There are all kinds of punishment for abuse: criminal time, fines, social ostracism.
For one form of abuse, however, there is a reward.
A Florida Gulf Coast University student has been awarded $100 from a Web site for sharing her story of “leftist abuse” in one class at her university.
Kim Legendre, 20, a junior majoring in psychology, received the award Oct. 15 from CampusReform.org, a social networking Web site for conservative and libertarian students.
Her story began in a class required for every student in the College of Arts and Sciences at the university. Foundations of Civic Engagement teaches students about social movements and the importance of speaking up about things that matter to them. It also requires out-of-class community service.
Legendre likens her experience to indoctrination, however.
“I think as it’s structured currently, (the class) shouldn’t be required because it has extreme biases,” said Legendre. “To me, it just seems like they’re trying to indoctrinate us. I’ve talked to people in this class and they say, ‘We’re over 18; we’re adults. We can’t be indoctrinated.’”
But Legendre disagrees — and pointedly.
Her main contention, she said, is with the textbook, written in 1999 by Paul Loeb.
She sums it up in her posting to CampusReform.org: “As I began reading, I thought, ‘This won’t be too bad. It just seems like a book asking people to stand up and speak out for what they believe in.’ But as I continued reading, I saw that in the first chapter alone, Paul Loeb put down the conservatives of this country, said that we NEED national health care or else, and that he knows there is a conservative viewpoint, but he isn’t covering it because, basically, it is his book and he didn’t want to.”
In the introduction of Loeb’s book, “Soul of a Citizen; Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time,” he lays out examples of fighting for individual principles and discusses his own convictions.
“You may wonder whether this book covers all forms of community involvement, or only those congruent with my own particular perspective, shaped by the peace, justice and environmental movements of recent years,” Loeb writes.
“I considered including citizens associated with the political right,” Loeb continues. “Their movements are important subjects of inquiry. Their rank-and-file participants are sincere, and sometimes seem more motivated than activists who take stands closer to my heart. But, this isn’t an encyclopedia of social activism. Rather, it’s the testament of one human being, about what gives me hope.”
Legendre’s professor, Wayne Robinson, said he has discussed Legendre’s concerns with her, and offered alternatives. When the other students in the class are reading the New York Times as required supplement, Legendre reads The Wall Street Journal. Legendre said Robinson makes the class environment “as comfortable as it can be, given the circumstances.”
Robinson said Legendre is one of the brightest students in his class, and that her viewpoint — though often in the minority among her peers — adds important perspective to their discussions.
He also agrees that the class would be better served by another, updated book. Written in 1999, Loeb’s book contains none of the social or political context of Bush v. Gore, the 9/11 attacks or the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Robinson points out.
Associate Professor Maria Roca, program leader for Foundations of Civic Engagement, said Robinson’s criticism of the book is the one she hears most typically, as opposed to Legendre’s view of the book’s political bias.
Roca adds that it is important in college courses to present students with different viewpoints, and particularly to ask them to read texts — including textbooks — critically.
“I think for many of us who have been in this program for a long time, the most exciting thing is when a really good civil dialogue develops in class between the left and the right and the in between — it’s really remarkable,” Roca said. “That’s what really good education should be about. A university setting is one of the only opportunities for students to hear a liberal perspective if you’re a conservative or vice versa.”
Legendre also raised issue with the community service component of her class. Robinson designed a project, in which students are lobbying the university administration to make the campus completely tobacco-free. Robinson and Legendre agree on this, among other things: that tobacco is an enormous public health risk and is aesthetically damaging to a college campus.
But Legendre said she objects to the use of students as lobbyists and activists for a cause, saying that making the campus smoke-free is “just extending the government’s hand in our freedoms,” which she objects to as a conservative.
Not every Civic Engagement class undertakes the same project; other classes have tutored at-risk middle school students or raised money for mosquito nets that prevent malaria in Africa.
But Adrienne Royer, new media director for CampusReform.org, said the class “is effectively forcing students to electioneer.” Royer’s Web site, launched in September, is offering a $100 reward each weekday through the end of October to one student with the best example of leftist abuse.
The Web site was designed, Royer said, to give conservative students an outlet. On many college campuses, students like Legendre feel marginalized and even discriminated against, Royer said. When a student like Legendre shares her story, the Web site and its parent organization, conservative nonprofit The Leadership Institute, reach out to help that student establish a network and a voice for activism on her campus.
“Civic engagement is good, but is it something we want to force college students to do?” Royer asked. “Do colleges exist to get students involved in politics or to give them an education?”
Roca argues that a liberal arts college exists to do both, in a sense, but she disagrees that activism is automatically political.
“I guess, in trying to live the mission of FGCU, teaching civic engagement and community awareness in and of itself is a neutral initiative,” said Roca. “The point is to get students to think more about the issues they care about. It’s really not to indoctrinate.”
The Web site itself encourages students to mobilize behind conservative or libertarian causes — much the way the class encourages students to identify what they care about and stand up for it.
“If you look at the mission statement of FGCU, at our core along with environmental preservation, civic engagement is there at the core of the mission,” said Roca.
The author of the textbook, Paul Loeb, said he was taken aback by the Web site’s reaction to his book and to the class. Loeb, who lives in Seattle, Wash., said he has spoken to Roca’s students and sat in on classes before. He said he does not object to the Web site’s professed mission or views, but disagrees with how it goes about that mission, including awarding $100 to students it decides have been victimized by “leftist abuse.”
“I think the encouragement of students to be involved is something I have to support,” said Loeb. “Whether they agree with me or not, that happens to be irrelevant. What troubles me about this organization is ... they’re saying every time a professor challenges you with an issue you disagree with, run to the sort of culture police and say, ‘Oh, something is wrong — someone is doing something leftist.’”
Connect with education reporter Leslie Williams at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_williams