First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Defending Our Professors from the Anti-Intellectuals
I was glad to see Paul Silvia's letter to the editor "replying" to my column of 11 July, "American 'Imams'", in which (assuming that Mr. Silvia is himself a college teacher) he either concedes or demonstrates all the main points of my critique of "American imams."
He does not actually address the main issues of my essay, but instead answers an "anti-intellectual and alarmist critique of college professors and the alleged indoctrination agenda of American colleges and universities."
He spends most of his time defending what I did not attack. First, he defends tenure and academic freedom against an attack I did not make, because, as he says, "professors have been harassed for espousing unpopular views," and then lists topics designed to suggest that my ideas are as absurd as the idea that the Earth is flat, that blacks and whites are not of the same species, or that evolution does not apply to humans.
Then he attempts to link my views with proponents of child-beating or with people so dumb they would say that divorce never improves the quality of a person's life.
Oddly enough, though, I never suggested any of those views, and hold none of them. What I actually attacked was the climate of intense pressure toward political correctness and uniformity of thought on American university campuses, especially among the non-scientific departments -- which he does not address -- and, more specifically, the way one group of teachers is using their publicly funded positions to "make reckless accusations against our own government, without evidence or even common sense."
I criticized this group because, "Passionate and usually sincere, they bring no intellectual tools or analytical rigor to the issues of American foreign policy that they address. Even those who are rigorous in their own fields of expertise (and those are sadly rare) make little effort to question either the data or the reasoning that supposedly support the anti-American ideology they preach."
In other words, I wish these people were intellectuals, and deplore the fact that they are not.
Mr. Silvia's letter not only does not answer my charge, it perfectly demonstrates it. He makes reckless accusations against me, without evidence or even common sense. He brings no intellectual tools or analytical rigor to the things I actually said, and instead sets up a phony version of what I said and answers that.
Then, taking his cue from Hollywood, his ultimate defense of the American "imams" is that "undergraduates have the good sense and intellectual skills to weigh arguments, counter-argue, and reach their own conclusions."
In other words, American "imams" can do no harm because their students are not actually influenced by their professors, but instead already make up their own minds about everything.
This is like the way Hollywood claims that their movies and TV shows don't actually influence anybody -- while charging other people a lot of money for advertising and product placement precisely because their movies and TV shows do have influence on people's behavior.
If professors don't influence their students, we are paying them way too much money, because they are absurdly ineffective. And if students already have the intellectual skills and good sense he suggests, one wonders where they acquired them. High school, apparently.
I have actually taught a lot of college students in my time, and I have found precious few who have the intellectual tools, let alone the self-confidence, to challenge their professors; and those who have the confidence are rarely if ever the ones who have the tools.
What Mr. Silvia missed is the fact that I think -- and said -- that for colleges to provide a real education, scholarly independence and diversity of thought are extremely important. I wish that in the soft-subject, PC-dominated departments there actually were more professors "espousing unpopular views" -- unpopular among their colleagues, at least.
"A professor is accountable to the global community of scholars," he says -- but (a) that is true only of what professors publish for peer review, not what they teach in the classroom; (b) my complaint was about professors who are teaching political views that are outside their area of expertise and therefore never subject to peer review of any kind; and (c) I specifically urged professors who do not agree with the "imams" to stop being silent and put the ideas of these anti-American ideologues to the test of public analysis -- thus holding the "imams" accountable.
When he says that "social science research finds that a college education does not necessarily make students liberal," the research he indicates does not even address the question of the influence of particular teachers, but rather of a college education in general. It is obvious that the "imams" I spoke of will only be able to influence students who hear them. And, as I pointed out, the perniciousness of political correctness on campus is not that everyone agrees with it, but that those professors and students who don't agree learn to keep their divergent views to themselves.
(He also seems to think that what I object to is "liberal" ideas. Since on most points the politically correct position is patently not liberal at all, and on many issues I am a liberal myself, his usage of the term indicates that he concluded that I was a "conservative" and simply trotted out the standard anti-conservative arguments.)
Unfortunately, Mr. Silvia's letter will play very well on the politically correct campus, where no one will bother to subject what he wrote to any kind of serious intellectual analysis or scrutiny, but will simply notice that he was politically correct and praise him for his "heroic" stand against an "anti-intellectual" like me.
And the whole group that gathers around patting him on the back will be a perfect demonstration of my point. They are so dim they won't have noticed (or so PC they won't care) that he didn't answer me. And these are the people who are supposed to be "illuminating the mind" in order to "elevate humanity" and help people get "understanding" that "comes from considering many perspectives."
Ultimately, though, the most telling moment in Mr. Silvia's letter is when he ends his paean to education with: "...and that (to borrow from another professor) the truth can in fact set us free."
Even as he tries to compare professors to Jesus, he calls Jesus a professor -- which is an outrageous and absurd statement, in this context, since Jesus was not one of the tenured professors in his society, but rather a despised outsider whom the establishment -- professors included -- attempted to silence.
Those who might have doubted my assertion that America is currently ill-served by the quality of the "intellectual" community on our college and university campuses have only to read Mr. Silvia's letter to become as worried as I am.
Come to think of it, it's only natural he should believe that undergraduates have sufficient "good sense" and "intellectual skills" to "weigh arguments, counter-argue, and reach their own conclusions."
If he is using his own intellectual skills and counter-arguments as the standard, who could disagree with him?
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
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