Written by Jack Kenny
“Language is the source of misunderstanding,” said the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery. But a confusion of tongues was not the cause of Abigail Beardsley’s consternation over what she was expected to learn in a French language course she took at Penn State University in the spring of 2007. Described in the college catalogue as a course in French language and culture, it inexplicably included a viewing of the Michael Moore film, Sicko, an English-language “documentary” about inadequacies of the healthcare system in the United States and a paean to the state-run medical care in other lands. The following semester, Beardsley addressed a formal complaint to the chairman of the university’s French Department about the insertion of a movie about the American practice of medicine in a course that, she wrote, was supposed to be about “real-life language use, the integration of language and culture and the development of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading, writing.” In other words, an academic exercise.
Yet the professor “took valuable class time” for the Moore film, which the student described as “an attack on the free market health care system in the United States and an endorsement of socialized medicine in England, Canada, France and Communist Cuba.” She went on to point out the absence of any “critical evaluation of the film” or contrary views of socialized medicine presented by the professor that might have been useful to students in forming their own opinions on the subject. That, she noted, was contrary to a university policy requiring instructors to provide students with “access to those materials which they need to think intelligently.” The same policy, Beardsley noted, instructed professors “not to introduce controversial materials that are irrelevant to the class subject and outside their area of expertise.”
The department chairman dismissed her appeal and backed the professor’s decision to make the viewing of a film attacking the American healthcare system a component of a French language course. The student’s complaint and its rejection were related in Indoctrination U by David Horowitz, who has documented what he describes as “the widespread acceptance of political agitation as a suitable form of classroom instruction.” The problem is not just professors preaching their mostly liberal or “progressive” political views as a substitute for academic instruction, even in courses whose subject matter bears no realistic connection to those political opinions. It is also the fact that little to no room is allowed for different, much less opposing, viewpoints, as Beardsley noted in her letter.
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