mood of the country after the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center twin towers, left a huge hole in the Pentagon and killed the passengers in four commercial airliners. Nor was the passion. Nationwide on every campus, college and university students were demanding more information about terrorism, Islam and the Middle East. Schools began recruiting outside experts to talk on these issues. More than a few students were signing up for courses in Arabic at schools where it was available, and asking that it be taught in schools where it wasn't.
That was the immediate change on American campuses. But the response to Sept. 11 at U.S. colleges and universities might be bringing about a bigger, more profound transformation that's now in its earliest stages. It's change that challenges -- and may undermine -- the gospel of political correctness, which has ravaged U.S. schools for nearly two decades. It's a transformation, too, that may bring an end to the power held at American universities and colleges by the left-wing 1960s activists -- many of whom long have held senior and tenured positions at American schools and have used those positions to preach the same tired left-wing politics and anti-Americanism they began so loudly advocating 40 years ago.
The change on campus certainly isn't coming from faculty or administrators, so many of whom are committed deeply to politically correct and multicultural views of things. If it is coming -- and there are indications that it is -- the transformation is being wrought by students themselves. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, American college students are displaying an increased patriotism and respect for traditional values, probably a result of the dose of reality that foreign attacks on the continental United States brought to almost every citizen of this country.
That the knee-jerk lefty liberalism of campuses could have turned so quickly seems unlikely, but consider the following: In a nationwide poll released on Feb. 6 in Washington, 75 percent of college students surveyed said they approved of the job George W. Bush was doing as president and 70 percent said they approved of the man himself.
But that wasn't all. The survey, done by the Tarrance Group for the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), found that only 14 percent of students disapproved of Bush as president and as a man. The bottom line: 65 percent were happy that he was president of the United State during this time of crisis; only 18 percent wished that Al Gore were president instead.
Interesting, even startling findings, given the fact that in the 2000 election Gore defeated Bush on many U. …