Friday, 3 June 2005

A Masterclass in Indoctrination

The search for the grounds for ignorance has been no less exhaustive than that for knowledge. The old Socratic maxim stated that wisdom consists in the understanding of one’s own ignorance, whereas the new radical maxim states that it consists in the willing of it. Nowadays, with new pedagogical techniques, it takes only a few years at university to learn how to misunderstand the world properly.
.....This morning it was my misfortune to stumble upon the scribblings of a man called Amardo Rodriguez, an educator in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at the Syracuse University, New York. This information alone should be enough to make you fear the worst. If I tell you that his piece appeared in the latest edition of Radical Pedagogy, then you may begin to feel that your foreboding was justified. But let me confirm the worst.
.....His essay – if that is the right word; for I saw no attempt at understanding –, entitled
Searching For Paulo Freire: Classnotes For My Students, is in the form of a plaintive address to his students, outlining his hopes, fears, etc:
I come to teaching with all of my being. My devotion to you is complete. For me, teaching is about something you are, something you embody. Thus I have no techniques, no strategies, no skills, no drills, no exercises that tend to work in conveying various ideas and concepts. Instead, my focus is on how I enter the classroom as a human being.
Now, though a chap may be relieved to learn that he intends to enter the classroom as human being, and not as a chaffinch, say, or as a virulent strain of TB, one might be forgiven for having reservations about a teacher who makes a boast of his lack of skills and his unwillingness to convey ideas and concepts. But fear not; for he hath come to heal:

I want you to leave my class less afraid of the world. For I know you are afraid when I [sic] you enter my class. Most times I cannot even begin to fathom how scared you are. You are too young to be so scared. What has this world done to you? Of course I know you often pretend to be unafraid. But eventually you always become undone. I despise the world for what it has done to you. Your capacity to imagine new and different worlds is shot through with fear. I want my classroom to be the place where your healing begins—that is, where you find the courage to act upon the world in ways that affirm your ability to alter and change your world. It is therefore my responsibility to create a space that encourages you to come face-to-face with all the forces that are damaging you. It is also my responsibility to create a space that allows you to explore the beginnings and possibilities of new and different worlds.


The world you belong to is discursively and materially dichotomous and discontinuous. Something is either positive or negative, good or bad, right or wrong, male or female, sacred or profane. You too believe that the world is outside and separate from you. Of course you also believe the world is finite. Thus you believe that regardless of how one chooses to interpret, say, an apple falling from a tree, the fact of the matter is that the apple will fall to the ground rather than up to the sky. Understandably, you believe deeply in this finite world. You know no other. You are therefore suspicious of any suggestion that our interpretive capacity gives us the power to change and redefine our worlds. You believe that such claims only have purchase in theory.

Admittedly, I am suspicious when a sociologist tells me gravity can be overcome by the right kind of “interpretive capacity”.

You generally tend to believe that there is a world outside of us that dictates a set of harsh realities. Hierarchy, for instance, is presumably such a reality. The law of gravity is presumably a next such reality. You also generally tend to believe that cultures are morally and spiritually unequal. Naturally, you tend to believe, though most times embarrassed to openly say so, that your culture is the most superior because it supposedly accepts the world’s harsh realities. For instance, you believe in competition, and thereby in capitalism [aha!], because you believe it constitutes the natural order of the world. So although you sympathize with those who are suffering the fallout from social, political, and economic systems that promote competition, you merely wish for some way to alleviate their plight. But you want to hear nothing of revolution.

On the contrary, I can think of nothing more entertaining than listening to tales of bold revolutionaries swooping and soaring about the sky kept aloft by nobbut the hot air of anti-capitalist rhetoric and a charming insistance on the inefficacy of gravity.

I never want to convince you that your position or your beliefs are wrong.

But . . .

I am challenging you to contest everything you hold be true and sacred.


I always speak about race, ethnicity, and sexuality in my classrooms.

That’s nice.
But what is certain is that you have a deep fear of the racial, ethnic, and sexual differences between us.
More certain than the law of gravity?
I treat community as a verb rather than a noun.
I too am of this world.
Well, I was beginning to wonder . . .
There are those who now famously say that I have no business trying to use my classroom to change the world. This is the job of other professions. My job is merely ‘to interpret’ the world. Apparently, ‘the true task of academic work [is] the search for truth and the dissemination of it through teaching.’
Sounds noble.

I have no interest in searching for truth, much less engaging in its dissemination.
Of course there are things in this world which are true and other things which are false. But no truth is outside of human experience, and human experience is inherently variable and changeable.
Ah, now this is a classic example of the sophisticated relativist’s trick of Affirm and Deny: he affirms his commitment to truth, saying that, of course there is such a thing, who could be stupid enough to deny it? And then in the next breath he denies it by redefinition, being that truth is redefined as being equal to human beliefs, variable therewith; thus truth is non-truth.

Of course no one should use a classroom to impose a vision of the world on you. [But . . .] Even if I sought to merely interpret the world, I would still have to engage you in an explanation of how various ideological, historical, cultural, and developmental forces shape your world. I would also have to demonstrate to you how different forces make for different interpretations. In the end, I simply cannot sustain my obligation to interpretation without engaging the condition of the world. To do so would simply be incompetent. I am therefore in no way trying to politicize the class. I am merely trying to be competent educator.

And so it is that we come to the old totalitarian argument:

Everyone is to some extent indoctrinated unsystematically with the assumptions implicit in society,
Systematic indoctrination is permissible

Nice work if you can get it.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Such an exercise in arrogance, ignorance, and raving lunacy promoting itself publically boggles the mind. The man is a buffoon and has no clue that he is. I'm completely gobsmacked that he actually holds a position in an institution, in this case, of lower learning.