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The issue is academic objectivity, not free speech

Reader comment on item: Profs Who Hate America

Submitted by Ron Webster (United States), Nov 21, 2002 at 19:39

...as many postings argue here. The most common argument against Daniel Pipes' article is this: academics who criticize the U.S. are simply exercising thier freedom of speech. All sides of the issues deserve representation. To censor these academics, moreover, is actually anti-American, since our democracy is founded on free speech, dissent, etc...

I agree that no one should be prohibited from expressing their point of view, in appropriate fora: to hold otherwise would in fact be un-American. But I do not believe any reasonable person is actually saying this.

What is overlooked by these commenters is the unique nature of the forum academics hold (and the anti-U.S., PC left does in fact hold a virtual monopoly on speech on our campuses). The worst disservice committed by anti-U.S. teachers is not their holding anti-U.S. views, or their expressing those views; it is the use of their teaching position as a forum for that political expression.

I would not go so far as to say that "indoctrination" is going on, but it is clear that there is an campus-acceptable point of view about the U.S. (lips pursed, slight frown, words such as 'oppression,' 'imperialism,' 'white,' etc., muttered under one's breath). To speak of the U.S. in a college class, without an undertone of condemnation in one's words, is not unacceptable; this is not necessarily indoctrination, because the pressure to conform to what is "correct" comes also from the large majority of students.

The problem is the idea that education is inherently political: that it is not something to be pursued for its own sake, but is simply a tool, to be used in order to better fight for one's own political agenda.

Howard Zinn, whose "Peoples' History of the U.S." is now undoubtedly the most commonly used single volume on U.S. history, is representative of this disregard for academic objectivity. Zinn is quite explicit, to his credit, in the first chapter of this book, that he has an agenda. The idea runs thus: it is impossible for any historian to be perfectly objective, since no person will be able to completely step outside of his own preferences, experiences, etc. Ergo, we should abandon all attempts to be objective, and throw ourselves wholeheartedly behind the effort to promote our own individual agenda.

The answer to leftist propaganda is not that it should be balanced by right-wing propaganda, any more than the spread of Mohammedism is to be met with increased Christian fundamentalism. The answer is to rediscover academic objectivity. Professors should teach, and allow students to reach thier own conclusions. This basic idea needs to be rediscovered, as it seems to have imploded upon itself somehow, during the black hole of Postmodernism that has made a joke out of many of our once proud institutions. Perhaps perfect objectivity is not possible. But does it follow that we should not even try?

I believe this is what Pipes means by "adult supervision." He is not talking about local legislatures dictating that biology departments teach creationism, as one commentor fears. There should be a large idea, coming from high up and filtering down, that education should be objective, and not simply an exercise in competing propaganda. University presidents ought to be chosen for thier commitment to academic objectivity, as well as other required criteria. I believe this is still the case, and most of them are qualified and conscientious. But they need to show more backbone, and not let the propagandists hijack the campuses.

Ron Webster, M.D.
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