Twenty Dogmas That Keep College Students From Learning How to Think

By George Yancey Published on January 15, 2017

Donald Trump isn’t very popular on college campuses these days. Many students, staff and faculty felt hurt, confused and even angry after Trump’s victory. I’m sure you’ve seen the news reports showing students now protesting against Trump, even though they have no chance of overturning the election. Worse than that, there is evidence of protestors mistreating students who voted for Trump.

Dogma on Campus

What motivates students to act in such an uncivil manner? Part of the answer is that their professors have encouraged them in it. In fact the whole academic environment has generally encouraged them. They’re not just protesting; they’re promoting dogma they’ve been fed.

Colleges and universities are so busy pushing dogma, they’ve lost the ability to teach students how to think critically for themselves.

When the election issue came up in one of my classes, I spent about 20 to30 minutes leading a discussion on it. I had not supported Trump for president, but I was careful not to share my own feelings about him. We talked about how he won and what that victory might mean. We discussed why people might be attracted to him, and I made sure to talk about those voters as fully realized people, not as caricatures. I ended the conversation by reminding the students that Trump will be the next president of the United States, and they would be healthier accepting that reality despite their disappointment.

Unfortunately, rather than guiding students to think critically about the election, many of my fellow professors have led their students down a preconceived pathway. There is a set of beliefs in academia that I call “education dogma,” and I fear that colleges and universities are so busy pushing those beliefs, they’ve lost the ability to teach students how to think critically for themselves. In the process they’ve given students implicit license to punish those who fail to accept the approved dogma.

Twenty Non-Questions on Campus

Merriam-Webster defines dogma as “a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.” On too many college campuses, certain beliefs are promoted just that dogmatically. Students are not allowed to challenge them. I’ve blogged on this previously, listing twenty dogmatic beliefs, mostly progressive, that dominate our college campuses. Those beliefs are:

  • There is a campus rape culture that encourages the sexual assault of women.
  • A woman accusing a man of rape has vastly more credibility than a man who claims his innocence.
  • The earth is getting dramatically warmer due to human activity, and altering that activity can stop or slow this trend.
  • Israeli settlers and the Israeli government are as bad as or worse than Palestinian terrorists.

You might agree with some of these beliefs; you might reject them all; you might accept them all. One way or another, they’re all open to debate — except on campus. You can’t question these beliefs there. You can’t debate them. You’re not allowed to.

  • Fundamentalist Christians are morally the same as Muslim terrorists.
  • Any military action in the Middle East creates more problems than it solves.
  • Criticizing Islam as a religion of terrorism is an example of Islamophobia.
  • Religious freedom is less important than acceptance of sexual minorities.
  • Society would generally be better off if traditional religion disappeared.
  • Marriage between those of the same sex should be seen as the same as marriage between those of different sexes.
  • Trans women (men who identify as women)  should be allowed to use the same facilities as biological women.
  • The physical differences between men and women play no role in economic disparities between them.
  • A woman has a right to an abortion for whatever reason she chooses.
  • Black men are targeted by the police.
  • Anti-Hispanic racism is an important part of what motivates those who oppose immigration reform.
  • President Obama has been criticized more than previous presidents because of his race.
  • Raising taxes on the wealthy will improve our economy.
  • Political conservatives are either greedy manipulators exploiting the marginalized, or sincere dupes voting against their own economic interests.
  • There is little if any correlation between hard work and economic success.
  • The United States is more damaging to the world than other western industrialized nations.

Don’t Even Ask

You might agree with some of these beliefs; you might reject them all; you might accept them all. One way or another, they’re all open to debate — except on campus. You can’t question them there. You can’t debate them. You’re not allowed to — at least not without fighting your way through extremely powerful social pressures against raising doubts over any of this ruling dogma. In some cases students, staff and faculty have even been subjected to official sanctions for questioning these beliefs.

When I originally wrote this list I was open to the fact that there could be other dogmatic assertions I had yet to consider. Now I can add this one:

  • Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States.

I agree with this statement. I was a NeverTrumper because I don’t think Donald Trump displays the character we want and need in a president. Nevertheless, even as a NeverTrumper I am disturbed that we have created an academic climate where so many individuals have turned their misgivings about Trump into emotional dogma, it is just about impossible to have anything approaching a fair discussion on his fitness to serve.

Critical Thinking and Rational Discourse

I am determined to fight against education dogma even when that dogma matches my own agenda.

Whatever the political effect of such dogma might be, it’s certainly harmful to education. It’s impossible to teach critical thinking in an atmosphere where dogmatic tenets like these must be accepted without critique. That’s why I encouraged my students to think beyond their box, rather than feed their preconceived notions — and my own as well — about Trump’s fitness as president.

I am determined to fight against education dogma even when that dogma matches my own agenda. It’s the only way institutions of higher education can fulfill their stated purpose of encouraging critical thinking and rational discourse.

Where education dogma rules, progressive professors and students are asking the rest us to accept their beliefs on faith — blind, unquestioning faith, of a sort that thinking Christians would frown on even in the sphere of religion.

But the dogmatists had better wake up — for their own good, even. They may think they have a lock on their positions of academic power. But education dogma is keeping our institutions of higher learning from achieving their purpose, and the longer it continues, the more likely it becomes that people will wonder why they should support those institutions at all.

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