Monday, September 06, 2010

Dealing with Nonthinking Professors at a Public College

For seven years, I taught English classes at Grossmont Community College in El Cajon, CA. My specialty was English 98, a class that is two steps below freshman composition. Working with grammar, paragraph writing, and essays, I enjoyed taking students from a place of little to no confidence and turning them into writers who believed in themselves.

This year, my daughter Carissa is taking her second year of college at this school, so back in August I helped her with her schedule. We carefully went through the classes she needed and tried to choose professors who had decent ratings on Well, I guess we picked two big winners in her English and philosophy classes. For English, she has an adjunct professor who has decided he will push his environmental agenda on his students. Their readings involve the global warming/don't eat animals/tree hugging/"careful where you step" environmental hoopla we hear so much about in the 21st century. On the first day of class, this teacher apparently told the students, and I'm not quoting exactly, "Don't listen to those right wing loud mouths on conservative talk radio. We'll teach the truth here."

Carissa has already caught some contradictions--apparently one of her books uses the Bible for supporting evidence and, on the next page, cites Evolution as a reason why we shouldn't harm the planet--but I find it fascinating how our tax dollars could support such drivel. As a Christian, I fully believe in protecting the planet, which is God's beautiful creation, but I refuse to worship her as her professor probably wants the students to do. I will wait until the end of the semester before I talk to the department head, who I know very well, and relay my concerns; it wouldn't be fair to CJ to do it now. She is staying for the challenge to what she has been taught all her life, and I'm fine with that. But having taught at Grossmont for many years, I know how quickly I would have been pummeled by the school's admin if I started the first day like this: "Hey everyone, just so you know, don't believe all those atheists/New Agers/Mormons/Muslims, etc., that you hear on television or meet in your classrooms. They know nothing. During this semester in English, we'll be reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and we'll read devotions from the Bible every day. Maybe you too will come to your senses and want to convert to Jesus!" Do you know how quickly my cell phone would light up? Guaranteed, I had at least one Muslim in my class every semester, and I know these students would have complained. But why should a teacher be allowed to air his liberal agenda in, all places, a freshman English (composition) class? What happened to teaching the fundamentals (in English, reading and writing) without having to have a particular philosophy shoved down your throat? Why must my child be inundated with a godless agenda when a conservative one would be attacked? Why are liberals so narrow-minded? Yes, I ask a lot of questions.

So my daughter calls me last week and tells me about her philosophy class. Apparently, the teacher comes from an Eastern background and is affiliated with Buddhism. She challenged her students by bringing up the issue of reality. How do we even know we are here? This is called Pantheism; its answer is to escape this realm by meditation. Probably the movie The Matrix is the best example of this Eastern worldview; if you haven't seen it, you ought to, as it will blow your mind.

As we got to talking, we started to come up with possible responses to her teacher when she insists that reality is just an illusion. I have taught my daughter to always ask questions--this strategy is explained so well in the new book Tactics by Greg Koukl--to expose the bankrupt nature of nonChristian world views.  What we came up with are possible questions Carissa could ask at her next class when the issue was revisited. Maybe you'd like to respond with some of your own, so feel free to comment back:

* Philosopher Rene Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." If we are not here, then who is doing the thinking?

* Why are we even debating this philosophical issue if this isn't reality? How is possible to have an intelligent discussion in a realm that is illusory?

* If this is all an illusion, then what right do you have to say that the next step after this, possibly Nirvana, is actually reality? In other words, how is it possible to know if we're part of an illusion if you've never experienced reality?

* Does this mean grades don't really matter? If what we are experiencing right now isn't real, then who cares what I get for a grade? Shouldn't the next college or grad school just accept me regardless of how many F's I've earned?

* If you're correct in this argument, must I attend your class to get credit for it? Can't we just pretend I came?

* If I kick you in the shin, but you're really not here to experience the sensation of my foot smashing into your lower leg, will you still get a bruise? If not, may I do so right now? (OK, Carissa, not all of these have to be asked!)

* If reality is just an illusion, then do you stop at stoplights when they're red? If so, why do you do that if they're just part of the illusion too? Just imagine they're green.

