WARNING: Too much education can turn you into a LIBERAL! *GASP!*

An article on Buzzflash by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst titled Be Careful Not to Get Too Much Education relates a conversation she overheard between two college students on the dangers of becoming too educated:

“The only trouble with Lipscomb [a conservative Christian college nearby] is that old man Lipscomb made a rule that the college couldn’t have a football team, so that’s a bummer. But it’s a great school, and you’re gonna love it.

“Now you do have to be careful about one thing,” he said more quietly, coming closer and speaking in hushed tones., “My 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 bachelor’s degree,” 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.”

The young men paused for a moment, shaking their heads at the dangers that lie ahead.

The article goes on to discuss the growing pressure from conservatives to “balance” college courses with politically correct and religiously correct rightwing views—factual or not—that has ratcheted up a notch since the elections. Of course it’s not just the colleges that are coming under fire as public school boards around the country are considering conservative proposals to teach Intelligent Design alongside of Evolution, or at least plaster science text books with stickers saying Evolution is “just a theory.” Which is kinda like saying that the Grand Canyon is just a hole in the ground.

The thing that caught my attention about this article, though, is that it dovetails nicely into a question I’ve long harbored myself: How can anyone with a halfway decent education not eventually develop a liberal viewpoint? Surveys over the years seem to bear out the idea that the more educated you are the more likely you are to be a liberal. Obviously this isn’t true in every situation—I’m a liberal and I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree and there are plenty of highly educated conservatives out there such as my old friend Daryl who comments here occasionally—but there does seem to be a generalized correlation between education level and tendency to hold liberal views and both sides recognize this fact. You can often hear it in the rhetoric used by both sides. Liberals often attack conservatives for being stupid while conservatives will attack liberals as “elitist academics.” Amusingly enough, some conservatives will happily portray themselves as not being all that educated even when they are because they think it makes them seem more like “normal folk”—Bush’s comment to a Yale graduating class about how “even a C student can become President” comes to mind—and sometimes that approach seems to work pretty well for them.

I’ve always assumed that the reasons behind conservatives generally not being as highly educated were largely ones of ambition, ability, or priorities, but it never occurred to me that it might be a conscious decision born out of fear of becoming a liberal. In retrospect I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising as the most conservative folks also tend to be the most religious. Christianity is the dominate religion here and one of the messages repeated throughout the Bible is that knowledge is a “bad thing,” questioning will only get you in trouble, and faith should take precedence over thinking too much. This is exemplified best in the Adam and Eve myth where the gaining of knowledge—in that case of good and evil—results in the fall from grace and expulsion from paradise. The message is clear: Knowing too much is dangerous!

I guess the fears expressed by the college students isn’t an unreasonable one if the surveys are correct. Perhaps knowing too much will make you into a latte-sipping, Volvo driving, sushi eating, liberal. This realization puts a lot of past conversations I’ve had with conservatives into an entirely new light and explains a lot of stuff about them I just couldn’t fathom before. Given the sinking feeling this generates I can understand why some of them prefer ignorance.

11 thoughts on “WARNING: Too much education can turn you into a LIBERAL! *GASP!*

  1. This Christmas I received “The Iron Heel” by Jack London.  As I’ve been reading it it didn’t take long to replace 1984 as my favorite fiction novel.  A lot of interesting ideas and arguments about socialism in there most of which still seem very relevant today.  Which is bringing me to a theory that liberal politics or social revolution must start with the church before it can reach the public that is if it is to be nonviolent.  Not to say the church needs to become socialist or liberal for you all to be able to do anythign in congress, but they need to realize their priorities don’t lie in politics, but in concern for fellow humans.

    I posted on my Christian BB that they need to stop trying to be outspoken in government issues because liberal politics is a steamroller that can’t be stopped and while the Religious Right becomes only a technicality to them they also destroy relationships they need to be making at the same time.  When the church tries to become a political force, history repeats itself and we have things like the crusades.  Unfortunately such arguments in conjunction with this is not getting me an intelligent counterargument out of my fellow theologians.

  2. Les,

    The balancing of the college courses is a result of the overwhelming bias that exists within colleges.

    A recent study by Santa Clara University researcher Daniel Klein estimated that among social science and humanities faculty nationwide, Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one; in some fields, it’s as high as 30 to one. And in the last election, the two employers whose workers contributed the most to Sen. John F. Kerry’s presidential campaign were the University of California system and Harvard University.

    That’s pretty one-sided.  Especially when considering the following:

    ….a recent survey of students at 50 schools by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni,….49% reported some professors frequently commented on politics in class even if it was outside the subject matter. Thirty-one percent said they believed that there were some courses in which they needed to agree with a professor’s views to get a good grade.

    Further, some students maintain that they have been blackballed from graduate school spots and internships because they aren’t politically correct.

    I remember a political correctness class I had to take.  The class was titled something else, but that was what it was.  The teacher was talking about how America culture glorifies all that is “white” and asked for common comments about beauty from the class to support this.  I raised my hand and promptly responded “You mean such things as ‘Tall, dark, and handsome?’”  The class fell into laughter. 

