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Davidson '14: The problem with a 'bipartisan' education

Note: This column is a revised version of the original column, which was published by mistake. The Herald regrets the error.


The latest column from Alex Drechsler '15 holds about as much water as gasoline ("Two ideologies, one education," Oct. 1). The story he tells is riddled with off-base assertions, factual lapses and bad logic. I will respond in two parts. First, I will focus on a series of rhetorical and factual objections. After this I will make a more theoretical objection.

Right away, the first paragraph of the column comes off as an attempt to establish some sort of ideological street cred. After all, he boldly reveals that he is in fact a Republican studying at Brown University. What courage!

Are we supposed to sympathize with the self-sacrificial "intellectual masochism" that Drechsler claims he has undertaken?  Is this, as he asserts, merely the high price of pursuing the "Socratic method" in education?

Drechsler makes the assertion that only he and his small but mighty band of fellow conservatives are truly interested in political thought of all ideological stripes. In so doing he drastically underestimates the intellectual integrity, diversity and wherewithal of other Brown students.
I reject wholeheartedly the notion that "most students may believe their time is wasted learning conservatism." Was a poll conducted on the matter? Does Drechsler mean to suggest my peers and I viewed our reading of Burke, Ricardo, Von Mises, Hayek, Friedman, Buckley and Macintyre in class as intellectual penance?

Furthermore, Drechsler has clearly not spent much time perusing the political theory offerings at our school. With all due respect to the Political Theory Project, many of their "libertarian" curricular offerings are far more in-line with the right in this country than the progressive or socially liberal straw-men in Drechsler's depiction of Brown. Does Drechsler mean to suggest that courses like "Prosperity: The Ethics and Economics of Wealth Creation," and "Defenses of Capitalism" are not inherently conservative? I am not buying it.

Now to the most unjust argument Drechsler employs:

"When a history, sociology or political science professor teaches liberalism as fact, they are effectively sending the message that this entire half of our political and social culture is not only meritless but also non-consequential."


Does the phrase "teaches liberalism as a fact" strike anybody as familiar? Think intelligent design advocates on the teaching of "evolution as fact."

More staggering is the thoroughly indefensible leap that Drechsler makes to assert that these professors are suggesting, either explicitly or implicitly, that half our society is non-consequential. Does a sociology professor's off-the-cuff, sardonic remark about Representative Todd Akin's intellectual and legislative kinship with the GOP's VP candidate Representative Paul Ryan really suggest elitism? C'mon now!

If you're looking for a remark unequivocally to this effect I suggest you have a look at Mitt Romney's  "47 percent" comment.

Drechsler's remark is so nakedly flippant it takes one's breath away. Suggesting that our "failure" to consider conservative viewpoints - not a valid suggestion, as I have attempted to argue here - represents our discounting of "literally millions" of Americans who hold conservative views is highly misleading.

Let me make something clear: to hold a particular ideological viewpoint does not suggest anthropological disdain towards those who possess other views. The need to resort to this kind of argumentation highlights the general weakness of Drechsler's argument. On this point, I highly recommend Drecshler acquaint himself with William Connolly's writings on agonistic democracy and the ethos of pluralization.

Now I will turn to the more theoretical criticism.

I would like to highlight the error in Drechsler's blind insistence that the best education is the "bipartisan" education. Education, according to Drechsler's stated ideal of the "Socratic Method," takes its value not from conceptual inclusivity but from relentless self-reflexive skepticism.

The truth is that not all thought is equally equipped for critical evaluation. Sometimes, though certainly not always, conservative thought relies on forms of argumentation and modalities of truth that in themselves are not in line with the above premise which Drechsler concedes is the very basis of pedagogical legitimacy.

The danger in Drechsler's assertion in this regard is in creating a false equivalence between institutions of higher learning. To do so eliminates the potential for scholarship to move beyond the half-baked ideological categories of the day. What do I mean by this?

I submit that were one to conduct a comparative study of the treatment of conservatives and their ideas at Brown with and that of liberals at Reverend Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, he or she would find that the instruction doesn't represent two sides of the same coin. Just because Brown's student body will largely vote for Barack this fall doesn't mean that we are Liberty's liberal incarnation.

It is high time that our political discourse reject this false ideal of bipartisanship. As long as we pretend that all viewpoints are of the same substrate and form while differing only in color there will be no discursive resolution only juvenile retreats and argumentative cop-outs.

If Drechsler objects so strongly to an overly "liberal" curriculum, faculty and student body, I challenge him to put some legs on this criticism and engage with actual questions rather than with a confused meta-theoretical apology.

Houston Davidson '14 is a political theory concentrator and manager of BPR's Facts & Factions column



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