I teach the U.S. history survey, and my students are reading Howard Zinn as one of their texts. They were asked the following question as part of their homework on a Zinn reading:
"Why were workers attracted to socialism? Why did businessmen find it threatening? What did it threaten?"
I got this response: "I really do not understand what socialism entirely. The word seems to be thrown around in literature and politics that I really cannot grasp what it's supposed to mean. So to save myself the agony of doing hours of reading, I'm not going to answer this question. Sorry."
The proffie then reacts in shock along the lines of what are students coming to these days and you can read about that on RYS.
I wonder if that there is something about how socialism is mentioned in the contemporary media (what the student refers to as literature and politics) that created a reaction in this student that is different than if, say, the homework had been about some other political movement: neoliberalism, environmentalism, global warming, intelligent design, etc.
H thought yes: "Socialism is a swear word."
Or: the S word is mentioned rarely, and when it is mentioned, not explained or discussed in a way that the concept can be grasped from context.