America: new trends in the college classroom

hcc (Small)August always brings about an opportunity for me to study the new trends of the younger generation. It marks the beginning of a new academic year and for many young people, the change to reinvent themselves as they enter what they consider the adult world. Over the past seven years I have seen several trends that made me question the future of our nation. This semester I began to notice something new – two distinct sets of new trends that should make Americans become more serious about what we are teaching the younger generation of Americans.

 New trends: the great divide

There has never been a cohesive block of thought among college students, as is often suggested by the mainstream media and a handful of social and political commentators. In the past, there have been some pretty stark differences in student opinions. Those opinions have usually been centered to three broad categories of students: 1) those who went to public school, 2) those who went to private school, and 3) those who were home schooled. For the most part public school students have always been a mostly unified block of political thought. This is because of years of exposure to collectivism and socialism. In the past, these students demonized free-market capitalism, demanded the government redistribute wealth, and create opportunities for equal outcomes. They had a firm belief that free speech should not be an absolute right but should have legal restraints. They also have had the belief that religion should never be discussed or have an influence within society. They also have had a very negative view of those who hold on to traditional American values. These students also have no problem expressing their world view to others and often are intolerant of any viewpoint that contradicts their understanding of how society should function.

It is this group, the public school student, that has undergone the most radical change of the three groups. This semester I have noticed this block of students no longer have a dominant social outlook. Instead, it has become fragmented. While the liberal/socialist viewpoint remains dominant, there are three other major viewpoints developing. There is a conservative model in which students are genuinely concerned about individual rights over political correctness, individual potential over equal outcomes, and a desire to defend capitalism and the potential for personal wealth over redistribution of wealth. These students are also unashamed about their hard stand against illegal immigration and do not see it through the lens of racism but as a legal issue. There is a process that all immigrants must go through before being allowed to immigrate to the United States. Although it only represents around a quarter of the students I have encountered with the incoming freshman/first year college student class, it is a vocal and growing group of students. They are unashamed to speak their mind but are not easily silenced by their left-leaning peers. It is almost as if there is an awakening of traditional conservative values.

The emerging second group, which is probably slightly smaller than the emerging conservative movement is an even harder left-leaning student body. Just as with the conservative leaning students, these students are also outspoken but instead of basing an argument on fact, will appeal to emotions to win arguments. They are anti-capitalist, pro-Marxist, and strongly believes that religion is something that should have no bearing in the lives of the citizenry. While proclaiming the virtues of absolute adherence to the concept of personal liberty, there is no tolerance for anything beyond what has been deemed as socially and politically correct. Although where I teach has only entered the second week of the semester, I have had one of these students “correct” a lecture of mine to reflect their Marxist interpretation of the Civil War to the extent of employing exaggeration and emotional appeal in an attempt to gain support from classmates. I am not surprised at this and actually consider it a continuation of the left leaning larger segment of the public school student mindset. What concerns me the most about this group is in the name of tolerance they claim to support, they are increasingly intolerant towards those who will not accept their viewpoint. 

There’s another group, slightly smaller than the previously mentioned pro-Marxist group but does need to be mentioned. This group of students not only have an open disdain for religion, but also want more government involvement within the lives of the citizenry. While they do possess many of the social and political beliefs of traditional communism, there are several components to their social and political beliefs that should concern every American. They believe that the government has the right and responsibility to regulate human reproduction, the government has the right to terminate pregnancy when genetic tests indicate there is a sufficient risk of birth defects, the government has the right to order euthanasia when individuals are no longer productive because of disability, disease, or age. They believe in wealth confiscation and redistribution, government-provided housing, transportation, and groceries. And in some cases, they support the government determining career paths of under-performing students in public education. This group places a high value in the concept of the collective and desire to remove anything that creates unfair advantages, such as the right to a private education, inheritance, and even personal associations. They view the individual as simply a part of a larger machine, the machine of society, that must accept their role without resistance. 

