Ask Dr. Helen: How Can I Keep My Students From Becoming Little Marxists?

Scott from North Carolina is concerned with the radical views of his students:

Dr. Helen:

I'm a middle/high school teacher, of a social-libertarian, economic-conservative bent. All the talk about indoctrination of kids is extraordinarily true. I have kids pass through my class with some of the most insane, Kos-style concepts running through their heads, really doctrinaire hard-liberal stuff. It only got more blatant as the election wore on (and on, and on). I subbed for a fourth grade class in which a girl trotted out the "Bush caused 9/11" bit. Are you kidding me?

What can I do to help counter this? I'd like to avoid a whole new generation running on Marxist ideology.

Dear Scott:

You are correct to be concerned. Studies show that students do decide whether they seek free market solutions or government ones from the style of teaching they receive in the classroom. Ray Fisman, a professor, wrote a column at Forbes entitled "We Are What We Learn" in which he discusses studies where he found that professors can turn bleeding hearts into capitalists -- and vice versa. Fisman concludes the article by stating:

These findings hint at the influence that powerful ideas may have in shaping how we see the world, even late in life. It's also a sobering message for teachers such as myself. The students in my classroom will venture forth into the world of business and management, carrying with them some of the viewpoints and attitudes that I choose to emphasize in my lectures. Students learn much more than the facts; what we choose to communicate to them is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

So obviously, what a teacher chooses to teach can have a hand in how that student thinks about the world. That said, Scott, in my opinion, it is not your job to decide the politics of the students in your class, it is your job to expose them to the critical thinking skills that will help them make informed decisions and back them up in a reasoned way. This is what is sorely lacking in our present educational system.