Dear Betsy DeVos: I was liberal before I was a college student

Looking back at my time in high school, one student in a sea of over 2,000, I can say with confidence that it was nothing like college. The whole point of high school, I argue, is to teach young people how to follow rules and schedules which are handed to them. An itinerary they have no control over. When to eat, when to work out, when they can go outside and when they get to leave. This choiceless schedule is reminiscent of a prison system: meant to encourage a submissive state of mind, one that will follow authority blindly.

In contrast, college is where individuals have agency over their lives and where they’re encouraged to control how they use their time. Creating our own schedule and choosing what we would like to study seem to be our signature of a learning adult. Additionally, in high school you’re taught mostly facts and how to process the basics of learning. There you’re taught what the facts are, and in college you’re taught how to interpret those facts and form them into opinions.

When speaking of colleges at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that these institutions teach students “what to do, what to say and, more ominously, what to think.”

This is entirely false.

As a Liberal student who grew up in a conservative household, I know the errors that can be made on either side, and I know how to tell fact from opinion. My time at college has only strengthened my ability to do the latter. College is a place where I and my peers are taught, every day, to question and analyze the theories and judgments that are posed to us. We are not taught to blindly accept the “education establishment.”

College is a place where individuals are allowed to hold agency not only over our time but also our education through questioning and analysis. We’re not taught “what” to think in college, Betsy. We’re taught how to pick apart an opinion and back our own statements up with fact. We’re taught that crucial difference: opinion is not equal to fact, and alternative facts are opinions in disguise.

Any smart, politically informed citizen will be able to say “these are the facts as I understand them, and this is how they inform my opinion” whether you be liberal, conservative or anything in between.

The most worrying effect that DeVos’ speech could have on the American public is a loss in the faith which citizens must have in their higher education. Planting that seed of mistrust, which could grow quickly, could greatly affect the trust that we as citizens put in those who have spent their lives studying facts and teaching the young how to be thinkers.

It can be said that DeVos’ comments can seriously be dangerous to the learning community as we know it. One of the first acts of a totalitarian government wishes the removal of all who have the ability to shed light on the lies of that government. The book-writers, the fact checkers, the scientists and the philosophers are all at risk when higher education is insulted; not only this but the freedom of all thinkers is at risk. I say in response to DeVos: when we disregard the importance of higher education, that is brainwashing.

As I write this, I am reminded of recent events here on campus, specifically signs about “Nazis” posted multiple times. I think it is important for us to remember that, no matter how much I agree that those with alt-right beliefs are wrong, violence is not conducive to an intellectual argument. And that is what we’re taught to do here: intelligently argue our points using facts. So I implore my fellow students: go high when they go low, and fight with words that are wrapped in unbreakable facts.