New trends and the concerns that should be raised

Being a classical liberal as defined by the Enlightenment era, I believe the most important rights are those of the individual. With this in mind, I am excited to see a rebirth of traditional American political values and believe that social reform will occur as political reform begins. There are already open discussions among these groups of college students about social issues such as abortion, immigration, term limits for members of Congress, and a whole range of other issues. What concerns me about this group is if this will be the beginning of an expanding movement or is it simply a reaction to nearly twelve years of bad economic policy that will disappear as soon as the current administration is replaced. This group of students should be supported and included in the efforts of local grass-roots conservative movements seeking to have an impact in national elections.

The moderately liberal student has always concerned me but not for the reasons that most people think. Unlike the other three groups, this group does not have a lot of free-thinking individuals and this is my main concern. This group will fully adopt fad issues that drive politics, such as man-made global climate change, GLBTQ rights, white guilt, and any other politically expedient issue where they believe they can make an impact. Often caught up in the emotions of the issue, their entire political participation and reasoning behind their unwavering support is because of the social appeal of the movement – it seems popular with the masses and it is always easier to swim with the current than to fight against it. Eventually this movement will either to continue to progress down the pro-Marxist view or adopt the even more radical leftist view of complete collectivism. The reason this is going to happen is because more of our universities and colleges are hiring faculty that fully accept various tenets of Marxism.

The last group I mentioned should concern every American for a number of reasons. There are too many students that hold these viewpoints to simply dismissed as a fringe group on campus. These students are very vocal and are actively discussing a wide range of issues ranging from tax reform to a guaranteed salary for every American. These students know their target audience and normally focus on those from low social-economic statuses, minority groups (think beyond race and include the GLBT community), and will exploit perceived and actual prejudices and injustices to further their political goals and gain support. What makes those who are a part of this movement different is they have learned from the failures of both the traditional Democratic Party and the issues within the Republican Party – they follow-up with those who are uncertain about what their political beliefs are. 

 How Conservatives should handle the new trends

As I was sharing my observations with a friend of mine, I was asked how should conservatives respond to the new trends. As I shared with him, it is not enough to identify ourselves as conservatives but we have to be able to articulate why we choose conservatism. We must know what that word actually means and not the definition assigned to it by the mainstream media or rival political factions or parties. The reasons we present must be based on facts and should not be grounded solely on emotion. We also must know what the other opinions are and have sound, factual arguments that can be presented to counter the left-leaning claims. Unlike the left, conservatives do not have the privilege of being supported by the mainstream media. Conservatives cannot resort to catchy bumper sticker slogans and word play games to sell conservatism. If conservatives are truly interested in changing the hearts and souls of the American voter, it must be done with respect, with fact, and with a clear vision to explain why conservatism is the best answer for the nation.

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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2 responses to “America: new trends in the college classroom

  1. Alan, do you have any idea where the conservative model is coming from if they’ve been exposed to years of socialism?

  2. Lori, this is a great question. This new trend has started for several reasons:
    ++ The older generation is finally beginning to talk politics and national history. Now the younger generation is actually beginning to hear stories from their grandparents and parents about the really great things this nation once did. They are hearing, for the first time since World War II, about the opportunities that once existed and how the government has become the main impediment for even the potential for personal prosperity. They also are discussing how it was once acceptable to have opinions that differed than the “crafted and acceptable” social constructs that attempt to force/coerce a single national consensus.

    ++ The older generation is not buying into the new “national consensus” of white guilt. They do not believe that the generations who are currently alive should be forced to pay for the deeds committed by the generations that are now long gone and are dead. The older generation is also speaking out against illegal immigration; they do not see amnesty as virtuous or even Christian. I have had college students tell me their grandparents have told them that within Christianity, God tells us to take care of others but we must take care of their own families first (this is absolutely correct, by the way).

    ++ These students also do not want to accept what is now being referred to as the “new American normal” of lower wages and the inaccessibility of credit for home and other large purchases. They are refusing any ideology that claims that “less is more” and the demand they sacrifice everything for the sake of political hot button issues (such as global climate change) for the good of the world when other nations, such as China, India, and Russia are given a free pass…