The College Con

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Rosalyn Kahn, who teaches freshmen at Citrus College, “violated her student’s free-speech rights when she ordered them to write anti-war letters to President Bush and penalized students who refused the assignment, the California school determined,” according to the Washington Times.

A no-brainer, perhaps. But why did the college determine that it was the “free-speech rights” of her students that were violated?

A glance at the course title, “Freshman Speech,” would indicate that Ms. Kahn actually violated the implicit contract between the students and the school, because, whatever she was doing with this inane little exercise, it had nothing to do with the course curriculum.

It’s easy to see why Citrus College president Louis E. Zellers avoided that path at all costs. For if that standard were applied, a vast majority of high school and college classes would be declared to be in breach of contract.

Ms. Kahn’s course, like so many freshman college courses, is designed to teach the students what public high schools have failed to teach them. Government high schools have become so politicized that the actual content of the curriculum is the lowest priority of the powerful teachers unions that run them. While they, too, have broken their implicit contract with the students, parents, and taxpayers, the American political system has given this fraud its seal of approval, and counties nationwide regularly face tax hikes “for the children.” Like Ms. Kahn, those teachers regularly politicize the students — but they get away with it.

In my county, one of the smallest in Virginia, government-school teachers use the taxpayer-funded classrooms to prepare the children to demonstrate at the annual meetings of the board of supervisors where tax hikes for “education” are debated. No student complains in public, of course, although some do so in private, and there is a reason: the power disparity between a student and a teacher is one of the most extreme in our society.

Many’s the college student who has complained to me, “I was cheated in high school. My teacher was supposed to be teaching us history (or English, or whatever) but all he did was complain about the Viet Nam war, or (later) President Reagan, or (any time) greedy corporations.” They were cheated by their opinionated teachers out of the education their parents and the taxpayers had paid for. But they could do nothing, because their teacher had almost unlimited power over their futures.

Ironically, it is leftist college professors who most complain about the power of corporations and of right-wing politicians. But consider: no corporate CEO can ruin your chances to get into Stanford, but a vindictive high school teacher can, if she gives you a D instead of the A you deserve, solely because you argued with her about her silly forays into politics in class.

Not even the president of the most powerful nation on earth can prevent you from going to Harvard Law School, but one offended professor can, if you ask him to stick to the point and teach instead of spouting his political views.

Michael Novak made me aware of this power disparity more than twenty years ago, and since then it has only gotten worse. At Notre Dame, where Mr. Novak and I went to school, things have gone so far to the left in the economics department that a significant number of professors insist that a second department of “mainstream economics” be established to give the school some credibility in the field. The South Bend Tribune reports, with a straight face, that “David F. Ruccio, a prominent Marxist economist in the department,” objects because this proposal would “marginalize an entire department of economists who are committed to pluralism and social justice.”

For the left, the purpose of the classroom is politicization. If that makes Notre Dame grads less attractive to employers, it’s a small price to pay. Even if they are unemployed, they should be grateful for their consciousness-raising experiences under the Golden Dome.

Hannah Arendt once observed that totalitarian education does not seek to force students to reach the wrong conclusions; it deprives them of the tools to reach any conclusions at all.

Ms. Kahn was not alone, but she was unlucky. She got caught.

Christopher Manion [send him mail] writes from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. He avoids Maryland whenever possible.

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