bias in the classroom

A West Virginia college professor gave her students a list of “acceptable” and “non-acceptable” news sources from which her students could draw references for a class assignment. She listed The Huffington Post–a popular left-leaning website– as acceptable. However, Fox News was one of two sources she forbade students to cite for in their work.

Students in a political science class at West Liberty University were given an assignment recently to keep a “politics journal” in which they would record their reactions to various articles they had selected.

The instructor at the West Virginia public institution included some possible news sources, such as The Economist, BBC, CNN and The Huffington Post. But the instructor also specified that two sources could not be used. One was The Onion, which the assignment notes “is not news” and “is literally a parody.”

The other barred source is the one that got the instructor — Stephanie Wolfe — scrutiny this week. She banned articles from Fox News, writing: “The tagline ‘Fox News’ makes me cringe. Please do not subject me to this biased news station. I would almost rather you print off an article from the Onion.

The professor landed in hot water when parents called the university to complain about the professor’s blatant bias, and was forced to retract the politically motivated ban.

Read the full story at Inside Higher Ed.

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When I enrolled in German II at Ohio State University in the fall, I expected to learn the intermediate measures of the German language. As it turns out, that was hoping for too much.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The class delved into instruction now and again, but it quickly became apparent I was the lone conservative in a classroom in which learning German took a backseat to discussions on the prowess of Barack Obama, American narcissism, the virtues of socialism, the sad plight of Chicago’s teachers, and why the U.S. military is the reason the American education system is broken, just to name a few tangents I endured over the fall semester.

I made the early mistake of participating in a classroom discussion on the Chicago teachers union protests shortly after the course launched. I pointed out to my esteemed professor – who felt compelled to defend the poor, embattled Chicago Teaches Union instead of focusing on teaching us how to conjugate verbs in German – that the average teacher in Chicago makes more than $80,000 a year. My professor reminded me that was just the average. So I reminded her the average taxpayer with a college degree makes roughly $48,000. It was all downhill from there.

In another example of a classroom lecture way off the beaten path, my medically based opposition to veganism as a broadly prescribed diet for the American public led to a peer asking me: “What, did a vegan pee in your coffee?” Where veganism fits within the German II syllabus I still have yet to ascertain. 

As an aside, as the son of two Air Force veterans, I felt compelled to inform that same classmate that her zealous belief that the cost of one F-22 Raptor could fix the entire education system was something drawn from a leftwing fairytale.

But the professor, far from discouraging this manner of conversation for the sake of an education in German, prodded these classroom digressions on. She even came up with plenty of her own.

Keep in mind much of this course unfolded during the height of the presidential election season, so perhaps it’s no surprise that at one point our professor asked us to compare our intelligence to that of President Obama. Yes, you read that correctly. Our educator made it a habit of seeking to reinforce the infallibility of our Commander in Chief’s wide-ranging vision for America.

For a bit of extra fun, we were asked to compare the intelligence of George W. Bush with Angela Merkel’s. To our professor’s credit, we were asked to do so in German.

Tax rates were another hot topic of discussion. Not so much that the German citizen faces incredibly high tax rates, but rather that Germany’s high tax rate allows for an orderly state, the kind of order that places young children into differing schools based on perceived capability. Taxation that gives free healthcare, welcomed by a collective refrain along the lines of: “If only we had a freer President to give us free healthcare.” Germany, a country that “actually does something with their tax dollars” in the words of one classmate.

Obama’s sound bite during the third presidential debate about horses and bayonets allowed for yet more American criticism in German II. The German state, that peaceful nation, was applauded for being a country in which the flying of its national flag is still taboo. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden’s laughing fits during his debate made him my professor’s new favorite politician, as she informed us the next day.

To be fair, German II is not only meant to teach students how to engage in lengthy discussions in the foreign language, but it also aims to teach “cultural knowledge for effective communication,” according to the university’s course description.

As such, Germans were praised not just for their high taxes, their highly structured state, and their oh-so-rich history (Nazism was largely avoided), but also for their advanced civil culture, which includes a hatred of what we in America would refer to as patriotism, which they see as simple-minded jingoism.

We were taught the German state is not yet perfect, though. They have yet to remove their broadly evident racism toward Turkish workers who, invited in following the conclusion of World War II to aide in the rebuilding effort, have yet to leave Germany. 

Now whether or not the average German hates the values of the American Right is something that would be difficult for me to ascertain, as asking that question would require the use of the entire semester on a topic the course was intended to cover, rather than the “Dinner for Schmucks” I attended four times per week.

Fix contributor Patrick Seaworth is a student at Ohio State University.

University of Texas journalism Professor Robert Jensen was brutally honest about the nature of social science and humanities courses his peers teach across the country in his latest opinion piece, and he wants fellow university-level educators to come clean, too.

Saying “good teaching is living your life honestly in front of students,” something he learned from his late mentor, Jensen said that means “a rejection of the illusory neutrality that some professors claim. From the framing of a course, to the choice of topics for inclusion on the syllabus, to the selection of readings, to the particular way we talk about ideas—teaching in the social sciences and humanities is political, through and through.”

Jensen went on to claim he’s not talking about partisan advocacy of a particular politician, party, or program, offering some academic doublespeak: “Political, in this sense, (means to) assess where real power lies, analyze how that power operates in any given society, and acknowledge the effect of that power on what counts as knowledge.”

Sure, whatever.

At any rate, Jensen goes on to call for academic honestly all around, saying students deserve it:

Every professor’s “politics” in this sense has considerable influence on his/her teaching, and I believe it is my obligation to make clear to students the political judgments behind my decisions. The objective is not to strong-arm students into agreement, but to explain those choices and defend them when challenged by students. At the end of a successful semester, students should be able to identify my assumptions, critique them, and be clearer about their own.

Jensen claims offering students some rabid rhetoric is what they want and expect, anyway:

The first course I taught in the university-wide program called First-Year Seminars, “The Ethics and Politics of Everyday Life,” was straight out of Koplin: I had students read five books that touched on the political, economic, and ecological implications of our choices in our daily lives. Every time I worried that I would be pushing students too far, Jim would tell me that the students were hungry for honest, jargon-free radical talk, and he was right.

Jim Koplin was a former professor, co-founder of the Center for Nonviolence, and a community organizer dedicated to social justice and ecological sustainability. Koplin died in mid-December at age 79, and Jensen wrote his piece on intellectual honesty in honor of Koplin and their friendship.

Jensen’s piece appeared on Koplin’s website as well as the New Left Project website, described as “dedicated to producing high quality comment and analysis on issues of concern to the political left.”

Whatever you think of Jensen (remember he’s the one who recently described Thanksgiving as a “white supremacist holiday”) it’s nice to see he’s willing to call a spade a spade.

Click here to read Jensen’s entire piece.

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