* In fact, why do you get into a car at all? If you really want to go across town, shouldn't you be able to meditate your way there?

* If I take your test next week and don't do so well, how can you tell that I really did not do so well? After all, your opinion and mine could be different, and how do you know your reality is more authoritative than mine? Just because you're the teacher? What right do you have to say that your opinion is more "correct" than mine? (Apparently she is a Post Modernist who doesn't believe in absolutes.)

* If you say I didn't turn in a homework assignment, how do you know that I didn't? Maybe in my realm, I did.

* Does this mean the Chargers really did win the Super Bowl last year and so the idea that they lost to the Jets in the Divisional playoffs in January was all in my imagination? Is it possible for me to participate in the victory parade now?

Bankrupt philosophical systems sometimes need a wake-up call. As you can see, pantheism is definitely bankrupt.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, but what about pandeism, which combines the strengths of deism and pantheism to overcome the weaknesses they exhibit individually: to wit, ours is a created Universe, but our Creator has become the Creation in order to fulfill the experience of it; and so things are not illusory at all, they are as we perceive them, but our perception is only a limited view of all that is to be perceived, and only the Creator is able to have a full understanding of all things....

5:01 PM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

I normally wouldn't allow an anonymous person to post--just tell us who you are, no judgments--but I'll let it post anyway so I can answer publicly.

The problem here, with the views of pandeism or panentheism, is that you have an identical universe and God. God becomes the creation, and He is not distinct from His creation. You also have a problem with an infinite God being physically involved with His universe. William Lane Craig has written definitively on the Muslim argument called the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which says that an infinite amount of time cannot past. In essence, you cannot have an infinite universe. The universe began to exist, therefore the universe had a cause. Therefore, God and the universe are not the same thing. I believe you've done nothing more in pandeism than take two weak positions and put them together. However, and this is important, one weak position plus another weak position does not equal a strong position. It just doesn't add up. Besides, this is completely contrary to a biblical world view, as the Bible denies this wholly. You don't say if you are calling yourself a Christian (some who hold your view do call themselves this), but your view is anything but biblical. The Old Testament God is not revealed to be pandeistic, neither did Jesus lend this view any credibility anywhere in the written gospel accounts. Instead, the Bible talks about a personal Creator who made the heavens and earth ("In the beginning"), who desired a personal relationship with His people, and who incarnated into man to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:18).

You may shoot down the Bible's authenticity and say it doesn't hold authority over you, which is fine, but where did you get the ability to determine that pandeism is true? In other words, where is your revelation that these two worldviews ought to be combined. (And this really is a recent worldview of less than 5 centuries.) Alas, you are left with a theology that, truly, is more pantheistic in nature; reincarnation or and so we are left with dissolving back into the universe (God?) when we breathe our last breath. This is, simply, paganism, and therefore I reject both pandeism and panentheism.


5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why are liberals so narrow-minded?"

See, in particular, #'s 7 & 8. Also see synonyms. It has been my experience that liberals are far more (with emphasis) liberal and open-minded than the majority of people such as yourself.

stubborn? certainly. but narrow-minded, by definition, and in great contrast to conservative Republicans, they are not.

In any event, students at a college level should be capable of thinking for themselves. There are good professors, and poor ones. Good for your daughter for sticking with what challenges her. It is how we grow. And learn. And experience things OUTSIDE of the sheltered realm of what we already know. An open-minded (aka a liberal) person need not accept everything they hear. But typically they leave their ears open, even when they disagree. Even when in disagreement, we can learn from others, even if it means learning how to present our side more efficiently.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

