Sending Your Kid to College: The Wrong Questions to Ask

Sending Your Kid to College: Asking The Wrong Questions Dennis Prager, who apparently hasn’t been on a college campus in a few decades, compiles a handy dandy list of questions to ask in selecting a college for your kids.

1. Can one obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree at your college without having read a single Shakespeare play, one Federalist Paper or one book of the Bible?

If so, why attend such a college?

I’ve attended and/or taught at a total of seven institutions of higher learning. All, except for the United States Military Academy, were state schools in the Southeast. None of them required Bible reading. Nor, come to think of it, was it absolutely certain that you’d be required to read Shakespeare or a Federalist Paper.

Why on earth would reading a book of the Bible be required as part of a university education? An understanding of the role of religion in history, sure. Learning about the centuries-long struggle to define the proper roles of church and state, absolutely. Knowing how the 10 Commandments fit into the evolution of our legal system would certainly come into play. But college isn’t Sunday School.

I read plenty of Shakespeare in both college and high school and have seen several of his plays performed since. But most universities that I was associated with allow B.A. students to chose between two semesters of either American or British Literature. Those choosing the former, obviously, could escape forced exposure to the Bard.

I’ve got three degrees in political science and have read and taught both the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist Papers. I honestly don’t remember, though, whether, say, Federalist 10 was part of the core curriculum when I was an undergrad. Nor, really, is it immediately obvious why it should be.

In many of the schools I was associated with, a political science class was not absolutely mandated; it was merely one of several social sciences/humanities offerings from which students had to pick several courses. An American National Government survey course was a requirement for certain students at Troy State when I taught there and both Steven Taylor and I required some selections from the Federalist Papers. I’m not entirely sure we would have been remiss, though, had we just taught the principles and eschewed the primary source reading. We didn’t, for example, require reading Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws even though we taught about checks and balances.

The rest of Prager’s list is equally misguided. He asks such questions as, “In the political science, English, sociology, anthropology and history departments — or any other liberal arts department — what is the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among the professors?” Or, “What are the names of the speakers invited and paid with college funds to speak last year at the college?” Or, most hilariously, “Can my child live in a same-sex dorm and are the bathrooms co-ed?”

Hippy College Professor The list’s core flaw is that it begins with the common — and yet obviously absurd — premise that decent, hardworking folks send their kids off to college only to have their values assaulted by hippie, dope smoking, Communist professors who hate America.

Not only is that not the case but it wouldn’t matter if it were.

Yes, the professoriate is, on average, less religious and more likely to vote Democrat than the median American. But there’s plenty of diversity on campus. At most institutions, there are plenty of professors who vote Republican, go to church, and enjoy the company of the opposite sex. With rare exception, professors simply teach their subject matter without any interest in converting students to their worldview.

Moreover, most of us survive college with our values intact. Most conservative intellectuals, business leaders, and even preachers managed to spend four years with liberal college professors and still learn learn something. If anything, they come away with a better understanding of their own position after being exposed to other ways of thinking. Hell, that’s what college is supposed to be about.

Frankly, if you want your kids to be steeped in the Bible, I wouldn’t advise waiting until sending them off to college. It’s a little late at that point.

Instead of Prager’s questions, parents would be better served to ask things like:

  • What is the ratio of required courses taught by full-time professors rather than graduate students or adjuncts?
  • How strongly is the Writing Across the Curriculum program integrated into the institution’s philosophy?
  • Are courses in statistics and logical analysis required or at least available?

Mostly, though, a college education is what the students make of it. Parents need to make sure their kids are intellectually, emotionally, and socially ready for higher education and should guide them to choosing schools that will fit their personalities. Not everyone will thrive on a large campus, for example.

Via Leonard Pierce, who fisks some other portions from the left flank.

Images: AllPosters and College Candy via Google

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    I don’t even know why you’re acknowledging such silliness. “Analyses” like Prager’s are reflective of two things:

    1) a general anti-intellectualism that marks some significant strands of conservatism (e.g. the religious nut/anti-science wing);

    2) the need to present conservative values as somehow victimized or under threat (e.g. “War on Christmas,” “War on Marriage,” etc..) as a way to mobilize people to ignore their economic interests in favor of policies that continue to facilitate the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few

  2. James Joyner says:

    I don’t even know why you’re acknowledging such silliness.

    Prager’s a very prominent radio host and columnist who’s espousing very widely held, but wrong, views. It strikes me as worth rebutting, especially from the center-right.

