Opinion: Pope Center ideas on education wrong for UNC

Opinion: Pope Center ideas on education wrong for UNC

Cory Spiers

Since Republicans have taken over power in the state government, important positions are frequently filled with individuals who tend to hold right wing views and they, along with their associated organizations, are gaining influence in North Carolina.

Art Pope is now the budget director for the state, the same Art Pope who gave $2.3 million to UNC-Chapel Hill in part to fund a Western civilization course, the UNC General Alumni Association reports.

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education is one of these organizations associated with the Pope family, and it has some clear ideas about how it believes education should be in this state.

The center released a critique of UNC’s general education system in late October, seeing it as disorganized and unfocused.

“A college education should teach young people what ideas and facts are worth learning in order to make sense of the professional and political world they will soon enter,” the report states.

Of course, it is the Pope Center that decided exactly what metrics are used to determine the worth of what is being taught and what should be taught.

This view of education is extremely constrained and adheres to the largely right-wing worldview espoused by the center.

Ironically, the report criticizes UNC’s general education for tending to “promote particular political beliefs.”

“Optimal education” would, in this case, include heavy focuses on Western civilization and capitalism, but it seems that what the Pope Center would really want is to have their own interpretation of these things taught, not a truly rigorous or critical examination of those topics.

I do not have an objection to focus on these subjects, as they are obviously important, but the Pope Center’s approach minimizes the importance of other areas of studies and promotes a view on these subjects that does not capture the critical spirit that education should have.

It is not too difficult to envision an ideal Pope Center curriculum that would sing the praises of Western culture with too little critical examination thereof.

UNC provost Jim Dean put it best when, in response to the report, said in an interview with the News & Observer that “ultimately what constitutes a good, or an optimal education is really based on values, and people have different values.”

The Pope Center has one set of values, and it is that set of values that is being pushed, not some objective evaluation of what should be done.

They are welcome to their set of values, but it would be absurd to treat it as anything but an attempt to push their own agenda.

There are probably ways that general education could be streamlined and refined, but the Pope Center’s approach is not an answer to those problems.

All of this matters because the Pope Center and those who share its ideological bent have assumed great power over the last year.

I do not mean to say that the Pope Center is a monolithic puppet master behind everything having to do with education, but it does represent a way of thinking that is becoming more prevalent now that conservative-minded individuals are taking political power.

It is a vision, ultimately, that I believe we should be wary of.

Opinion: KEVIN GRIFFIN, Opinion writer