Socialism, College Style (Part II)

Ashley Herzog

5/11/2009 5:03:23 PM - Ashley Herzog

It seems a lot of college professors didn’t like my column last week about academic socialism. Though conspicuously short on details, a University of Oregon professor declared the analogy between grade redistribution and wealth redistribution “really dumb.” (This should show you what sophisticated thinkers most of these professors are: they call everything they disagree with “dumb.”)

But I think their real problem is the fact that the YAF video contest made students rethink the Marxist claptrap they’ve been force-fed during their college years.

Take, for example, the “meritocracy myth,” the core theory of many sociology and political science courses. Students learn that America is not a land of opportunity and only children born with “privilege” can get ahead. (My recommended response to any professor who teaches this notion: “You’re obviously teaching at this school because of your privilege and not your expertise, so why should we listen to you?”)

But when it comes to their own classrooms, these professors absolutely believe in meritocracy. You’ll never hear them tell a member of an allegedly oppressed group, “I’m sorry, you won’t succeed in this class because you’re black/Latino/a woman/from a working-class background.” Instead, they’ll likely recommend a tutor, a study group, better class attendance—in others words, more effort on the student’s part.

I’ve never walked into the first day of a class and heard a professor say, “You’re all entitled to a decent grade, no matter how poorly you perform.” Instead, one of their favorite lines is, “If you don’t come to class or do your homework, don’t come to me at the end of the quarter asking for extra credit.” Even the dedicated socialists don’t believe students are entitled to benefits they didn’t earn.

But they think turning America into a massive welfare state is a fabulous idea. They expect students to accept socialism as a morally superior system. (In my first sociology class, the assigned textbook stated as hard fact that America’s lack of government-run health care is a form of racism.)

Therefore, I have a challenge for professors who believe socialism works: try it out in your own classrooms. On the first day of class, tell your students, “I believe in equality for all people. At the end of the quarter, you’ll all receive more or less the same grade. And if you flunk all your tests, you’re actually entitled to extra points, because you must be a victim of our racist/sexist/classist society. That’s social justice, people!”

See how many students continue to show up to your pompously boring lectures about how America is a colonialist oppressor. See how many complete the assigned readings or study for tests. You’ll either have to force students to do those things—just as the Soviets had to force people to work on disastrously inefficient “collective farms”—or you’ll have to watch as your class deteriorates due to lack of productivity.

My guess is that your academic department won’t tolerate your socialist classroom for long. You’ll be replaced by a professor who actually does his job, one who expects students to learn the material and awards grades based on merit. Why? Because whether we’re talking about the economy or the classroom, most people instinctively know the notion of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is a recipe for disaster.

And I suspect that deep down you know it, too—despite what you say in order to fit in with the Marxist in-crowd on campus.