Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thoughts from a University Writing Instructor . . .

Once upon a time, I went to college. It was a little college in a little town in southern Utah. I met all kinds of highly educated professors whose life experiences were as diverse as their hairstyles. They talked intensely about the sensuality of Klimt's Water Serpents, the potential of Locke's social contract, and the resonance of Richard Wright's graphic violence.

I graduated from the college and went to a university. Then I went to graduate school.

Now I stand in front of my classes with my long, blonde, hippy hair and talk to my students about poverty, education, immigration, healthcare, and politics.

But part of my job as a university writing instructor is to bring up issues that will upset my students enough to get them to form opinions. Once they have figured out what they think, these students need to formulate arguments. Then, I teach them how to shape their arguments for audiences who initially disagree with them. Because I teach at a religious university, many of the arguments end up defending more conservative viewpoints. They do, however, have to figure out "how to talk to a liberal" despite Ann Coulter's insistence that it's not necessary. A surprising number are more politically liberal arguments, something that many people, including Rick Santorum, would immediately blame on the indoctrination of the liberal university system.

The Desert News just published an article reacting to Santorum's claim. Apparently, a lot of liberal professors have spent a lot of time looking into how education relates to religiosity. (A student emailed the article to me because we had discussed the issue earlier in the semester. See, they are thinking.) The article shows that the more education people get, the more likely they are to be religious. One study looked into different aspects of religiosity (scripture study, prayer, volunteering, church attendance, etc.) and found that those whose education is above the seventh grade are more likely to participate in all religious activities. A handy bar graph shows that only one percent of people who graduate from college are less likely to be affiliated with a religious group (85% down to 84%). Unfortunately, post-graduates (PhDs, MDs, attorneys) are down to 81% compared with 85% for high school graduates.

So if 81% of post-graduates (including Rick Santorum and his Juris Doctorate) are still affiliated with a religious organization, why is the education a constant battleground for liberals and conservatives?

My theory: Because educators teach.

No matter what teachers do, we are going to upset someone. We get a classroom of twenty to five hundred students whose life experiences are as diverse as their hairstyles and are expected to never offend or upset any of them.

Now I'm not being defensive. The system is set up this way from kindergarten. Educators need to be more than just masters of our subjects: we also need to be respectful, understanding, unbiased, politically neutral, compassionate, fair, patient, generous with our time and feedback, and constantly available by email.

This isn't a bad list of responsibilities, really. I know most people expect the same things from their parents, best friends, spouses, therapists and pets.

Except that I am not my students' parent, best friend, spouse, therapist, or pet.

I'm a teacher.

And I am in front of the class because I possess some knowledge that is necessary for them to gain. So I share it the only way I know how: I teach.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, and yes. I actually think that there is a little something to liberal indoctrination at Universities; however, I also think there is something to the idea that being more educated tends to make you more liberal (I use "liberal" here non-pejoratively). In any case, I'm highly convinced that a University education is good for Mormons. I think it helps us to see more than just the proverbial bubble if nothing else.