Historians More Likely to Indoctrinate Students

Historians in the News

I was doing some random searching last week and came across noindoctrination.org. This is one of those websites that allows students who feel like their professors or schools are pushing "sociopolitical agendas" and "supplanting, suppressing, and ultimately excluding alternative views" a place to publicly air their grievances.

I didn't find very many of the stories I examined that compelling, but what did interest me was that close to 30% of those listed on the site as being guilty of indoctrination were history professors. I found this pretty startling given that your average student probably takes one college level history course in four years. Therefore, if one was making predictions on how many history teachers would be listed on such a site based strictly on the numbers it should be around 2.5%.

So of course, I've been wondering what the heck is it about history or history professors that makes them over-represented among those perceived to be indoctrinating their students? My best guess would that that history is one of the most political subjects taught on college campuses. Moreover, any interpretation given on how good a president was Lincoln, or how effective was the New Deal, or what was the treatment of Native Americans can be related to some current political or ideological debate. If you take a side on whether or not Martin Luther King, Jr. was essential to the Civil Rights Movement, someone in class could argue you are liberal or conservative, even if you later interpreted another event in a contradictory way.

I am sure there are some out there who would argue that it is the professor's job to present all the various interpretations to students and let them decide which is correct. And I think that in upper level classes this is more attainable. But in survey courses, students need some direction - some analysis of events, if history is going to make sense. It is the professor's responsibility in survey classes to sift through the various interpretations using the analytical skills they acquired at graduate school and working with the accepted paradigms of the profession to present to students the best understanding of events currently available.

While there is nothing wrong with providing survey students with a glimpse into some of the debates surround historical issues (especially ones that are not clear cut), at the same time it is not indoctrination to present a standard interpretation of history even if it might support or undermine a current political issue

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More Comments:

S J - 7/10/2006

"Nevertheless, some students don't like to have their ideas challenged, and there are many myths of history out there that history professors must deflate."

-This might be the most important point, John. I think that some people react to having their own ideas challenged by claiming to be indoctrinated. Good point.

John Edward Philips - 7/6/2006

It has been my experience (of both liberal and conservative professors) that those who try to force their ideas on students don't succeed. The goal of history teaching ought to be to get students to think historically, about how situations and institutions develop over time. As for agreeing with our interpretations, get used to the idea that many people never will.

Nevertheless, some students don't like to have their ideas challenged, and there are many myths of history out there that history professors must deflate. Some students don't like that and have been encouraged by political activists to view this debunking as indoctrination. It's not.

Finally, after going to the website in question, I notice that there are only seven complaints for the entire country over the past year.

Much ado about nothing?

michael Randolph stephenson - 7/5/2006

It has been my experience as both a grad and undergrad, that nearly every prof. makes no effort to hide any political bias. I am a political moderate who usually votes Republican but there have been many Democrats that I have supported as well. I have found that the most vocal are also the most liberal. That is not a problem in itself. It is ironic that these individuals who
consider conservatives to be protectors of the status quo also harbor a status quo of their own. They complain of the bankruptcy of the market economy and yet, they cannot accept that it is growing globally. Perhaps we would all be better served if our educational leaders would keep their moralizing for private conversations.

Richard Leonard Layman - 7/5/2006

Since the facts of history are most likely to challenge our strongly held beliefs, this "finding" doesn't surprise me. My freshman year seminar on Latin American society and culture, a few years after the fall of Allenda, started me on the path of learning how to think for myself--by challenging what I learned the U.S. is supposed to be about, vs. its real actions in countries like Chile.