Are we being educated or indoctrinated in the classroom? Education stems from a fact-based and open-minded presentation of history and ideas. Indoctrination is an opinion-based presentation of those ideas. 

The average college student today will tell you that President Donald Trump has created deep divisions along party lines. However, studies show that the U.S. became increasingly more polarized during Barack Obama’s administration. I often wonder if this development is the effect of a one-sided education system that borders on indoctrination. Students and especially professors at a majority of colleges share more liberal ideologies than conservative ones. As a result, those who don’t share in these beliefs seem extremely different from them, and as a nation, we feel more polarized. As Americans, our two-party system has forced us to view the opposite party as the enemy. We stop listening to each other when we hear we’re from different sides of the political spectrum. In reality, though, we are much more similar than we are different. We all want everyone to have human rights, our kids to be safe in schools, legal immigrants to come to our country and to not die from a planet on fire. Conservatives and liberals differ in their strategies for attaining these goals, but they ultimately want the same things. 

It’s no secret that liberal ideas are threaded into our everyday lives — CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, NYT, WAPO, public school teachers and most of Hollywood lean left. Most people also believe their social media leans left. Consistently, only one side’s strategy is given the spotlight. Is the only way to achieve the America we all want through Democratic candidates and their legislation? Are conservative points of view even necessary anymore? Conservative speakers face extreme public outcry on campuses if they try to share their views. If liberals have all the answers, is there really any need for debate? Any political theory course will teach you debate is vital to discovering the truth. Philosophers like John Stuart Mill encourage us to challenge our beliefs constantly with opposing arguments in order to refine our beliefs and ensure they ring valid and true. Some may think the only value in debate is to “convert” conservatives rather than learn anything from them. Today, we discuss our views only with those who reinforce them. Rallies and strikes have taken the place of discussion and compromise.

In college — precisely where we should experience interchange of thoughts and ideas free of bias — professors shouldn’t also lean to one side. However, they often reveal their left-leaning biases throughout their courses. My political science professors will primarily begin their courses by saying they won’t try and convince us of their political views. In practice, the effort often falls short. It’s not uncommon, for example, that professors will banter back and forth with students about how much our president sucks in a “come on, we all think this, right?” kind of way. I’ve had professors assign me satire readings poking fun at the Republican party and its old, white, bigoted male members. These viewpoints are valid, and I’m not saying I didn’t gain insight from them. However, once in a while, it would be nice to see the other side represented. I’ve also been taught there’s been more U.S. homicides in the past few years than ever before. If you look at any given chart online, however, it’ll actually show homicide rates have declined since their 1980 peak. I don’t think professors have any malicious intent to make conservative views obsolete. In fact, they may not even be aware that the way they teach their content leaves little room for debate. They probably think that everyone shares the same liberal ideology and therefore, there’s no need to acknowledge the other side. Conservatives may speak up against liberal claims, but they’re put in a position where they feel like outcasts in the room. 

The Washington Post has a slogan that reads "Democracy Dies in Darkness." Freedom of speech and press are crucial aspects of our democracy. From these rights, we gain a wealth of knowledge. Historically, slaves were not permitted to learn to read as a tactic to reduce their power and potential. Their suppressors feared that any gained knowledge or skills would incite them to rebel. Political party affiliation aside, it should be in everyone’s best interest to protect our freedom of expression to preserve our democracy and strengthen our knowledge. This entails everyone having a voice, not just the majority. 

The problem with the manifestation of similar beliefs and like-minded groups is that any opinion, even slightly contrary, seems extreme. Author George Orwell warned us all of the dangers of groupthink, and one of his warning signs is that any unpopular opinion will stand out like a sore thumb. Some may already feel like this in class, but there’s still hope. As it is now, when a conservative voice speaks up, about 10 other liberal students will raise their hands in defense. The enthusiasm is there, but let’s make sure to address — rather than attack — the claims that are being made. 

I’ll argue liberals have shifted more left on the political spectrum due to constant reinforcement. As liberal opinions become more circulated, those widely spread views produce the baseline for comparison. As a result, views that were once considered extreme now seem more moderate. It’s become more popular, for example, for students to be in favor of socialism, open borders and sweeping gun legislation. In contrast, conservative views seem more extreme because they are shared less frequently in the classroom. The perspective that illegal immigration is a crime or that background checks are more effective than gun bans might seem controversial now just because they stand out starkly against popular notions. Unpopular beliefs can be true, though, and with greater interaction, they can be realized. For instance, most liberals reference other countries with tighter gun laws as evidence that gun laws work. New Zealand is the exception, then, because in March of 2019, they had two consecutive mass shootings in which 51 people died. 

We owe it to ourselves to be educated. Argument and debate can lead to enlightenment. For this purpose, professors should be motivated to teach in a holistic approach. Teaching one-sidedly is a huge part of the problem and only works to homogenize students. After all, if we don’t know anything else, how are we to know that our beliefs are accurate? There may be a better set of beliefs we simply don’t know about because we haven’t been taught them.  

America’s education system and its educators are still the envy of the world. We need to remember that what keeps us on top is our freedom of thought. 

Valentina House is a sophomore studying Political Science and Communications and can be reached at valhouse@umich.edu.

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