    The teacher was pissed and gave me a D in the class.  I had to show up in the Dean’s office with the papers we wrote for the class and demand that they be graded objectively.  They were and the grade was changed to a B+ as a result.  The bias is real.

    The fear of too much education doesn’t apply to most, except for fundamentalists.  On that point you are right that they revel in their lack of “wisdom of the world.”


  3. Should we insist that the military start recruiting equal numbers of “lefties,” in order to balance out the disproportionate number of conservatives in the officer corps?

    If a teacher gave you a bad grade because they didn’t like you, or your politics, that’s a bad teacher.  His politics is irrelevant.  He probably would have done the same if you had implied that he was fat, or ugly, or whatever.  Where the hell was this guy teaching?

    I taught in a massively conservative, highly religious area.  I never gave a student a bad grade because I disagreed with their politics—if I had, I would have had to fail 90% of my class.

    Now I gotta go back to work.  Too bad, because I’d like to give this issue the time it deserves.

  4. nowiser,

    There are bad teachers though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Consi actually did get screwed out of a mark he deserved by a less than fair teacher.  I have witnessed and heard of some quite unfair marking practices.  Generally the people who employ them eventually get rebuked, and from time to time they actually get fired, or if they’re tenured, they stop getting raises (which really isn’t that much of a punishment I guess).  I’ve known (or heard of from first hand witnesses) people who’ve marked on schemes such as the most attractive women get the highest mark.  I’ve also known someone who, when pressed for time, arbitrarily gave out whatever mark they felt like at the moment.

    That said, I haven’t seen anyone mark along religious or political lines.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised that it happens.  There are some faculty members who don’t care so much about fairness as about their own egos.  That said, I’m glad that I’ve never encountered such a person in my department.

    That all aside, I’m unconvinced that there’s an inherent liberal bias in universities.  I will grant that academics tend to be lefties, but I don’t think people who lean to the right are excluded.  It’s just that, as it seems to me at least, most people who are very highly educated, also come from certain socio-economic backgrounds that tend to favor leftist political views.

  5. I have a slightly similar experience, though it happened in school, here in Germany.

    First of, I should note that I was raised in a VERY lefty family. My father and my mother were the leaders of the local communist party (not left, openly communist) and my mother actually received enough votes to get elected to a place in the city parliament (don’t know the correct US term). They usually got around 10-20% of the vote during the late 70s, early 80s. Note that, yes, this was West Germany.

    So I grew up knowing a lot more about Gorbashev’s nuclear disarmament plans than my fellow friends at school wink

    At the same time, I never took over the leftist views 1:1 (and my parents became less ‘extremist’ as you might say, over time too).

    In fact, one I was a young adult, I liked to tease and discuss with people with too simple a leftist worldview about their more unreasonable views. Heinlein’s influence I guess wink

    So why the long story, except for the reason that I like to hear myself talk? wink

    Okay, back to the topic: During my last year in highschool, I had a history teacher who disliked me for sometimes questioning her views. The most clear-cut case was a test during which we were given a speech by an SPD (Social Democrat) member of parliament shortly before Hitler finally took over the Weimar Republic.

    The question (phrased like this, roughly) was: “Show why and how this is a ‘Widerstandsrede’ (roughly translated to ‘resistance speech’).

    Well, I decided that the wording of the speech was pretty careful, the criticism rather restrained. I argued that I could understand why – seeing as any opposition to the Nazis at the time was bound to make you end up in prison or worse. But I said that I understood a resistance speech to be more candid, more forceful.

    Well, obviously I got a pretty bad mark on the test, and I never recovered in my marks, even though I had been getting almost perfect marks in history before, and was getting still getting them in any (non-science wink) subject not taught by this teacher.

    I actually, conciously decided to try to play her game, and from there on tried to ask myself: What does she want from me with this question. Suddenly my marks jumped – though they never got really good again. I was piegeonholed.

    That experience was part of the reason why I finally opted for engineering study – there, I would not have to have the same opinion as my professor to get a good mark.

    So political bis in the education system is pretty real. And if the ratio is 7:1 or more, than you can be certain that it exists in the US.

    Sorry for the long comment wink

  6. Long comment, full of mistakes. If I hadn’t mostly taught myself English by reading books, my teachers would be ashamed now wink

  7. Excellent article Les!  Thanks for the link!

    Consigliere: The balancing of the college courses is a result of the overwhelming bias that exists within colleges.

    A recent study by Santa Clara University researcher Daniel Klein estimated that among social science and humanities faculty nationwide, Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one; in some fields, it’s as high as 30 to one.

    Liberal professors infesting Liberal Arts colleges?!?  Oh, the humanity!!! 

    Of course, the political spectrum is not a simple sliding scale.  I consider myself to be both fiscally moderate and socially liberal.  I was a “Northeastern Republican” until the horror that is George W. Bush had his political allies trash John McCain (whom I supported) and then went on to win the Republican nomination.  Since Bush has completely destroyed the idea that Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility, the one big thing that remains is that Republicans (especially our President) are socially conservative.  The social conservatives that I know are typically the most closeted and close-minded individuals.  They are anti-gay without knowing any homosexuals.  They are anti-Muslim without ever having met a Muslim.  At a Liberal Arts college a student is typically introduced to new ideas and this allows students to broaden their horizons.  Hopefully, this experience will replace their social and intellectual misconceptions with new knowledge and experiences.  Expanding their worldview and making them a little more “liberal”.

