The things your father or grandfather or uncle or neighbor grumbled about in taciturn tones turn out to be true. Yes, the media is profoundly and unremittingly biased. Yes, higher education is rife with intolerant progressive professors who beak-feed their personal political views to their students – pre-masticated, like a mother bird.
I’m sorry I doubted you, Grandpa.
Possibly the least surprising education story of the week? A history professor named Troy Daugherty of Illinois Central College assigned students the task of writing an essay on Donald Trump with a diversity of topic choices ranging from “sexual predator” to “pathological liar” to “Stormy Daniels.”
The homework assignment in question gave students the choice of writing either a research paper or book review of five to seven pages. To write the book review, students would need first to read one of the anti-Trump books offered as choices, including those of James Comey, Mary Trump, and John Bolton. In a vacuum, you know Professor Daugherty is a cruel and unusual teacher. After all, who assigns a seven-page essay for homework that requires you to read an entire book first? It sounds more like a punishment than an assignment.
The professor revealed that he was reading Bolton’s book The Room Where It Happened and that it was “fascinating and confirms for anyone interested that Donald J. Trump is not fit for the office of the presidency.” Is the ideal educator not one with a poker face neutral enough to obscure their personal views in favor of presenting an array of facts, opinions, and possibilities to encourage students to make up their own minds? If so, then Daugherty is the guy holding his cards backward for the whole table to see.
A Deplorable Student?
One brave student gingerly inquired of the professor whether he was permitted to hold a dissenting view about the president – he wanted to write favorably about Trump’s views on abortion. The student emailed the professor:
“I realize that we are going to have differing opinions, which is okay. I am willing to listen to other views, but I know we will disagree on many topics. I am wondering if our differences will affect my grade in class.”
Possibly because everything during distance learning can be recorded and retained – obliging the professor to at least approximate the temperance of a true educator – Daugherty, no doubt aghast at the deplorable on his roster, tempered his response somewhat, approved the topic, and wrote back:
“Know his history, be wide-eyed, and recognize what he has personally done in his own life relative to his current political stance and how even that has changed. If you simply recite his political view espoused for political reasons and fail to dig deeper, you will get an F. Do you understand?”
Note that it’s the student who sounds like the teacher, strikes a note of conciliation and reminds his professor of what used to be a self-evident truth: that we all have differing opinions, which is OK, and it is essential to be willing to listen to dissenting views, even if one disagrees. The professor’s response is telling. He requires the student to “truly” write about “his [Trump’s] personal view and his political view” – something he didn’t demand this of the other students who were ostensibly charged with merely parroting the anti-Trump views of published authors.
A Biased Approach
Having been unhappily thrust into the spotlight with this story, the college is now “actively investigating” the situation, according to Campus Reform. This could be out of genuine concern for the astonishing bias demonstrated by Professor Daugherty, or just an ellipsis fed to the media wood chipper until the ravenous news cycle moves on. The college issued this statement:
“ICC was recently made aware of certain claims related to academic integrity. As an institution of higher learning, ICC takes such claims seriously and is actively investigating the matter. While the professor’s published grading rubric establishes criteria for grading, the assignment was presented in a manner that presents a biased approach. Presentation of a biased approach, of any sort, is inconsistent with the free exchange of ideas we promote and is not condoned by the college. This serves as a great reminder to us all to practice etiquette regarding political preferences and beliefs.”
One hopes the college is sincere – and assuming it is, it deserves credit. There can be no place for bias and inculcation of this kind in higher education as it deprives impressionable, “wide-eyed” students of the opportunity to establish their own beliefs and make up their own minds. Were the story inverted and a pro-Trump educator attempted to prejudice his or her students in favor of the president, it would be incumbent on ICC or any institution of higher learning to react in precisely the same manner.
A reset is in order. The sage truism of an anonymous student in Illinois bears repeating – and should be held aloft like a beacon:
“I realize that we are going to have differing opinions, which is okay.”
Read more from Pennel Bird.