Monday, September 12, 2005

Outfoxing

Here's a story about a parent complaining that a high school teacher showed the documentary Outfoxed in class.

I showed this in my media classes because so many students said they watch Fox News as their primary source for news. Can you imagine? So, yeah, I got crap about showing Outfoxed, too.

"Generation Perfect" should be studied for how thoroughly and successfully they've been brainwashed into believing that the Roves and Aileses and Murdochs of the world have sole custody of the truth. They are willing young sheep.

A professor friend told me that among the frosh he's teaching right now, "Supporting the president" and "Supporting government officials" received high marks in the survey he did of student attitudes toward authority figures.

Anyone remember: "Never trust anyone over 30." I'd flip that around now.

As one whose Wonder years were the 1960s and 1970s, I continue to be amazed at kids who follow in lockstep with political and religious beliefs that are so harmful to their own futures. They don't see it, don't want to see it. Maybe 20 years from now, when they have kids with asthma and autism, when every day is a "purple air alert," when they get tired of paying taxes to pay off the war debts.... They simply don't question now, as if questioning authority is somehow unpatriotic and dangerous.

I'm not exaggerating. And yes, I'm a Democrat who got into journalism via the wave of Wood/Stein-loving young writers who believed in speaking truth to power and throwing the lies back in the faces of the hypocrites. I finally got out of daily newspapers because the prevailing "agenda" of the companies became so profit-centered. The emphasis was not on investigative reportage or serving a community by being watchdogs on elected officials. It was how to lower wages and increase profits by laying off near-retirees before they could qualify for pensions. It was cutting back on staff to the point of anorexic coverage of major events and blatant kowtowing to advertisers. It was unpaid overtime for new hires and fewer benefits for the lifers. Except for management, who got bonuses for instituting cost-cutting measures. And still, letters would come in to the newspapers claiming they were too "liberal." If only they knew.

So hell yes, I showed Outfoxed and Bowling for Columbine (which is flawed but still powerful) and All the President's Men and other "left-leaning propaganda," as some of my students pegged it. Because even if I don't care about winning converts -- and I gave up on that long ago -- I think the little lambs occasionally should be exposed to different points of view and some information that hasn't been processed by the truth-shredding machines of Mr. Rove et al.

I'll never forget the day a young man stood outside my office door after the first meeting of the writing class. "I need to tell you something," he said in a nervous stage whisper. "I think you should know because it might have an effect on how other students react to things I say in class."

I imagined speech impediments or seizures. But no.

"I just think you should know," he said, "that I'm a liberal."

33 Comments:

Anonymous sarah m said...

Ooh, this one hits a soft spot for me. I recently got into an spat-via-email with a new grad from the UNT graduate journalism program, who informed me that "the purpose of the modern journalist is to get people's attention, so that a newspaper sells more copies or a website gets more hits, making the advertisers happier."

I was so sad to see such a jaded perspective coming from my own alma mater. Can my own journalism school have changed THAT much since I graduated? I thought we had a duty, that we were the "gatekeepers of information!" If those fresh out of school lack such ideals, who will have them?

So if nobody else thanks you for showing undergrads Outfoxed, and All the President's Men, I will. Both ought to be part of every journalism curriculum. If more professors taught ideals like those, maybe we wouldn't have kids coming straight out of school singing the "make the advertisers happy" song.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Hillabeans said...

"If you're young and not a Democrat, you have no heart. If you're old and not a Republican, you have no head."
Perhaps we kids today have too many distractions to deal with and are missing the big picture. A friend's 10 year old son went raving about Bush and how he loved the war. This just doesn't seem right.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you also cover Operation Tailwind in your class? If any of the reporters had know anything about how chemical munitions were handled, they would have seen right through the reporting.

Showing anit-right of center propaganda is fine, but did you grade students based upon their political leanings?

3:44 PM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

Don't EVEN insult me with a question like that. Of course not. I graded fairly, on the quality of the work (so fairly that I got complaints for refusing to engage in grade inflation).

And yes, we covered Operation Tailwind, the low point of CNN's history.

Unfortunately, I think I was "graded" for teaching that there is more than ONE political way to lean in this country -- a point of view that probably made me unpopular with the dominant rightwing student faction and probably contributed to the "non-renewal" of my contract.

Students last fall had the nerve to ask if they could get "extra credit" for attending Bush's big rally at the campus coliseum. This is what we're dealing with these days. Not only do they want their often empty political beliefs (they believe because mom and dad do), they want blanket approval for them AND EXTRA CREDIT.

