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27 February 2011

Are Partisans Made or Chosen? Why Meta-curriculum Matters

The WaPo tells us that:
Part of the reason [conservatives are far less likely to express interest in pursuing a PhD] stems from their preferred majors. Conservative students are approximately twice as likely to major in professional fields such as accounting or hotel management that focus on immediate employment rather than advanced study.
Beyond just majors or disciplines, I think this indicates something more radical. Yes, part of this is a selection effect, but there is at least in part some actual reflexive causality here. Education per se and the liberal arts in particular are progessivizing.[1] We demand that students critically engage material and understand that material in context. By definition, this epistemological process pushes thinkers to the left. Those who embrace liberal arts majors (e.g. sociology) are going to get more of this than those who embrace professional programs (e.g. business). Anyone, however, who is educated in a traditional way is likely to be pushed to the left--not by agenda or bias but by the indirect influence of the very process of education.


[1]: Just so there is no confusion, the "liberal" in liberal arts is not the same "liberal" as in a left-leaning political philosophy. The liberal arts was initially a course of education befitting a free man. (The Latin word for free was liber.) This was different from education befitting slaves and the working class.


  1. I like how you responded to an article about the "myths of liberal academia" by reinforcing one of those myths. As the article states: "While some professors do attempt to influence their students' politics, it's not clear that they make much of an impression. When we compared the political views of first-year college students with those of seniors, we found little evidence of systematic indoctrination. When 32 percent of first-year students and 31 percent of seniors identify themselves as Democrats, it's safe to say that institutions of learning aren't turning elephants into donkeys." Or are you suggesting that political attitudes are changing by discipline but there appears to be no effect because the overall average remains the same?

  2. There is research out there that reaches contradictory/complicating findings to the WaPo article, particularly to myth 5 in their list. (See Lottes and Kuriloff 1994 for just one example.) While it is a complicated relationship, there are clear correlations (and strong evidence for causality) between levels and types of education and political ideologies. Sure, people with different worldviews choose different career paths, but college does alter worldviews; otherwise, why would we bother, right? Overall, though, I’m arguing that the authors improperly framed the debate—or at least that they stop short of a thorough explanation. It isn’t the professors; it’s education itself.