This week, I started my senior year at the University of Scranton. I work very hard in all of my classes, and appreciate being valued based on my work ethic, not my personal and political beliefs. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. While my grades have yet to suffer from a teacher’s dislike of me, I have been placed into many uncomfortable and aggravating situations during my college experience. The worst was a course that I took last Spring.
As a member of the University of Scranton’s Honors program, I took a course last semester called “Honors in Context.” Everyone in the program was required to take the course. We were told that it would be an exercise in group leadership and that each week a different member of the class would plan and facilitate a discussion based on that week’s assigned reading. Barring two weeks when the readings were excerpts from David McCullough’s book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, all of the readings were articles from Harper’s Magazine.
For the purposes of this course, we were all required to take out a subscription to the magazine. The articles discussed a variety of social issues, such as how Walmart affects small business owners, the dangers and benefits of hydraulic fracturing, illegal immigration, and public housing. The articles had a decidedly leftist slant to them and frequently described corporations as heartless and harmful to the working class. I found this mildly irritating, but nowhere near as frustrating as the class discussions.
Of the nine students in the class, only myself and one other student, Chris, were even vaguely conservative. The course was moderated by two professors, one from the English department and one from Political Science. They were both exceedingly left-wing and statist. My classmates frequently disagreed with and debated the points that Chris and I made, but debate was a main point of the class, so I enjoyed it.
What I did not enjoy was the professors inserting themselves into the discussions and voicing their opinions, which they had explicitly said on the first day of class that they would not do. Mostly, the English professor kept out of the discussion, but was sometimes unable to withhold a smirk or giggle at a statement with which he disagreed. The Political Science professor reacted in a much more open way. She would grimace nearly every time Chris or I said a word, often accompanied with an eye roll. At least once each day, she would reply to one of our remarks, explaining why our beliefs were wrong or steering the conversation in a different direction.
Though she was at least civil to me, she was openly belligerent to Chris, so much so that several of our classmates stepped into the discussion to divert her attention from him, even though they agreed with her politically. The class grade was 50% participation based, so we kept talking, but she clearly tried to make it as uncomfortable for us as she could. At times, she would simply glare at us for minutes on end, even when we weren’t speaking.
For the last day of class, we were asked to write a reflection regarding what we thought of the course, how we felt the readings connected, and what we had learned. In my reflection, I stated that “the reading materials chosen were designed to get us thinking about a variety of issues within our community and how we can become more engaged in problem solving and other aspects of living within our society.”
During the final discussion, the English professor commented that there is “an interdependence [between all humans] that we are awkward sometimes at defining.” In a way, I agree with this. All men are naturally independent beings and sometimes it is hard to balance that independence with appropriate action within society. This societal living often results in problems such as the issues of poverty, immigration, and many others we discussed in class. Still, men chose to live in society because it was beneficial to them and allowed them to progress past their hunter-gatherer existence into greater productivity.
But then he used this remark as a springboard to his next point. This class, he said, tries to define that interdependence and asks the question: “What do we owe each other?” I believe that this question can be answered with the single word, “respect.” All people should be treated as unique, valuable individuals, and nothing should be taken from our neighbors that is not given through voluntary exchange or mutual agreement. Needless to say, that wasn’t the answer he wanted.
One of my classmates said that she felt that “you rely on the other people around you to develop your talent” and thus we are all a part of our fellow man. There was a general expression of support for this viewpoint. The Political Science professor took this already disturbing statement and took it one step further by asking if we are called on to do more for society “because we have been granted more opportunities and better education than a garbage boy has.” The English professor clarified after everyone was quiet for a minute: “The right answer is yes, just so we’re all clear.”
My first objection to this should be obvious. They are training us to feel guilty for our own success. I understand that not everyone has the opportunity to attend a private university, even if they are exceedingly intelligent. I understand that some people are not as good at academics as others and would struggle in a college setting. I am glad that I am not in that situation and I am excited to use this opportunity at the University of Scranton to its fullest advantage. But in no way does this mean that I owe it to the rest of mankind to give them part of what I earn if my educational advantage brings me to a higher level of success.
Perhaps even more distressing is what this sentiment means for people of lesser education. People like this professor feel that it is necessary for educated people to take others under their wing and protect them. By expecting the well-educated to step in and fix problems, we are assuming that the maintenance workers and cabbies and small farmers cannot control their own lives.
It is more degrading to think that people without college education need the help of the intellectual elite than to ask everyone to play an equal role in society. Yet expecting everyone to play an equal role in society and work toward solving its problems as much as their personal passions drive them to do is perceived as heartless, unfair, and cruel. That being said, the professor’s use of the term “garbage boy” in that question was apparently not heartless or offensive at all.
The professors rounded off the class by thanking us for our time and asking us what suggestions we had to improve the class in future semesters. Both Chris and I politely suggested that they intersperse readings from other sources beyond Harper’s. They smiled politely and said that they couldn’t predict what news articles would appear in the future and therefore wouldn’t be sure how to find such other sources. Clearly, they could simply look at past issues, just as they do with Harper’s, but I chose not to argue the point. I also chose not to request that in the future they stick to the original plan of not intervening in the discussions and that they should attempt not to single out students whose viewpoints differ from theirs. My reticence was rooted in the knowledge that my grade is based on how well I did my presentation and how frequently and thoughtfully I participated in class discussions. In other words, it was completely subjective.
I joined the University of Scranton’s Honors Program because I thought it would be a place where I could have meaningful conversations with like-minded students, where I would be able to explore my passions and ideas and open myself up to new experiences.
Instead, I have found that the brightest minds at the school are being forced through a program that insists again and again that we owe our minds to society. Wealth is evil and success is shameful if not mixed with the appropriate amount of penitent efforts to help those who have not climbed as far. This is not what I had in mind for my college experience. I planned on being evaluated on my classwork, not my political beliefs. I expected to be taught facts, not coached to accept a philosophical premise I despise.
Sadly, this indoctrination process is not unique to the University of Scranton. It is starting in elementary schools and goes all the way through college. Young minds with the potential for greatness are being daily trampled. Parents and students alike need to make it clear that schools are meant to teach and foster the passions of an individual, not to brainwash and indoctrinate them into a collectivist society.
Content published on the Young Americans for Liberty blog is only representative of the opinions and research of the individual authors. It does not necessarily reflect the views, goals, or membership of YAL.Published in