Politics in class: “alternative facts” or necessary discussions?

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By Jake Baum
For the Mitzpeh
@JakeatUMD

jake headshot color

In early February, in a segment about the “far left agenda” on college campuses, Bill O’Reilly claimed that “higher education is the biggest threat to Americans right now.” His guest on the show at the time, Lou Dobbs, went even further – saying that the greatest threat is the “left wing” in general. O’Reilly went on to explain that professors “aren’t even teaching the Socratic method anymore,” and that it’s all “indoctrination and propaganda” now.

Higher education. Yes, you read that correctly. No, this is not from The Onion, although it certainly seems like it could have come straight from the satirical publication. Ever since protests like the Women’s March began, conservatives have attempted to undermine this “threat,” and to show that college students and professors are “crazy” for opposing the actions of President Donald Trump.

I would argue that it is exactly because of people like Bill O’Reilly (not despite him) that college campuses (and professors) have become the way they are, and why they need to stay the way they are.

At it’s very core, the academic world (and, by extension, the teaching staff that inhabit it) is dedicated to the ideals of objective truth, facts and figures, and anything that can be directly witnessed with one’s own eyes.

Since Trump’s election to the highest office in the land, he has essentially trampled on everything that professors and students hold so dearly. Trump, with the help of Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and his administration, has essentially done away with the need for objectivity in the search of truth – at least for his religiously dedicated followers.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

He insisted that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because “millions of illegals” voted in the election. That was easily proven false. In his first White House press conference, senior adviser to the White House Kellyanne Conway coined the misnomer “alternative facts” when she defended Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s claim that this inauguration was witnessed by the most people of any inauguration in history. By all accounts, that claim, too, was objectively false. In defense of President Trump’s executive order halting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries,Conway cited the “Bowling Green Massacre” – an entire event that didn’t happen.

When nothing that comes from the executive branch of the U.S. government can be trusted, I believe that college professors have a duty to their students – to their entire profession – to adopt a liberal stance on this administration.

In the novel 1984, George Orwell includes an interesting quote about the dictatorial regime of his dystopian society: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

With every press briefing, every tweet, every statement, Trump is asking us to do the same. And for his followers, it works. But for those who know better, it is a simple sign of protest to believe the facts that he refuses to accept – not the “alternative” ones, the real ones. O’Reilly and others of his political bent see rejection of Trump’s falsehoods as “liberal bias.” I see it as the only way to preserve the academic and intellectual realm – the one in which American policy should always be based.

And that is what college professors must do. They must keep teaching students the real truths, even if it is seen as “liberal” to do so. Fact checking the Trump administration is not only the right thing to do, but a necessary action for educators. Liberal professors are not “corrupting influences” on impressionable students, as O’Reilly would have you believe. They are, in fact, the only weapons we have left in the fight against the anti-intellectualism of the Trump wave of populism. They are the only ones who can ensure that the next generation will not fall prey to the web of lies that the Trump administration has spun for his voters. We need them.

Teachers are not the problem. They are the solution.

Jake is a senior international business major. He can be reached at jakebaum1@gmail.com.

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