  3. Tlaloc says:

    Why the hell are reasonable views like your so rare in the GOP these days? I mean when was the last time you read a conservative blog that didn’t consider it a priori that universities were liberal brainwashing factories and all professors degenerate pinkos?

    If it wasn’t for a small core of two or three reasonable (vocal) conservatives I’d have to write the entire philosophy off as dead and buried.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    For some those works are very valuable and worth asking about when shopping for a college. If others don’t agree that’s fine but Prager can make such a suggestion. If more parents asked perhaps administrators would consider it important as well. There’s certainly nothing wrong with requiring those works.

    I take issue with the idea that it’s even possible to know if a college will fit the personality of a prospective student. It’s like trying out that new titanium driver. Swinging it a few times does not reflect how it will work over the long haul as you adapt to it.

    Individual experiences that can never be predicted can have a much larger effect on a student’s experience in college. One bad professor can turn things south with an adverse encounter. One bad roommate can ruin study habits. Trying to determine compatibility based upon a campus visit or literature makes no sense.

    Students will adapt over time and grow into campuses. Students may decide to leave and go somewhere else. Admissions officials will all tell you they are the best fit. My point is Prager’s questions are as good a gauge of where to go as personality fit. Just make sure you go to college.

  5. Triumph says:

    My point is Prager’s questions are as good a gauge of where to go as personality fit. Just make sure you go to college.

    I think James’ question about when the last time this guy has ever been on a college campus is appropriate. Anyone who would ask such questions is so ill-informed that it is clear that he is not really interested in an honest answer–but is using the whole frame for some political argument.

    There is no serious university in the country where you cannot find a class on Shakespere, the Bible, or American Political Thought.

    Hell, even UC Berekeley has more than 10 courses explicitly on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    There is no reason why a student can’t be exposed to any of the ideas that Praeger lists.

    These courses may not be required–but that is the result of an explosion in knowledge over the past century and a reflection of Universities’ responsiveness to consumer demand.

  6. legion says:

    Well, Prager is also rather well-known for having no real connection to reality, but whatever. His “list” is good for laughs, though.

    2. Does the college allow military recruiters on its campus?

    Like, as Atrios points out, Columbia U., where Prager did grad work back in ’70-’72. (Note for the irony-impaired: THAT WAS WHAT HE DID DURING THE VIETNAM WAR. You know, instead of signing up. Which is apparently important to him now for some reason…)

    3. In the political science, English, sociology, anthropology and history departments — or any other liberal arts department — what is the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among the professors?

    I really love this bit. The unspoken assumption is, of course, that any professor, regardless of political beliefs, cannot ever be trusted not to indoctrinate their students to their way of thinking. And regardless of the actual subject they’re supposed to be teaching. I can only assume that all the conservative profs he knows are unprofessional blowhards, so he assumes they all are. He also appears to believe that people’s deep-seated beliefs about morals are so flimsy that even being exposed to people who think differently is enough to forever alter their psyches. Imagine how he must feel about se-

    5. Can my child live in a same-sex dorm and are the bathrooms co-ed?

    Oh, I’m not even going there.

  7. just me says:

    None of them required Bible reading. Nor, come to think of it, was it absolutely certain that you’d be required to read Shakespeare or a Federalist Paper.

    While I don’t think we read every selection in the textbook my intro to Lit class in college had several selections from the Old Testament (Genesis, Psalms and Song of Soloman) and several selections of Shakespeare. I don’t remember any of the Federalist Papers in my lit book.

    So I honestly can’t imagine getting a liberal arts degree, or even a college degree where a person didn’t have to read at least Shakespeare. Shoot I can’t imagine finishing high school without reading any Shakespeare.

    The Bible and Federalist papers wouldn’t shock me.

    Actually I am willing to bet most Universities have classes for each of these subjects individually. They are just more likely to be found in the electives list rather than the required list.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    Neither the Bible, nor Shakespeare, nor the Federalist Papers were required reading when I was in college a couple of generations ago. However, the most popular course in the College of Arts and Sciences, a year-long survey of Western Literature taught by a famous professor, did require that the Book of Job be read. In the same course we also read a couple of Shakespeare’s plays but not, as I recall, the Federalist Papers.

    As far as social sciences were concerned a certain number of credit hours in political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, or economics were required. I satisfied most of my credits with economics courses. I was thrown out of one of the psychology courses I enrolled for on the grounds that I knew more about the subject matter than the professor teaching the course. Really.

