I Wouldn’t Give You Four Nickels for Your Paradigms

KTK over at Lean Left has an interesting perspective on the concept of liberal and/or conservative indoctrination at college campuses.  I always subscribe to the notion that there is a time for everything…and that time is called college.

When receptive, sponge-like minds are exposed to new ideas, concepts, people, music and drugs they tend to soak up things faster than they can actually process them.  Which is why a lot of people are just now coming around to the fact that no matter how much fun it was to go to a Grateful Dead show and collect and trade all the tapes of the shows you couldn’t actually get to, they really never were that great of a band.  In fact, the entertainment factor was usually external to the stage or internal to your own brain.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But at a certain point, it is important to give up the delusions of what you experienced in college and instead use what you “learned” to form your own opinions and establish your own standard of ethics by which you will live.  Anyone who is willing to be “indoctrinated” has completely missed the point of higher education whether it be from the right or the left.

I went to a college which is widely considered to be pretty left-wing.  The president while I was a student was an cabinet member in the Carter  administration.  We had our share of Tiananmen Square sympathy sit-ins and anti-apartheid protests during a time when we felt like we were really participating in social change.  Hell, the Berlin Wall fell during my senior year and we thought that we had materially contributed to ending the arms race.  In truth, we were just around when the deficit spending of the Reagan administration bankrupted the Socialist state through military escalation.

Ironically, the architects of this exact plan were also on my campus at the same time.  The Hoover Institution is known as one of the premier conservative think tanks in the world and was filled with Reagan cronies.  We used to see George Schultz (not Charlie Brown’s dad) walking out in his bathrobe and slippers to pick up his newspaper every morning.  Occasionally he would wave hello at Edward Teller as he was making his morning rounds of campus.  “Morning, Ed.  Nice H-bomb you invented.”

My point is that in an ideal academic environment, there has to be room to present many paths to history.  It is the responsibility of the educators to explain that their opinions are merely paradigms, not necessarily truths.  The onus of the educated is to take these lenses and view the world through them, and then to interpret what they see.

I was lucky to take Poli Sci 101 from an avowed Marxist.*  He is best known for writing a book which looked at our Founding Fathers as a bunch of landed gentry who created the United States as a mechanism to maintain their “republican (little “r”) aristocracy” under the guise of a pluralistic society.

I’d say he was not normally the guy you would choose to teach your entry-level American Government class.  But my university had the guts to send him out there to mold our soft little minds.  He didn’t expect us to agree with everything he said.  He knew we had already been taught the basics of civics in high school, so rote memorization was unnecessary.  But his perspective on how the world worked warped my mind better than any ten minute Jerry Garcia guitar noodling solo.

If you simply regurgitated back what he said onto a blue book, you got a C-.  If you actually formulated a thoughtful opinion which took into account that there aren’t necessarily any certainties in liberal (small “l”) ideals, then you actually got a grade based on how well you interpreted what you learned and how well you expressed it.

So I have no fear of indoctrination.  I’m afraid of people who allow themselves to be indoctrinated.  Grape Flavor-Aid, anyone?

* My favorite story from Prof Manley’s class was when somebody tried to catch him in an inconsistency.  At the end of a lecture when he asked for questions, a cocky young fellow stood up and said, “Yeah.  I got a question for you.  I noticed when I was walking to class that you drove up in a brand new Mercedes, Professor Manley.  Now how the hell can you justify that within your Marxist/Socialist paradigm?!”

Manley didn’t miss a beat.  “I think everyone should drive a new Mercedes.”



8 Responses to I Wouldn’t Give You Four Nickels for Your Paradigms

  1. newscoma says:

    THIS is what I’m talking about, Smiley. Cool.

  2. –loved the title.

    –I don’t know if I’d use the phrase “indoctrination”, because that implies systematic brainwashing, etc. But I have had my share of biased professors who graded toward their bias, sometimes so overtly as to be censured by the Dean. In some cases they were left-biased (Poli Sci) and in other cases they were right-biased (philosophy).

    There’s a part of me that was frustrated by that because it didn’t seem right. But as I’ve gotten older (groan) I realise that it’s actually been pretty good training for later life. After all, how far are you going to get in a company if you have loud political disagreements with the boss? I’m sure none of my biased professors intended to teach the “go along to get along” lesson, but it took. And, frankly, it’s served me well often enough.

  3. badger says:

    My favorite professor was an angry old dude with gout. he was an excellent painter. he would go along with just about any idea, but if you were bullshiting him…he new. he would let you know it too especially when he had limped all the way over to your easel and saw you were trying to recreate vincent. you learn a lot through adversity.

    by the way HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  4. bridgett says:

    Ah….yes, you got it. An A for you. If I leaned farther left, you’d get vertigo watching me teach. But I’m not an animal trainer, so I don’t want parrots. I’m a professor in a field that aspires to teach interpretation and argumentation. I want to expose students to a lot of different ideas and they decide which ones to put in their tool box. On exams, they have to use the primary documents and the tools they’ve selected to make a defensible argument about a given topic. I grade them on how well or how poorly they display their analytic abilities and how well they contextualize the documents in terms of the secondary texts they’ve read. When I ask an old chestnut like “Was the American Revolution inherently progressive or conservative?”, I’m not administering a litmus test. I want them to demonstrate that they have absorbed a little historiography and know that one can argue it either way — and then argue something (eligible answers include “it was a bit of both” or “it depended on who you were.”) Nothing pisses me off more than a student who wants to know what I want to hear so that they can produce (they hope) a lazy paper filled with ideas that ran between their ears like so much shit through a goose. If you don’t want to put the effort into thinking about something, don’t waste the money. Come back when you know what you care about.

    And you know, I just had that exact insight about the Grateful Dead the last time I was stuck in a pizza shop listening to some interminable jam. I guess I had never noticed before because I was stoned.

  5. […] people are talking about university indoctrination, but Smiley points out that you can’t be indoctrinated unless you allow it: I was lucky to take Poli Sci 101 from an avowed Marxist.* He is best known for writing a book […]

  6. […] that’s the buzz here lately, so well do more. Via NIT, comes this: So I have no fear of indoctrination. Im afraid of people who allow themselves to be […]

  7. […] because they are a Liberal tool of indoctrination nor the position that one simply chooses whether or not to be indoctrinated.  The first can be dismissed by noticing that the academic community, by and large, have nothing […]

  8. […] because they are a Liberal tool of indoctrination nor the position that one simply chooses whether or not to be indoctrinated.  The first can be dismissed by noticing that the academic community, by and large, have nothing […]

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