OPINION: I’m dying for some objectivity from professors!
I’m frequently assigned Karl Marx. I’m forced to sit through Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” – twice. I’m told to read the New York Times daily to pass a class, and that Fox News is biased. I get marked down on an assignment for suggesting Islamic extremists are misogynistic toward women.
Welcome to my world. I’m a history major drowning in a sea of subjectivity.
When I chose history as my major, I was excited and determined to learn everything I could about the past. I wanted to know all the facts, the tidbits, and the finite complex details about our planet’s history. In my mind, my university was going to make me the unstoppable online quiz taker, the Jeopardy conqueror, and more than anything, mold me into the best high school history teacher I could ever possibly be.
However, after completing 36 courses – and only 15 of them being history courses relevant to my desired career – my excitement is extinguished.
For starters, I’m often told by professors I’m ignorant and uniformed.
In my global governance course last semester, for example, I was told that I should subscribe to the New York Times and read it on a daily basis to pass the class. Knowing that there are obvious slants in many news articles, I asked my professor in front of the class if I should be aware of these biases in the New York Times. He responded in a sarcastic tone: “Oh yes, be very afraid of the big bad liberals!”
After that, I was made out to be “that conservative” for the duration of the semester, and became the student who was “sadly bigoted.” Anytime I engaged in class conversation, the professor was sure to verbally belittle me instead of answer my questions honestly and fairly.
In my ancient civilizations course, I had to write a lengthy paper on ancient Middle Eastern literature, and compare today’s events with negative female stereotyping of women in their ancient literature. So I argued that because their early literature depicted women as cunning and untrustworthy, that women in the Middle East today experience the lasting effects of these early stereotypes: rape, abuse, discrimination, genital mutilation, forced marriage.
But my professor docked my grade for my argument, telling me it was unfounded, that there was no connection between the violence toward women in Islam today and negative stereotyping of women in their ancient literature. He told me my opinions were biased, likely a product of networks like Fox News. Fortunately I passed the course, but it was a frustrating experience.
I also took an upper-division course in the spring titled Women & Jewish History. While I learned an abundant amount of information, this class often assigned articles written by self-proclaimed feminist historians, taking away from the actual concept of the class: history. Talking to many of the men in my class before lecture, I felt their frustration too, and felt so sorry for them. They were always reading articles that bashed men and discouraged their manhood. The articles constantly villainized them, and made them to feel as if they themselves had wronged all women.
And the list goes on.
I have been given Marx’s theories to read more than anything else. I feel bombarded by him, to be honest. Even when it feels like his statements don’t have a place in my courses, somehow MARX is wiggled into lectures. His ideas about society are put on a pedestal in all of my courses because his ideas, according to my professors, promoted ultimate social justice and equality. Human beings just messed the whole thing up and we should try again to bring down the rich and restore our society.
On two separate occasions, and in two separate classes, I was assigned to watch “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The Laramie Project.” Neither professor made the class aware these films promote agendas and instead presented them as fact.
And at least two professors have also denounced President Ronald Reagan, and argued our parents have warped our knowledge of history because they supported the iconic Republican president and bought into his vision of America.
Professors try to make me believe I’m ignorant, that I know nothing about history and that everything I was ever taught is a lie. My thoughts and interpretations of the past are said to be unresearched and the product of my parent’s coercion.
Yet I’m often instructed not to go out on my own to do research because the literature I may choose to learn from may be tainted or bias. My professors often advise me to just use the readings they recommend. That seems to stand against one of the most fundamental lessons for a student of history: seek out and study primary sources.
A primary source is a document, speech, picture, letter or similar item that has been created during the time in which you are researching. A secondary source is an article, scholarly journal or opinion about primary sources.
But rarely am I assigned primary sources by my professors. If I am assigned a primary source at all, it’s usually penned by a controversial philosopher, theorist or extremist. Last semester, the few primary sources I was tasked to read were from early socialist activists, all promoting views that were said to be “significant” for their time.
Mostly my professors encourage and assign secondary sources, suggesting they’re more entertaining and worded for modern readers. Yet it makes me feel as if I’m missing out on developing my own ideas about the past, instead just learning someone else’s interpretation of history. I’m seldom given the opportunity by professors to form my own opinions.
And what are they telling me? In all of my history classes, it has seemed as if there is no such thing as good history, nothing in the past has been good or moral, and every human choice has been done based on immoral, selfish and callus intentions.
I’m taught Americans are the worst, that we lack all that it means to be a true democracy, and that our ideas of what it means to be American are unsupported and simply fabricated. Yet when I investigate these claims, I find my professors are wrong.
If I did not have to have a slip of paper declaring me fit to teach high school students, I might have just skipped college altogether and spent a year reading Library of Congress tomes. It would have been a much better education.
IMAGE: Jason Corey/Flickr