    There exists a clear correlation between education and political affiliation.  People with advanced degrees are typically more liberal than those without.  To teach at a Liberal Arts college today, you usually need a Ph.D. or equivalent degree, so the faculty will inevitably be more liberal than the student population.  I don’t understand why this is surprising.  I would be willing to bet that college professors as a group are far less racist than the population as a whole.  Does this mean that we need to hire racist professors to provide ‘balance’ to bring the professors more in line with the thinking of the rest of the population?  Of course not!  Political affiliation should never be used as a litmus test for getting a teaching job.

  8. Ingolfson, that was a very interesting and revealing story.  And your English is better than many who grew up here and speak no German.

    Some professors are jerks, no doubt about it.  But others just want to force you to defend your position and if you can’t, you’re graded down.  I had a church history professor like that.  He got his doctorate at a Jesuit university and was deeply schooled in logic.  To our knowledge he’d never been proven wrong on anything – we called him (affectionately) “The Pope.”  He would engage his students and gave us all a priceless gift of rigorous argument.

    I took every class I could from him, and even audited one.  Anyway, that’s not relevant: I just felt like giving props to my old professor, Henry Webb.

    Today I do computer support at a state university (which means I have learned to say, “Please restart your computer!”) and I visit a LOT of professors’ offices.  You can’t see someone’s office – and certainly not work on their computer – without becoming aware of their political bias, if any.  So how does it break down in the leftie state-directed haven of secularism?

    Seems about even to me.  We’ve got profs with Castro on the door, and some with Reagan calendars on the wall, and everything in between.  It’s a very fertile environment for a student to encounter opposing views. 

    Oddly enough, the professors usually get along with each other even if they’re opposites politically.  It’s called, “being a grown-up.”  But there are a few who have developed a reputation for trashing students because of political bias.  It’s called “being a jerk.”

    Y’know what?  No one takes them seriously.  They have power, but not respect.  I don’t know if they’re aware of it, but they’re dirt.  Their influence is limited to the extremely naive.

    Some university departments in the country are hired on political bias, so they have jerks for administrators.  No, make that “stupid jerks” because an intellectual monoculture isn’t healthy for students who need to wrestle with ideas.

  9. Did he really? Did Les really manage to add the quotation button? Let’s see:

    Ingolfson, that was a very interesting and revealing story.  And your English is better than many who grew up here and speak no German.

    Thanks, but I was mainly angry at myself for being sloppy.

    I just wanted to add another experience I had with a different teacher, this time more positive. That guy was a pretty outspoken, at times abrasive guy. Taught biology and geography mostly, but any lesson of his could turn into a political or philosophical discussion (not that this made him back down when it came to testing students on the study subjects).

    He liked to provoke us students (many of us were vaguely left-leaning) with comments like ‘better a radical conservative’ than a ‘conservative radical’. But the main point was, while he only gave you his real respect if you ‘fought back’, you could tell him most anything and he still graded fairly (tough too). Maybe it is easier in factual subjects like he taught.

    In a similar case I once got in a row with one of my professors, and actually called his opinion concerning a test question ‘ridiculous’ – in front of a group. BTW I still stand on that point – an engineer should SOLVE problems, not just find them. I was a bit apprehensive about how he would react come my final exams, but he treated me totally fairly, even though he had a bad reputation.

    So I guess the moral is that there – at least in my experience – enough people who encourage open discussion. And you should press for it even if it’s not encouraged.

  10. hey, I’m a recent high school grad, working on that bachelor’s, but here’s some inspring news:  A quote from the princeton review AP Government tesp prep book “Liberalism generally increaces with education”  It may be vague, but it’s good to know it’s on the books’ for students in some form.

  11. I agree with Quasars statemet that many conservatives tend to be closeted and close minded. A true life example is a salesman that visits our company named Terry. Terry has a masters degree from Georgia Tech and is a bible thumping RIGHT wing conservative. We have had many animated agruments over the last few years and whenever I come with a point that he can’t counter he will just fold his arms and disagrees without even attempting to consider in any way my viewpoint. It seems to me that he is afraid to bend ANY of his cherished beliefs one iota. The only explaination that I can come up with is that he feels that he has a belief system that works for him and is complete and that if he changes it at all then he may have to reasses other opinions he has and this may cause a change in his overall belief ‘status’. Now he won’t even talk to me. He maintains this level of ignorance by using his earning power to ‘hide’ from societial viewpoints he does’nt agree with. His childern are homeschooled, he only associates with fellow right-wing Christians in his free time and of coarse gets his daily fix of propaganda from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. By the way where are the Ned Flanders of the world I would love to pit my superiour education agianst these idiots in order to enrich myself at thier expense that would teach these self-loathing dolts the error of their ways! My oh my ignorance is bliss.

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