Throughout most of the 20th century the United States led the world in most educational categories. That is no longer the case. There are undoubtedly many factors that could be affecting the quality of education in America, there is but one factor Iâ€™d like to address here: indoctrination is not education.
This semester at Idaho State University, my daughter was taking an upper division Critical Theory class. The syllabus indicated that the course was about â€œThe application of critical theory to the reading of world literature.â€ This ended up being a uni-dimensional academic experience for her, as the instructor lectured more on dogmatic political theory than on literature. The only thing about the class that seemed to be â€œcriticalâ€ was what he heaped upon anyone who disagreed with him, and the only theory that had relevance in the course was his own. Instead of a literature critical theory class, it was wholesale â€œbash Americaâ€ and â€œpraise Europeâ€ indoctrination. Even evidence provided by other students in the class that would dispute the instructorsâ€™ arguments were minimized and discounted as incorrect and inconsequential.
Another daughter had an astronomy class that she really enjoyed two years ago, until the instructor turned the class into an indoctrination course on man-made global warming. No evidence or arguments against the theory were condoned or given any credence, because the professor was an ideologue and was only open to evidence supporting his position on the issue, not an open dialogue on all available data on the subject. In essence the instructor was saying the scientific method, which demands examination of anomalous data and variant explanations to find answers, was null and void in his classroom.
As a Freshman at Century High School, my son was taking a class in which the teacher made a factually incorrect statement about President Bush and our involvement in liberating the Iraqi people and toppling the oppressive totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein. The next day my son took it upon himself to provide some documentation to the teacher proving that the statements made the previous day by his teacher were false. The teacher promptly kicked him out of class. Obviously the teacher was more interested in opinion, his own, rather than the truth.
Contrast that with his teacher this year in world history and government at Century. He teaches the facts, allows his students to discuss them without forcing an ideology upon them, and encourages them to think through the issues and substantiate them based on their research. There is no intimidation, no compulsion to adhere to his opinion, no indoctrination based on an ideological agenda, and no recrimination if they donâ€™t agree with him.
I know these are anecdotal at best, and but few of many possible examples, but perhaps they illustrate one of the problems with our educational system and one reason why weâ€™re lagging behind the rest of the world educationally. Oftentimes it seems educators are more intent on dogmatic indoctrination and social engineering causes in our schools and universities than they are committed to teaching facts, and the skills to interpret and understand them relationally, and then articulate them cogently.
Student papers are marked with lower grades because their content runs contrary to the teacherâ€™s personal opinions, rather than based on argument, structure, syntax, and supporting evidence. More effort is expended by some teachers in attempting to reeducate the student in correct thinking, as opposed to helping the student improve on their communication and writing skills.
When I transferred to Idaho State University from a junior college, there was no doubt in my mind that I would end up in the private sector, in business, in one capacity or another. But rather than taking the traditional approach of studying business, I opted for a liberal arts program, having resolved that the most substantive skills required in business are an ability to communicate effectively, both orally and through the written word; an ability to think through issues and problems without gravitating to conventional wisdom to solve them; and an ability to research and find solutions. To me, the liberal arts program, or Arts and Sciences as it is now known by at ISU, was precisely what I needed and ISU filled my personal academic prescription perfectly.
The instructional and tutorial competence and excellence of my professors afforded me as fine an education as I could receive anywhere, in my estimation. I have had acquaintances and colleagues through the years who have been educated in the finest Ivy League and west coast universities, and yet what I received from ISU was not inferior in any way, as far as I can ascertain.
The primary reason for this was the quality of instruction and the teaching styles of my professors. Not only were they extremely proficient and capable in their disciplines, but they were not closed-minded or dogmatic in their instructional style. As their lectures coincided with current events, they were open to contrary opinion and divergent perspectives. They allowed open discussion without intimidation, only demanding of the students that they know and understand the facts, and be able to substantiate their conclusions accordingly. Papers were graded based on our grasp of the relevant material, our ability to think through issues, articulate them, and support our arguments, whether our conclusions agreed with theirs or not.
While none of my ISU professors taught as ideologues, they nonetheless had their opinions and they shared them. Throughout the process, they didnâ€™t try to indoctrinate, and their teaching was superb. But that was nearly 25 years ago, and things have obviously changed.
Perhaps every teacher, instructor, and professor should go through some introspective process where they determine whether they are truly teaching, or indoctrinating. They are not synonymous.
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