  9. Chris says:

    My college history professor was a conservative who at one time had worked for Reagan and told us that the rest of the faculty were liberal maniacs, although he assured us that they were mainly harmless. There was lots of good natured to-and-froing between students and the teacher, and no-one was magically indoctrinated by either the conservative or liberal lecturers.

  10. floyd says:

    Dennis Prager is a refined and educated man with a remarkable lack of malice toward anyone.
    It is no surprise that his point would be missed by so many, and by such a margin.
    I was led to believe that only the Hoi polloi were given to a lack of character refinement and an insecure knee-jerk reaction to anything challenging their temporal paradigm. Not so??

  11. bornonthefourth says:

    The only art class at West Point was typing. I still make more money as a truck driver than my wife a school teacher of 20 years.

  12. bains says:

    Seems you’re taking Prager’s list a bit too literally Dr. Joyner.

    The list’s core flaw is that it begins with the common — and yet obviously absurd — premise that decent, hardworking folks send their kids off to college only to have their values assaulted by hippie, dope smoking, Communist professors who hate America.

    What Prager is suggesting is a list by which parents can ascertain whether a prospective school is open to intellectual curiosity, or whether it is interested in pumping out like-minded automatons.

    I earned my BA-History 22 years ago – I knew that most of my professors were left-leaning – they were, however, open to well supported counter arguments. Recently though, this same college saw a associate professor kick a student for merely wearing a pro-Bush tee-shirt. Given conversations with my cousin, who recently graduated from this same school, the mood has changed since my day. Intellectual curiosity in many classrooms is no longer fostered, particularly if that curiosity leads one away from the preferred opinion of the teacher. This is what Prager is warning about. It used to be that school taught kids how to think, now many are more concerned with what kids think.

    I’d also add that as someone with strong ties to academia, you may have a biased view of the topic.

  13. bains says:

    Why the hell are reasonable views like your so rare in the GOP these days?

    No better example of what Prager is warning against. Dr. Joyner’s view is not reasonable because it is reasonable, it is reasonable because it agrees with the commenter.

    I mean when was the last time you read a conservative blog that didn’t consider it a priori that universities were liberal brainwashing factories and all professors degenerate pinkos?

    Every day. Jumping from the contention that a good portion of colleges are not concerned with intellectual curiosity to positing that “universities [are] liberal brainwashing factories and all professors degenerate pinkos,” speaks more of the commenter’s lack of logic skills (more likely a lack of intellectual honesty) than what those with whom he ideologically differs actually say.

  14. Beldar says:

    Yes, the professoriate is, on average, less religious and more likely to vote Democrat than the median American. But there’s plenty of diversity on campus.

    There’s some diversity on campus. By saying “on average,” though, you suggest that the numbers are somewhat close. And they’re not close at all. In fact, most college faculties are overwhelmingly Democrats, and actively hostile to conservatives and conservative thought. That was true when I was in college and law school in the late 1970s. It’s more true now. I’m not sure if you’re ignoring that, minimizing it, or actively defending it, but I wouldn’t take any of those approaches myself.

  15. legion says:

    In fact, most college faculties are overwhelmingly Democrats

    Y’know, I’m about sick of hearing right-wing weenies pitch this particular bitch-fest over and over, as though it was the Universities’ faults. If there was actually this sort of overt discrimination against the teeming hordes of conservatives trying desperately to get tenure, it’d be a little obvious – while private universities can largely have their own hiring standards, public universities have to follow federal law. Not hiring or promoting people because of their political views is patently illegal in such places, and if it were really happening, I’m sure there’s no shortage of conservative think-tanks with deep pockets who’d fund the lawsuits. But those lawsuits aren’t there. Why? The only possible reason left is that conservatives don’t want to be professors. So shut up and quit whining. Or get a job at Bob Jones U.

    My personal opinion: nobody goes into academia to get rich. Ergo, conservatives stay away in droves. Make your own joke here.

  16. bains says:

    Y’know, I’m about sick of hearing right-wing weenies pitch this particular bitch-fest over and over, as though it was the Universities’ faults.

    Yeah, and I’m about sick of fair-weather weenies bitching that it is still winter. (/snark) As if their, and your ‘sickiness’ makes it not so.

  17. floyd says:

    “nobody goes into academia to get rich”
    “Make your own joke here.”

    Well, liberal academics sure don’t, or they’d publish books worth buying!