Saturday, February 25, 2012

Put down your monocles, chaps, and answer me this.

You've probably all seen the Santorum issuing forth from the weekend about how Obama is a snob for wanting everyone to go to college.

And while I generally don't want to enquire too deeply into Santorum's contents, there was this one poser, which is how Santorum is stuck on this idea that professors are all trying to "indoctrinate" their students.

Personally, I find myself in a constant battle to do the opposite. None of my students have been taught to think. I want them to be able to do that, to question what they read, hopefully in a mildly intelligent manner. The problem with them is too little intellectual curiosity, not that they are all rabid freethinkers who need to be curtailed.
Did I miss a memo?

33 comments:

  1. Santorum also thinks that for profit colleges are the way to go.

    Obviously, if there's money involved, it must be better, for the money.

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  2. It illustrates how they think: to them, all instruction is indoctrination. There is no other explanation to them as to why their kids might ever change their attitudes about something.

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    1. "Anyone who is not liberal at 20 has no heart; anyone who is not conservative at 50 has no head." -- Winston Churchill

      The problem with Santorum is that he was conservative at 20.

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    2. I respect some conservative views. You must admit that some of the views expressed about education in this forum are really quite conservative. Two examples are that students should be held responsible for their actions, and that actions should have consequences. Many of us have been driven so crazy by student irresponsibility, illiteracy, and outright childishness, the liberal assumption common among young instructors that everyone is basically good is wearing thin.

      (I don't think we should bring back corporal punishment in K-12. For starters, if we did, the ensuing lawsuits would put a stop to it so fast it'd make your head swim.)

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    3. Then I never 'wanna grow old - for fear of losing my head!!!

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    4. I was thinking something along the same lines as Frod while reading an interesting article in the Groan and Wail this weekend.

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/taking-british-schools-back-to-the-future/article2349388/

      I have no idea whether the individual profiled in that article will make a positive difference or not. But it seems odd that the idea of academic focus and maintaining standards seems so often to get mixed up with conservative politics and subverting unions.

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    5. IP: that quote may be apocryphal. Although Clemenceau did say something like it, "anyone who is not a Communist when he is young has no heart. Anyone who is still a Communist when he is no longer young has no head."

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  3. At least ever since Bill Buckley published "God and Man at Yale" in 1951, there has been concern among conservatives in the U.S. that college professors too often let their personal views intrude in the classroom. When PC came to mean "politically correct" in the late '80s, a flurry of books by conservative authors complaining about this appeared. One was "Illiberal Education," by Dinesh D'Souza.

    University faculty are not totally blameless for this. Sometimes it appears to me that the English department at my own university can seem more concerned with undermining dead white male hegemony than with teaching composition to freshpersons. In fairness, I haven't tried to measure this, in any kind of objective test.

    What worries me most about this is that it appears that, increasingly, anything that is discussed in the classroom that conservatives don’t like is coming to be called indoctrination. Physics Today, ordinarily a quite staid publication, currently has an article about how climate researchers nationwide are coming to suffer harassment, here:

    http://www.physicstoday.org/resource/1/phtoad/v65/i2/p22_s1

    Republicans have recently called anthropogenic global warming everything from a “hoax” (James Inhofe) to a “conspiracy” among scientists (Rick Perry). They also haven’t been kind to Darwinian evolution, even though their medical care and food supply critically depend on sophisticated applications of it.

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    1. P.S. One of the most well-known climate science groups in the world is at Penn State, in Santorum's state, of course.

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    2. Oh, right! Just what a scientific discussion needs: name-calling. If that's the best you can do, then there's no question that Physics Today has more intelligence and integrity than you ever will.

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  4. "The problem with them is too little intellectual curiosity . . . ."

    I agree.

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  5. Santorum equate learning to think for yourself with indoctrination, of course. He doesn't want anyone to learn to do that; because anyone who does will very likely disagree with him.

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  6. Most of the time I can't even get my students to put page numbers on their papers or spell my name correctly. But somehow I can indoctrinate them into my secret liberal America-hating lesbian agenda? Damn, I'm good.

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    1. Nailed it. As did Whatladder's original post and several others here.

      A lot of education is about questioning the dominant narratives or the status quo. That obviously annoys conservatives more than liberals.

