Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bias at Whitman: Does Whitman college hate conservatives?

(Some insight below from one student at a very Leftist liberal arts college in Washington State. His encounter with contempt for his Texan home has alerted him to the evils of other biases)

By Jesus Vasquez

Of course not. We just think they're wrong. And barbaric. But hate is too strong of a word. We just severely dislike them with all our heart and soul.

As a first year, the question "Where are you from?" is part of the awkward initial conversations we all have. Personally, after indicating that Texas was my native state, I was met with many an `oh,' characterized by a falling tone of displeasure and slight bewilderment. Generally, students, once friendly and welcoming, immediately became suspicious and closed. I only provoked further agitation after informing the inquisitor that I was NOT from Austin. Immediately, I was subjected to an uncomfortable interrogation regarding my religious, political, social and economic beliefs.

As a result, I felt pressured to assimilate, to conform to the ideal of your average liberal kid. When sharing stories from back home, I glossed over the fact that I had befriended fundamentalist Christians, who helped re-elect George W. Bush, whose parents had a gun collection worth thousands of dollars. I would even engage in what an interviewee for this article termed "pretentious despair," feeling sorry for all those in my hometown and home state who had yet to see the light of liberal ideals. And, all the while, all I could think was, "I'm so glad I'm a liberal." But, a year later, after meeting a conservative on campus, I finally realized, "But what if I wasn't?"

It makes quite a statement when the three conservative students who chose to be interviewed also requested anonymity. It truly shows what an accepting climate we have on our campus - what grandiose, open-minded folks we have that can tolerate and accept such different viewpoints. Indeed, this triumvirate seemed to agree that if conservatives were any other minority group on campus, the marginalization and overwhelming dismissal of their point of view would NOT be tolerated. Why is it, then, that Whitman students (as a whole) are committed to allowing multi-vocality and giving credence to nearly any set of ideals OTHER than those of the American conservative?

"One of the most unfortunate things about being liberal on this campus is that it promotes conformity in opinion, without a reason to back it up," says anonymous 1. A1 then recalled an event that occurred, where this problem became quite evident. "I once got into an argument with someone from an environmental organization on campus, and, after shooting down all of her claims with my evidence, she refused to even consider re-evaluating her position. Instead, she shut down, and ignored everything I said."

Yet another student, a2, who terms their views as `conservative-leaning moderate,' insists that Whitman was initially attractive to them due to their commitment to diversity. "One of the reasons I came to Whitman is because I thought it was a pretty balanced campus, in terms of diversity of opinion. It turns out, it's not quite as diverse as I thought it would be." But, a2 continued, "What I don't want to do is complain about lack of representation - I think that's the wrong thing to do. What I do propose is the need to have intellectual balance and understanding." Likewise, a3 expressed their surprise at how sharp reactions could be to foreign points of view. "When talking about politics, there was usually this exclamation of `Oh, YOU'RE the Republican!' Personally, there were feelings of shock and alienation, and for others, it was considered odd that there was one amongst them." Indeed, a3 implored for greater patience and understanding. "I'll speak very calmly one-on-one with people. If people want to hear my point of view, I'll share it. I'm not trying to be a sensationalist, I'm just trying to be - me."

Admittedly, I'm not perfect - read my last two articles, and you'll see I'm as capable of bias as anyone else. Furthermore, though I may have spoken in general terms, I don't mean to accuse ALL Whitman students of being spiteful towards conservatives. I know that there are indeed some stellar, genuinely open-minded scholars that reside within this hallowed bubble.

If there's anything I've learned in my four years at Whitman, it's that intelligence and ignorance are quite independent of each other. Indeed, I've met the most intelligent people of my life here, and some of the most ignorant - some are the same people. A particularly damning and relevant comment came from a1, when noting, "Whitman is more interested in seeking out what they want to hear - so long as they continue this, Whitman will not be a place of education - it will be a cheerleading camp."

I propose this to you - if you believe that red states are a monolithic entity inhabited by imbeciles incapable of inculcating the lofty platitudes we so celebrate, perhaps it's time to go back to the drawing board.


Australia: Students missing out on basic literacy, numeracy skills

Too much time wasted on propaganda

STUDENTS' literacy and numeracy are suffering because they are tied up learning such life skills as bike safety and sex education, principals say. The Australian Primary Principals Association says teachers spend too much class time on lifestyle issues at the expense of reading, writing and maths, the Courier-Mail reports.

APPA president Leonie Trimper said sex, drug, car and bike safety tuition were key distractions. "We're not saying we don't have a role but we seem to be the only ones with it," she said. She said a plethora of "add-ons" had crept into overcrowded state curriculums over many years, making it "impossible to achieve" learning aims.

In a report released last month, 96 per cent of 5000 Australian principals and teachers surveyed wanted a simpler, less-crowded curriculum.

Queensland's Year 3 and 5 students came seventh out of eight states and territories in this year's first national literacy and numeracy tests. Year 7 and 9 students came sixth. At the same time, Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said, teachers copped "another job" when Education Queensland made 2008 The Year of Physical Activity with its Smart Moves program. "If you put your focus everywhere you can't keep your focus," he said. "Literacy and numeracy should be the focus."


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