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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Shades of Gray: Indoctrination versus education

The thing I remember most from the day after the 2016 presidential election, Nov. 9, is my first-period class. Instead of awkwardly pushing through the usual daily routine, my 10th grade chemistry teacher asked us to sit in a circle and invited us to share gut reactions. What still strikes me is how upfront and candid the invitation was and how openly people shared their perspectives — including the teacher. Despite the fact that my political opinions aligned with his, I wondered whether or not his frankness was appropriate. 

Three and a half years later, the same question arose in my college international relations class. My professor refuses to even use Donald Trump’s name, instead opting to refer to him as “the current administration” or “that guy in the White House.” At the same time, however, my professor uses exclusively neutral language when discussing what are obviously his own opinions. 

Pop culture depictions of oversharing professors and years of concern from both ends of the political spectrum over faculty proselytizing to undergraduates have led to a common belief that professors are all too happy to disclose their political views in the classroom. My experience, however, is that professors do largely attempt to remain unbiased in their instruction — but often the subject of instruction or the state of current world affairs make it impossible for professors to hide their beliefs. And, contrary to the long-held belief by many, including my 15-year-old self, they shouldn’t have to. 

Amid political polarization, remaining informed and articulating opinions has become the norm, while neutrality can become equated to apathy — the expectation of which is arguably detrimental to professors’ ability to educate. 

After all, as with the case of my international relations professor, despite a professor’s best efforts, students are often able to deduce baseline information about a professor’s political leanings. What, then, is the point of maintaining a pretense of neutrality? If the answer is to protect us, I believe we should reconsider. In college and beyond, students will be continually confronted with others’ views which will often differ from their own, and they  will be left alone to navigate challenging debates. Of course, there is a fine line between gently sharing opinions and indoctrination, but as college students, most of us should have the poise required to not be swayed by a single opinion. 

College is a transformative time when students begin to find an identity outside their home — often for the first time — and form their own views on the world around them. Sometimes, however, ill-informed debates between friends quickly turn into echo chambers as students yield to a popular opinion to avoid confrontation. Professors, on the other hand, are a group almost entirely comprised of highly educated adults who are diverse not only in ethnicity but in background, education, religion and life experience, and whose opinions can provide invaluable education and exposure to students.