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Cut on the Bias: Luann Wright, creator of noindoctrination.org, seeks to limit prejudice in the classroom.
Just the Facts
A website targets classroom bias
By Joy Lanzendorfer
Two years ago, Luann Wright began to suspect that her son's critical writing class at UC San Diego was inappropriately biased. He was required to read five essays about white racism against black people. In the context of a class on race, this would have been appropriate, she says, but in a writing class, she expected the students to focus on writing.
The professor directed class discussion around race and made what her son felt were "sweeping generalizations" about racists. What's worse, her son felt intimidated whenever he disagreed with the professor and at one point felt put on the spot for his views. Wright believed the professor was taking advantage of her position by forcing her personal beliefs on the class.
After complaints to the professor, administrators, alumni, and legislators failed, Wright began researching biases in the classroom. The result is the website www.noindoctrination.org.
The website offers an online forum for students to post notices about professors who appear to be pushing social or political agendas in an attempt to "indoctrinate" students to a specific way of thinking. The posts are anonymous, but the name of the school, course number, and professor are listed. Professors are notified of the post and have a chance to write a rebuttal. So far, only one professor has written a rebuttal, which he later requested be taken down.
The website has generated quite a buzz and receives as many as 7,000 visitors a day. Online educational forums have discussed it at length, and up to 600 different universities have been known to visit the site in a week.
"Of course, we're all biased," says Wright, who lives in La Mesa, Calif. "This site is for when professors show a hostile bias, like when the professor ignores alternative viewpoints or hinders the expression of viewpoints outside of his own."
The site is not affiliated with any political or religious group. Though most of the complaints list liberal biases, Wright is hoping that students who have experienced conservative biases will also come forward and post.
A former high school science teacher, Wright has strong feelings about what is fair in teaching. She dealt with these issues firsthand when she taught evolution.
"It's about what belongs in the classroom," she says. "With evolution, there are two areas students object to. One, the teaching of creationism doesn't belong in a science class and should be taught in religious classes. But the other, the validity of certain accepted scientific methods or conclusions, was certainly up for debate in my class."
Often professors are accused of being biased because a student holds ideological differences from the course material, as with the case of creationism and evolution. If a person believes creationism is scientific, he may think a professor only teaching evolution is biased. Yet in that case, the professor is merely teaching the accepted assumption in the field.
So while some professors probably do cross lines, where those lines actually lie can be a matter of perspective. Because of this, academic freedom--roughly defined as the right of a teacher to pursue all aspects of a subject in a classroom without censorship--protects a professor's right to bring up controversial subjects in the classroom unhindered.
"That's what people find difficult," says Ed Buckley, vice president of academic affairs at Santa Rosa Junior College. "A professor might bring an example up from modern culture that doesn't square with a student's idea of truth, and the student gets offended."
But with academic freedom comes certain responsibility. At SRJC, professors are asked to create an atmosphere where students are free and even encouraged to express differences of opinion. Most of the time, SRJC professors respect other points of view.
"Once in awhile I've had a student who says his grade is low because he disagreed with the professor," says Buckley. "But usually when we look into it, we find that the professor bent over backwards to not appear to do that."
While some educators have dismissed noindocrination.org as "silly," others have called the anonymous postings "dangerous" and an attempt to stop free speech in the classroom. But Wright believes she is standing up for the rights of students while still being fair to professors.
"I only put up complaints that have excessive biases," she says. "I have no problem with controversial points of view, only when they are inappropriate in the context of the course."
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From the January 16-22, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.