January 28, 2005

Patronizing students

Sometimes it seems to me that there is no half-baked idea that originates anywhere in the known universe that does not quickly find influential adherents anxious to institutionalize it in Ohio.

Barely has the dust settled on the push to include Intelligent Design into Ohio's science standards than we now have Marion state senator Larry A. Mumpers introducing Ohio Senate Bill 24 in order to “prohibit instructors at public or private universities from “persistently� discussing controversial issues in class or from using their classes to push political, ideological, religious or anti-religious views.� (Sorry, no link to this quote from the subscriber only Columbus Dispatch news item by Kathy Lynn Gray on 1/27/2005.)

This is bound to raise the free-speech, academic freedom debate in all its full-blown glory and I am not going to revisit that. But one statement by Senator Mumford jumped out at me. He feels that college students need this kind of legal protection because “These are young minds that haven’t had a chance to form their own opinions.�

Such words can only be uttered by someone who has never really listened to adolescents and young adults or tried to persuade them to change their minds. Does he really think that young people have not already formed strong opinions about things?

The education literature is full of research on how people’s minds are resistant to new ideas. Students cling to Aristotelian ideas of motion, and harbor serious misconceptions about the seasons and the phases of the moon, even though they may have been taught the standard views many times in the course of their education.

And this happens in the area of physics, where students do not even have a commitment to retaining their old ideas, or are often unaware of what those ideas are until asked to explicitly articulate them. Imagine how hard it would be to change their minds about politics and religion, which are much closer to the surface of their consciousness.

Many a professor (including myself) has been aghast at discovering that all their careful lectures and arguments have had little impact on what students really believe, even though the students may be highly adept at reproducing the professor’s views on exams.

This kind of comment betrays at best a naivete, and at worst a contempt, for the ability of college students to think for themselves and resist indoctrination by their teachers. But this is not going to prevent politicians like Senator Mumpers from going ahead in their condescending efforts to “protect� students.

Get ready for the legal battle…


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Senator Mumford's ideas are rather counter-intuitive to the whole notion of education. We probably begin forming opinions before we can even speak, and then have a lifetime during which we (ideally) are looking at the world in a questioning manner that will help us determine which we may embrace, and which we may discard.

Learning how to make these determinations seems to me to be the most important thing. If we learn to think critically, to analyze the data around us, then we can make logical and informed choices.

To not expose students to myriad ideas, to impose on them sterilized and narrow viewpoints, denies them the opportunity to learn critical thinking. They should have brought such skills with them to university, but if not, then that is all the more reason for hearty debate.

For also if topics are deemed controversial, if they hit people's emotional hot buttons, then they are also more apt to be remembered. A student who disagrees with his professor on such a point, should be the first one to go to the library and research the matter in depth so that he may bring the counterpoint into the classroom. The rigorous discussion that can follow may or may not change the student's opinion, but it will surely help him or her understand it.

Additionally it seems dangerous and naive to attempt to isolate and protect students from the ideas of a world in which they will have to live. How reckless it would be to grant degrees to those who have not been allowed to learn to learn.

Posted by Heidi on January 31, 2005 07:06 PM

Manufacturing a weak integrity argument to justify free speech violations...

It started in a federal Court in Pittsburgh and has moved quickly to Colorado Universtity and Iraq. It's a stretch, but political hacks have besieged first amendment free speech protections.

They attempt to combine a provacative essay comparing victims of 911 with Nazi criminals and an emotionally charged General's comments on war, questioning whether such is permissible when the comments may cause damaged to an institution's integrity.


Because in a Pittsburgh federal court a well connected corporate crony has suggested the novice argument, and the legal question is waddling without any legal precedent in need of an activist court.

Thus the current unexplained campaign against “free speech� appears to be little more than a Madison Avenue scheme to control any discussion of the President’s desire to privatize higher education.

That is, a number of for-profit colleges have faced inquiries, lawsuits and other actions calling into question the way they inflate enrollment to mislead/increase the value of their parent company’s stock.

In the last year, the Career Education Corporation of Hoffman Estates, Ill., has faced lawsuits, from shareholders and students, contending that, among other things, its colleges have inflated enrollment numbers. In addition, F.B.I. agents raided 10 campuses run by ITT Educational Services of Carmel, Ind., looking for similar problems.

But in a Pittsburgh federal court there is a bigger can of worms.

Kaplan, Inc., is wholly own by the Washington Post Company. For-profit postsecondary education has turned the company around and individuals far more powerful than Martha Steward have made millions. However, there is a nominal “Watergate� styled federal court proceeding (scandal) involving campus “free speech,� that could expose the administration’s violation of public trust

In short, I provided the S.E.C., Department of Education, and federal courts information that appears to prove Kaplan inflated the Concord School of Law enrollment, telling investors that the “flagship� of its higher education division has as many as 600 to 1000 or more students.

I also provided evidence to prove apparent violations of sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder.

However, in an attempt to protect important icons of the Washington and New York financial/political circle, hacks have been hired to stir a free speech controversy.

But even Stan Chess (En Passant innocently questioned the obvious - a clear violation of the federal securities laws.

“Kaplan’s Concord School of Law says it’s one of the largest law schools in the country, yet for each administration only about 25 of its graduates sit for the bar exam. What happens to the hundreds of other students in each class?�

What are you willing to do?

Posted by kstreetfriend on February 5, 2005 01:45 PM