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    2. Except when the dominant narrative/status quo is that which liberals prefer. There's plenty of "my mind's made up, don't confuse me with the facts" to go around. <cough> Danny Pat Moynihan <cough>

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    3. Right - and there are narratives which dominate in general and which dominate within the academy which are rather "lefty." There is no clean alignment between lefty-ness, which Americans call "liberal," and being against the status quo.

      A conservative friend of mine does not tire of pointing out that Fox is against the liberal status quo. Of course there is a lot to talk about behind that remark.

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    4. Thanks for the distinction between "lefty-ness" and "liberal." I'm reminded of MacIntyre's observation that in Western politics we mostly have conservative liberals, moderate liberals, and progressive liberals.

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  7. Podunk CC is nowhere near anything that could reasonably be called a medical school, so I can honestly say that there is no indoctrination going on here.

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  8. Ah,I would love to get my students to think...about anything. I have a pretty good group this semester, but the majority of the time they have just been told to memorize this or that in elementary school and high school for standardized testing. I give them study guides for the test and tell them they need to KNOW that information, but the questions will not be the same - they will have to be able to use the information. It's frustrating.

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  9. It's not that conservatives don't want students to think for themselves, they just want the students to think in certain general ways. A liberal faculty member can encourage students to think for themselves by asking questions such as, "In what ways was the invasion of Iraq bad?" or "In what ways is FOX news biased?" and still create a skewed debate. The focus on social justice in some fields is another example.

    If humanities focused on maintaining and creating knowledge related to the promotion of values of Western civilization, there would be cries of "indoctrination" from those who don't benefit from the extra attention paid to that study. Imagine the cries of anguish if English departments dropped their current syllabus and returned to the Great Books curriculum of years past. We would be indoctrinating young people to believe that only dead white guys create anything worthy of study.

    OK, now shift to today's humanities. The view of everything through the lens of class, race and gender pushes some topics out of the curriculum. Ideas favored by conservatives get the short end of the stick in that case so they complain.

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    1. Yeah, I dunno. I remember a colleague of mine suddenly screaming at a silverback who rejected every single grad school application from someone doing feminist work, "It's the f-ing HUMANITIES. That means HUMAN BEINGS. Some of them are actually WOMEN." Not exactly a flaming liberal argument, but the conservative dude held the entire process hostage. I was not impressed by his thinking in general ways. Or any other ways.

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    2. That's a pretty good response by your colleague.

      I don't blame faculty for shifting the emphasis from the classics to other topics. Universities expect humanities faculty to do research too. That's a lot easier if you're the first to investigate a concept and not the 100th. That's at least part of the problem. It's not surprising that any new theory would be consistent with the overall views and values of the person who conceived it.

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  10. The easiest way to scare students, I've found, is to ask, "What do YOU think?"

    I take that back. The follow-up question intimidates them even more: "Why?"

    One of the few times any of my students could answer either question cogently, he was explaining why he was voting for John McCain. Although my views are almost the exact opposite of his, I was pleased. However, some students tried to shout him down. I had to defend his right to express his views, and ask students to analyze his arguments. They couldn't.

    If I'm supposed to be indoctrinating my students with liberal, subversive ideas, I must be doing a terrible job.

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    1. Exactly. The best time for napping is in class, immediately after asking the question, "What do you think?"

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    2. I blew one student's mind today in going over her paper, because I made had a bunch of "explain why you think this" comments on it. She was really struggling with the "why do I need to explain my position question, until I said "you have to understand that not everyone thinks the same thing or agrees with you, so you need to articulate your reasoning". That idea had clearly never occurred to her before. I guess that's like reverse indoctrination.

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  11. I take that back. The follow-up question intimidates them even more: "Why?"

    Exactly. They are full of "I think", "I believe" and "I feel" but are very short on arguments and data.

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    1. In my experience, if you show them the arguments and data that contradict their firmly held beliefs (from politics to poetry), they respond with a very grudging, "Welllllll, maybe."

      I'm wondering about indulging in a little sauce-for-the-gander: giving them a reading of *them* based purely on anecdote and emotion.

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    2. Or: "Well, I don't think that's true." Because, you know, scientific data LIE.

      (It's really hard to teach them about how data gathering can affect outcomes when they always and already think it's all chicanery.)

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  12. This thread has some great comments, but I'm dying to know what would've been indecent in the picture!

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