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a May SMU Journalism grad and I think SHOWING these documentaries isn't a problem. Being exposed to different views is good and mind-stretching. However, if you think or lead students to believe that only your view on these things is the right way then you are doing EXACTLY what you are accusing them of doing - being closed minded. We should all be willing to hear both sides of things and make the decision for ourselves.

Believe it or not there are some intelligent conservative students under 30 who actually know what they are talking about... We don't all have to be liberals - what fun is that?!

4:32 PM  
Blogger Jeff the Baptist said...

Sadly what we need is kids thinking critically about what they see and hear from both sides of the political debate.

Bowling for Columbine is a great film for this, not because it is a powerful Oscar winner, but because it is a film that deliberately plays with the truth to manipulate its audience. Give them a copy of Heston's actual speech and then show the Columbine clip and see how skillfully history was rewritten.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Nathan S. said...

Good post. I have to deal with these type of students all the time. As a student at another ritzy private university, I hear all sorts of crazy comments, just because I am a moderate Democrat. I have had to basically debate people after class, just because I have a Kerry keychain that I personally received from Sen. Kerry. I know some true intellectual conservatives on campus, but they are in the minority. The majority of students just restate what their parents told them. They believe just because they have been told to. I actually have a good story on this subject. Last year, I was on campus voting in the 2004 Elections. As I was standing in line(It took me 6 hours, it's Florida), looking at my homemade cheat sheet(I tend to vote across party lines, based on the history of the candidate), I heard one of my peers remark" Who would vote for Kerry?If he wins, poor people will be trying to go to school here!" Ironically, I am middle class, and I am proud to be the offspring of working parents. My roommate, who was standing next to me asked them why would they say such a hateful thing. One of the Ashleys replied " Well, my parents told me that, and they never lie!" Sad, but true..

4:47 PM  
Anonymous particular said...

Conservatism has been taken over by the fundamentalists, which means conservatism has become about emotion, not intelligence.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous J said...

"Conservatism has been taken over by the fundamentalists, which means conservatism has become about emotion, not intelligence."

Liberalism has been taken over by big-government secular humanists, which means liberalism has become about emotion, not the improvement of the human state through freedom.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous andrea said...

Uh, can we keep this on topic instead of descending into "Conservatives Suck! Liberals Blow!" flamewar? k thx

A college professor has the obligation to screw with her students' heads and MAKE them think critically. Have a huge crew of Republicans? Show Michael Moore and Outfoxed and remind them that there's something else out there. Got a lot of hemp wearing tree huggers in class? Show Fox News and remind them that this is how 51% of the country thinks, so justify yourselves. College studies were never meant to make you feel comfortable and reassure you in your beliefs. When you graduate, you should have a BETTER idea of where you stand, whether it's the same old place or somewhere different, and be able to articulate, in speech and writing, WHY you hold the beliefs you hold dear. None of this "mommy and daddy believe it and they don't lie." Going to university is supposed to make you a stronger person mentally, and let's hope spiritually as well. It's cutting the apron strings and making you stand on your own as an individual.

Fuck the "this is job training only, so professors who are here to serve Me should make me mentally comfy while i'm here" mentality... if that's what you're wanting, go to ITT Tech or Beauty College.

5:34 PM  
Blogger ms. jared said...

i agree with you, professor. i worry when i read about the youth today being such willing cattle herded off to slaughter. (although, as a child of the reagan years growing up in the midwest, i remember it well.)

i was in the south last summer sitting around a table full of older adults (50s and 60s) who recieved ALL of their news and information from FOX. they too were all starry eyed over bush and hate filled over that gay loving, baby killing, troop hating kerry. i felt like i was in the twilight zone.

the willful ingnorance and outright hatred of "the left" or "libruls" was really upsetting. especially when there are so many lies being slung around by their (the rightwing) own people. and they don't even seem to care or get pissed off about being made fools.

i'm glad i'm halfway through my life already because the future looks very bleak indeed. i think another 35 years is probably going to be more than i can even take. (it'll probably even kill me. haha)

thanks for being one of the good guys.

xoxo, jared

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It was how to lower wages and increase profits by laying off near-retirees before they could qualify for pensions."

I'm an SMU graduate, class of '72 and you hit the nail on the head with the above statement. the business world has gotten meaner. for those that disagree let me warn you, your jobs are going to china and india. in india they make less that $8K a year. compete with that. even if they are insufficient in their work, management doesn't care. it's all about cost. there are few jobs that graduates can learn that exempts them from this threat.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Cranky Puppy said...

