Bryan Caplan  

The Paltry Effect of Political Correctness

Choosing a College Major... Identity and Misanthropy...
Sure, colleges are full of politically correct indoctrination.  But how well does the indoctrination actually work?  Poorly.  How College Affects Students reviews the whole literature and finds that:
Net of the attitudes and other characteristics students bring with them to college, the small changes reported in students' political orientations (on a continuum from left to right) virtually disappear.
In other words, college students end up a bit leftist because they start a bit leftist, not because their profs "raise their awareness."

While college fails as a leftist re-education camp, it does have measurable effects on two narrow areas:

1. "[S]tudents' racial, ethnic, and multicultural attitudes and values":
The link persists in the presence of a wide array of controls, including those reflecting students' precollege attitudes and values, and across various outcome measures, including cultural awareness, acceptance of different races and cultures, commitment to promoting racial understanding, support for busing, viewing racism as a continuing problem, and increases in openness to diversity broadly defined.
2. Gender attitudes.  College increases support for equal economic opportunity for women and intolerance for date rape, and decreases support for the view that "women's place in in the home."

Bottom line: Whether you love P.C. or hate it, don't overrate it.  Colleges nudge students' views on multiculturalism and sexism.  But they don't turn moderates into liberals, or liberals into socialists.  As the Engineer sings in Miss Saigon:
Three years of school was nice
in rice fields, planting rice
You did good work you see
re-educating me...

But men, will always be men
They washed out my brain
I'm still who I am
Deep inside, I know what I know
Wherever I go, I speak Uncle Ho
and think Uncle Sam.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (16 to date)
M.R. Orlowski writes:

I find this plausible, however it can still be annoying to endure it. (If you're a libertarian at least)

Pffft writes:

"Colleges nudge students' views on multiculturalism and sexism." -- Or, in other words, nudges them left.

Faré writes:

Moreover, it's likely the experience of actually meeting people from all over the world, and real women trying to achieve something, rather than the indoctrination, that move people towards being more accepting of the former and more considerate of the latter.

Faré writes:

Also, it may be that indoctrination doesn't modify the relative positioning of people on the cultural left/right/whatever spectrum, yet has an effect on the absolute position of the entire spectrum, by setting the terms of how problems are discussed, and evacuating points of view that do not fit those terms.

Faré writes:

In other words, the stranglehold of some ideologies (say, left) on the university makes for people left and right who are more educated in the leftist propaganda, without changing their relative opinion of the overall agenda, but preventing the very thinking of different ideologies, by depriving people from the very words and concepts they could have otherwise been using if they had been studying something else. See Orwell's 1984, and the (weak) Sapir Whorf hypothesis.

Benjamin writes:

By date rape do you mean the couple both get drunk, but only the male is responible for both of their actions?

existelle writes:

College made me more "racist" and "sexist" because I see minority groups drastically underperform every day. Guess the wikipedia article on race and intelligence has some merit...

Michael Svehla writes:

I believe that the Academic PC culture created by the 60's generation (mine) has created a near perfect factory for turning out bureaucrats.
"OWS," is their wet dream.
They never asked then and they don't ask now about consequences.
There are always smart people around who can use these products.

Gepap writes:

The comments on this post seem to me to be very good evidence for the validity of the post. After all, I would have to assume that the previous commenters attended universities, and clearly doing so did not make any of them change their ideologies.

If anything, it seems to have unhinged them.

Carl writes:

The effect of the universities is to set the terms of acceptable debate, as Fare mentions above. The marginal effect on college students may be trivial over the 4-5 years of direct influence, but the intellectual climate created by the universities has influenced them throughout their intellectual development. And the vector of effect is one way, as can be seen by reading any old book, or comparing the political platform between different generations of politicians.

Arthur_500 writes:

I tend to disagree with your conclusion that a small sample shows the full picture.

When Upton Sinclair and his friends decided to form the Society, they did not believe that a student would be changed in their classrooms. Rather they felt that molding the teachers of tomorrow would begin a process of total indoctrination.

We read statements such as, "Economics 101 proves that government intervention is the way to pull an economy out of a recession." However, this is simply Keynesian Economic theory.

If you continue to repeat the same stuff over and over and you hear this at school, at church and in the media then it starts to take on a level of reality. People no longer question foolish statements as "everyone" knows they are true.

By the time a student enters college they have already been through 12 years of indoctrination by the students of yesteryear. At this point the college simply affirms and "proves" the foolish statements and requires students to question everything that isn't part of the 'party line.'

Essentially, the left-wing academeia utilizes colleges to solidify untenable positions as fact and challenges all who disagree. Thus the student is not merely formed in the PC atmosphere of their college years but "finished" as a full member of the indoctrination.

Anyone who gets out of college questioning everything, including the 'norm,' is a special student. However, they are unlikely to go far in academia.

Steve Sailer writes:

"The effect of the universities is to set the terms of acceptable debate"

Right. It's okay to debate tax rates, but more fundamental questions are crimethink, as well-connected Democrats like Larry Summers and James D. Watson discovered.

Mike Shupp writes:

Gepap For The Win! With a nod of the head
in the direction of Faré.

It does look from the comments that a substantial number of graduates from conventional colleges would have preferred to be educated -- would have preferred that EVERYONE be educated -- at institutions which would inculcate much more conservative views of economics, social structure, biological science, and (perhaps) sexual orientation.

So where are they, guys? Conservatives have had enough money and enough people and enough time to build those Better Schools, but where are they? The University of Chicago? The Citadel? Bob Jones University? Old Miss? I suspect the graduates of even those institutions look dangerously Pliable and Suspect to small town relatives after years of immersion in hideously cosmopolitan environments.

Where, oh where, are the reliably right wing counterparts of Harvard and Stanford and MIT and Cambridge and le Ecole Polytechnique!

AJ writes:

That's because it starts in grade school. (I have a 10 year old in public schools while my two college age children went to private school. You would not believe the mindless political correctness and left wing nonsense being passed out in the fifth grade classroom.) Therefore the delta of college understates the effect.


John M writes:

I didn't need any kind of study to show me the near futility of indoctrination. Every test I give (and then grade) hits the point home with me, showing that my nefarious plot to thoroughly indoctrinate students and future lawyers, physicians, engineers, chemists, and (yes) physicists with F=ma, energy and momentum conservation, Maxwell's equations, and so forth has not been going very well. Of course, I can't really ascertain the affective of my usual off-comment about the idiotic notion going around that the universe is only 6000 years old (expressed in the context of a universe of distant galaxies and galaxy clusters that we see as they were billions of years ago).

None of this namby-pamby egalitarian notion of the equality of all points of view, such as Aristotelian physics, geocentricism, flat-earthism, alternative arithmetic, everything-operates-according-to-G_d's will, etc. Strictly Newtonian physics, with occasional nods towards Einstein and modern physics throughout, including cursory coverage the last few weeks. Acceleration is rate-of-change of velocity, and any other answer is unambiguously wrong. Constant-acceleration kinematics only apply under restricted circumstances, namely constant acceleration.

michael hamilton writes:

I think Bryan misses something important.

It's probably true that PC indoctrination isn't very effective. It certainly didn't work on me.

But that doesn't mean it isn't a huge problem. Indoctrination isn't a substitute for education. Exchanging a class on methods for indoctrination basically gets you some guy's opinion on an issue, which is almost certainly worthless.

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