Anonymous (and I'm not sure if you're the same as the previous "Anonymous"), I disagree with you about liberals. It's fascinating how, if a Christian were to lay out what I proposed in my blog (that Jesus was the only way and I was here to convince you), there would be an uproar. "How dare he do that in a public school! Hasn't he heard of separation of church and state!" Yet liberals can spout out whatever they want and everyone is supposed to say, "Oh, well let the kids make up their own mind." I'm all for both sides getting equal time, but it never happens that way. Liberals are "liberal" whenever it suits their purposes, but they so often want to shut down "freedom" of speech and thought when it goes against their ideologies.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are uproars on both sides, because people disagree. That's life. Some don't want to hear about evolution. Some don't want to hear about religion, not just Christianity in general. And if it were elementary school, or maybe even high school, this would be a far different matter. But it's not about the 'kids making up their own minds' on the college level. You can't hide your children from the loud voices of those you consider wrong. It'd be nice, but let's face it, it's impossible.
Consider, perhaps, that the same reason you don't want your daughter to be bombarded by what you consider nonsensical (overly eco-friendliness, evolution, whatever), is the same reason another parent wouldn't want their child to be bombarded by your religion (moral teachings from a book that they may consider more of a guilt trip than a guide to salvation, to play devil's advocate).
Both sides have a point.

Speaking as someone who believes in a Divine Creator and yet still has respect for the opinions and voices of those who don't, I can say that if I had children, I'd want them to be able to be educated in an environment that presented all sides.
We're clearly not going to agree on what a liberal is. Not all liberals act the way you say, just as not all conservatives act the way I see many around me acting. In no way is this meant rudely, but I could take the last sentence you wrote and apply it to a great deal of Christians who are all for freedom of speech, until someone comes along and says that religion is nonsense. Then they are up in arms saying that "blasphemous" people are ruining their children and out to spread immorality as a life-plan.

There are, unfortunately, narrow-minded people on all sides of the spectrum. I'm not saying that the professors you have described are right. Or even intelligent. The CA school system isn't the most impressive thing around. But part of living in this universe is being able to interact with others. I'm simply advocating open-mindedness (which, if you look to the heart of what a true liberal is, ought to be central) and the means by which to adequately make and form decisions for yourself based on ALL hypotheses when you are a young adult.

1:10 AM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

For close to two decades, I taught at a Christian school, most of the years in Bible. Trust me, I have presuppositions, just like anyone else. But I believe, even in a conservative school, to allow both sides their time. In apologetics, I played the role of an atheist professor who visited the class 4 or 5 times. There were no straw man arguments given. It was "as is." And we took field trips every year to the mosque, synagogue, Mormon Battalion Center, and the Hare Krishna temple. No interference, but rather an opportunity to allow students to interact with these leaders and give them a chance to own their own faith. When they graduated from my class and school, they couldn't say they didn't get a good exposure to the other side. Certainly they were shown reasons why I disagreed (via the Christian worldview), but they had a good opportunity to see what the other side was all about.

The criticism in my blog is that the professor of an English (yes, English) class started off by saying that the students shouldn't listen to the "right wing nuts" on conservative talk radio, that global warming was going to be a huge part of this freshman composition class. My point is merely this, and I'll state it again: Do you really think that if I had placed my personal agenda on Day 1 of a class (Christianity as truth) at Grossmont, I would have survived? I taught there for close to a decade, and I guarantee you, the answer is a resounding no. There is no way I would have gotten away with it. So why does the left get to do what the right would never even try to do in the first place?

I'm all for equanimity in the classroom. Unfortunately, most liberal professors don't agree when it comes to their own classrooms.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Teaching global warming and advocating for conservation does not equal teaching Christianity.
One is a religious belief, which is not appropriate in a public school setting. The other is not. If you think teaching about conservation/ environmentalism/being a liberal= teaching about Christianity, you are just simply wrong.
If you wanted to stand up at a public college and espouse your POLITICAL beliefs, you would be able to do so.
If you don't want your daughter to be exposed to other ways of looking at the world, why did you allow her to sign up for a philosophy class? Philosophy is supposed to study the world and all different explanation for it. If you don't want your daughter to be exposed to such stuff, don't let her enroll in a public school. She is certainly allowed to debate her teacher, and will probably learn a lot for the class if she is allowed to consider other beliefs and decide for herself what is best.
Finally, this is a junior college. Don't expect the caliber of Harvard here in the professors. At my university, which is one of the best schools in the country, my anthropology teacher (who is close friends with Jane Goodall and is an expert in evolutionary theory) said he hoped his class would not offend anyone and has a great respect for religion. Never once mentioned religion again. So, not all public school teachers are out to get the Christian faith. Of course, I believe in evolution, especially after taking that class. It would be silly not to.

11:45 AM  

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