Friday, November 3, 2017

Mandatory First-Year Classes and Orientations: Flags and Guns vs Kindness

In my latest Pacific Standard essay, I talk about the ways that some right-wing schools enforce indoctrination and homogeneity, even as our free speech on campus discourse focuses on left-wing schools.
In response to National Football League players protesting state violence against African Americans, the College of the Ozarks, a small, Christian liberal arts institution in Missouri, is ordering its students to pick up a gun. The 93 percent white school now makes all first-year students take a Patriotic Education Fitness class. According to the Miami Herald, the course includes, "lessons on American politics, the military, and flag norms." Through their studies, "students will learn rifle marksmanship, map reading, land navigation, and rope knotting. Students also must be able to run a mile and will engage in other physical education activities." It's unclear how such activities will foster the college's mission of making students more "Christ-like."
This course is pure indoctrination. In fact, schools such as the College of the Ozarks explicitly demand homogeneity and fealty to religious and nationalistic ideologies. They punish divergence, and they aren't alone. There's a whole class of schools, some wealthy and influential, that demand obedience and conformity. And we are in a national moment when far too many influential voices are characterizing liberal arts institutions as hotbeds of politically correct intolerance. It's true that many schools do push students to think about diversity, but the "Patriotic Education Fitness Class" ought to give us a little perspective.
I, of course, had mandatory orientations at Wesleyan as an undergrad. I write:
As an undergraduate, I went to Wesleyan University. It was lampooned in the 1990s, when I attended, as PCU. There was no single core class that everyone took, per se, but I've never forgotten the early mandatory orientations. We were pushed to talk about diversity. Within a few days, new friends came out to me as queer. I learned about what we now call affirmative consent. We had long discussions about culture and power. In many ways, my ongoing work of self-improvement that still pushes me today began during those opening weeks. I'm told that these efforts continue. Last August, Vanessa Grigoriadis, a fellow Wesleyan alum from the '90s, returned to campus to find out what students are saying now; she subsequently wrote a reassuring report in the New York Times about the way today's "'P.C.' students" have an "overwhelming urge to be kind to each other." It doesn't mean they always get it right, but the driving force is to pay attention to vulnerabilities and then do no harm. If this is the scourge of political correctness on campus, sign me up.
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