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Exchange of Ideas, Not Brainwashing, a Hallmark of College Experience

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

In certain circles, it is popular to view colleges and universities as the embodiment of an intolerant “education establishment” driven more by liberal ideology than by valued learning experiences. Particularly with the recent leadership transition in Washington, DC, espousers of this view have grown bolder in their accusations of brainwashing and progressive elitism in higher education. These claims are frustrating in that they betray a lack of familiarity with the mission of our institutions, but they are also dangerous: if used to erode public support for higher education, they will further impede access by those most in need.

While we welcome constructive criticism of our work, statements that delegitimize higher education are counterproductive and must be challenged. When officials suggest that professors are deviously indoctrinating students with a limited, biased, and distorted set of beliefs, such intimation is demeaning to faculty and students alike. And after 35 years in higher education, I can attest to the utter falseness of this assumption.

In reality, professors’ goal is to equip students with the skills to discover facts, data, research, and theory, and engage in clinical or applied practice to prepare them for life after graduation. And college students are among the most engaged and inquisitive minds in the world, as any doubters would surely see if they visited a campus. Indeed, higher education is founded on inquiry, and we encourage students to question and think critically about all they encounter.

The exchange of information and ideas is a hallmark of the college experience. Discussions and debates – between and among students and professors alike – are common and sometimes heated. But all students have value, and add value, to campus life and the university community. All are welcome and appreciated. All are encouraged to express their views, regardless of ideological leanings.

I have been a university student or professor in Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio, and enjoyed interacting with colleagues from every side of every spectrum imaginable. Studying and working in such a diverse environment is beneficial to anyone’s development, and access to this opportunity for all Americans should be actively promoted. To delegitimize higher education and discourage citizens from pursuing it would erode, not improve, civil society and the fabric of our democracy.

I encourage you to join me and other education partners to help advance the learning and understanding of our detractors about the true nature of our work. We need to better articulate and advocate for our role, purpose, and function, both in higher education broadly and in the preparation of the next generation of teachers and teacher leaders. We need to invite elected officials to visit our programs, include them in interactions with our students, and make our values and actions more visible to all. Together, we need to help open their minds to consider new possibilities – just like we do with our students.

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Renée A. Middleton

Ohio University