Andrea just nails it with her comment. My fondest memories are of professors who encouraged and welcomed the free exchange of ideas in their classrooms. The ability to disagree and to discuss that disagreement with civility is all too rare. Maybe I spent too much time and energy in high school doing nerdy stuff like debate, but to this day I can still argue with anyone about nearly anything without feeling the need to take it personally.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Yvette said...

Here in Ohio they're trying to push a bill through the state legislature that students "can't be persecuted for their beliefs" in grades and such, and professors can't talk about things outside the class that are controversial (the idea according to those who introduced it was so the conservatives on campus wouldn't be persecuted for their beliefs by the overwhelmingly liberal universities). I don't know what the bill's current status is but I am already committed to taking a class on "Controversial Topics throughout History" one of my former professors wants to teach should it go through.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

As one of those liberal hippies, I have to say that not everyone of the younger generations blindly follows Bush. I attend a very liberal college, and about 95% of the students and faculty here are thinkers and debaters who will sit down at any opportunity to debate the problems with the government, and ways in which they think they should be fixed. So, there's hope for the country yet.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous andrea said...

yay rebecca....

though, let me add that "hope for the country" certainly doesn't look like liberal utopia. It looks like both sides realizing that they don't live in a vacuum, and that left and right are interdependent. This is why civil discourse, open-mindedness and just plain old respect for fellow human beings are life skills that should be emphasized at the university level.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Lindsay Kaye said...

I love the story about your liberal student. In my sociology class, my instructor asked how many democrats were in my class. My hand was the only one raised!

Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, indifferent... I think the best form of patriotism IS questioning the government. Not blindly following.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

I teach middle school. Talk about regurgitating mom and dad's words! One of the skills I like to teach in my classes is how to have a calm, rational discussion. I try to teach my students the benefits of seeing both sides. Last year, during the election, you would not believe the bile and ignorance that came spewing from my student's mouths! We had episodes of students becoming overwrought; students quit talking to each other, etc. I finally had to push a couple of buttons, led some discussions, and had them view several documentaries. Some students began to see they should try to get information from balanced sources. Others, well... let's just say that I had a few parent conferences. I'm in Texas, by the way.

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dee (above),
My middle schooler better be listening to what I say, and heeding it as well.
If you DARED show my preteen kid a leftist documentary in school, I sue your (and the school/school district) ass off. I'd personally make sure you lost your job.
This is precisely why my child is attending a conservative private school.
You people are scary.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that I think the above attitude is a) scary and b) exactly why the left has the wrong ideas about those who are moderate or on the right.

Personally, I don't think that the students are parroting their parent's attitudes, rather they are acting to reject the hippie-turned-yuppie/boomer generation in their conservatism. I also think they have been raised in an economic climate of such extreme competitiveness and they have observed extreme career instability for their parents that they will do whatever it takes to have financial stability. The political side that seems to exude financial stability is the right, not the left.

Personally, I have a notice in my syllabus that explains the class will contain "controversial" subjects as well as the note that if you have a difficult time handling these kinds of subjects, you should find another course. Thank God I teach college, in a state where the Student's Bill of Rights hasn't much traction.

12:33 AM  
Anonymous not a tree hugger said...

When the most well-known and respected democrat in the last 15-20 years is a cheating and lying adulterer, it’s not hard to stick to the RIGHT. Can I get an ‘Amen’? ...well from those that believe anyway!

12:52 AM  
Anonymous Frances said...

It occurs to me that this isn't only a problem in the U.S. of A. I still fall in your under-30 range, but taught high school classes last year. I'm one of those teachers that wants to kick her students till they have developed a conscious, and time and time again I was struck by their blatant conservatism. They simply eased into things the way they were and didn't feel like much protesting, unless it had something to do with them immediately. One could say that this is caused by their age -- being only teenagers -- but they weren't even interested in critical reading of texts or seeing the other side of the story.

On the other hand they were critical enough about the U.S.A. When talking about the presidential elections last year they'd call themselves "liberal" and "progressive", but when confronted with Belgian politics they tended toward right wing parties.
What's different here is that supporting right wing and extreme right wing parties means supporting the opposition. It is being critical of the government, but without having thought it through. It's an expression of a general feeling that everything goes wrong, and intolerance for everything that differs from their own views.

4:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand why so many liberals say FOX is ridiculously biased...anyone who actually watches it regularly can see that it really isn't. It isn't all happy about the president, it isn't full of people assuring you the war is going just great, it isn't saying nasty things about gays and minoritys. The reason why some people watch FOX is to avoid the over-the-top Bush-hatred of the other main stream media. I don't equate spewing poisonous untruths about the government to "being able to criticize to government".
I live somewhere that is probably 95% liberal, and if I tell anyone that I am not, or am unable to join them in their happy activiy of Bush-bashing "Bush is stupid. Let's blame every natural disaster on Bush. Let's equate Bush with Hitler!" I would surely get the response, "You're smart. Why would you be a conservative?"

4:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have described right of center politics several times as "empty headed" but no one describes left of center politics as "empty headed." May I suggested talking politics with some white collar African Americans some time and you will find out that they repeated the mantras of the Democrats without the least bit of knowledge or thought of what they are saying.

But then again, finding such a "diverse" group to talk to may be hard to do in places where liberals are taught to think for themselves such as Madison, WI or Boulder, CO.

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm actually from someplace between Madison and Boulder... and the blind following happens on both sides of the spectrum.

Frankly, in my experience the more agressive blind-followers are usually on the left. They'll typically give rabidly pro-left positions, but when pushed to justify their claims, they have nothing. Students who strongly hold conservative positions usually have more reasons behind their stongly held beliefs. This probably has more to do with effectiveness of education than with actual cricial thought.

The thing that really does bug me about "liberals" is their equation of political belief with moral character. It is impossible for them to accept the fact that someone could both be a good person AND disagree with their political choices. This is, if anything, what is killing the left -- as most on the moderat/right side see that liberals are good-hearted and mis-guided in terms of politics. In it's worst form, this "wrong = immoral" stance goes beyond politics.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with your politics, but I read your blog because you have some pretty amusing stories.

I am finding I like it less, as you color all your stories with your leftist views.

Does it mean I am close-minded because I don't want to listen to your liberal dribble? No more than I would call YOU closed minded for not wanting to listen to MY OWN conservative dribble.

It works both ways. People don't want to be inundated with views they disgree with. I'm sure you would not want to be in a class with a conservative professor who shows "conservative propaganda" instead of teaching the subject.

You need to be careful - the same criticims you make of the "right" can also be made of the "left."

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Garnigal said...

The most valuable thing I learned in university was to accept media influences with suspician.

You walk into school, filled with pride in yourself and trust in the things you 'know'. If you don't walk out filled with trust in yourself and scepticism for the things you know, you've failed yourself.

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Garnigal said...

evidently, spelling "suspicion" was not the most important thing I learned.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Dee said...

hoo-boy, was I laughing out loud at the response my comment received! I don't believe I ever said I showed leftist documents, did I? Or that I was forcing students to think that way? What I was saying was that students were spouting their parent's beliefs (which is okay) without actually understanding or knowing the facts behind them(which is not that okay). Oh, and I had all my students take home and have their parents sign letters about the viewing of the documentaries and their objectives we had in viewing them. Some people apparently, like to change their minds after the fact. Oh, and those teacher unions, they do a pret-ty good job of keeping excitable parents from getting rid of those of us who work in the best interests of our students.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

The mind boggles. Some of the responses on here is genuinely scary. It's great!

I'm reminded of some student mindsets I've encountered recently, some people who are bone-deep certain that they are Moderates. Thus anyone who strongly disagrees with them for any reason is either a Fascist or a Hippie, and their ideas can thus be safely dismissed.

- The Unshaven

6:49 PM  
Blogger maurinsky said...

I was just reading an interview last week that postulated that one thing that both the right and left sides of the divide forget is that BOTH sides are operating from a moral position - the problem is really that neither side agrees that the other side is actually moral.

I think that a lot of conservatives have seriously misinformed opinions about what liberals actually believe - probably formed during an ultra politically correct era like we lived through in the 80's, when things just got ridiculous.

I think there are plenty of liberals who believe that all Republicans are evil and can't wait to oppress women and kill gays.

I think the best professors I had in college were skilled at playing Devil's Advocate - at dragging some sort of argument out of a student who is expressing talking point opinions. I don't think it matters whether the student knows the teachers political opinions or not - if they do know, they can tell when the professor is expressing a bias, and if they don't know, that teacher has done a skillful job of keeping their opinions out of the classroom.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Max said...

Exposing students to a broad spectrum of ideas is a crucial part of a university's mission. I agree students need to be challenged and forced to support their opinions with facts. This goes equally for professors as well. But for goodness sake use quality material, not Moore's pathetic propaganda! A lie that attacks a position with which I disagree remains a lie.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous sh said...

My goodness, what a quantry.

How can you tell when the misguided sheeple become the truth-shredding power you seek to defecate, and as we no longer trust under 30, does that make Bushitler and KRovian antiques viable?

How do you discern the transition when the "flawed" becomes worthy of "powerful" - as in the case of Mickey Moore?

4:01 PM  

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