Reindoctrinate the indoctrinators!


InsideHigherEd.com has this story about the controversy surrounding a course called “Dimensions of Culture”, an introductory social science sequence for freshmen at UC San Diego’s Thurgood Marshall College. The controversy seems to revolve around the firings of two graduate students who were trying to drum up support for returning the course to its ideological roots. Specifically, the grad students charge that the course has become “a form of uncritical patriotic education that fails to interrogate the injustice integral to the founding of the U.S. and the current state of U.S. society.” The course, as advertised is:

a study in the social construction of individual identity in contemporary America and it surveys a range of social differences and stratifications that shape the nature of human attachment to self, work, community, and a sense of nation. Central to the course objective is the question of how scholars move from knowledge to action.

(Whole catalog description here, and here’s a syllabus (PDF).) I’m still trying to sort out the plot lines from the original article, but apparently this course — designed with a clear ideological agenda in mind — has lost that agenda, according to the grad students, and they are taking it upon themselves to reestablish that agenda.

Here’s a thought — how about not having an agenda in the first place, other than to teach students how to read, write, and think? Is it any wonder that this mess of a course — it appears to be more a political football and bully pulpit than a course — is in such a state? May all such courses end up in this kind of morass.

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1 Comment

Filed under Critical thinking, Education, Higher ed, Life in academia, Teaching

One response to “Reindoctrinate the indoctrinators!

  1. virusdoc

    I think your knee-jerk against agenda-motivated courses disregards an important educational goal these courses serve.
    Starting from your minimalist educational goal, “to teach students how to read, write, and think”, I believe it is important to expose students to highly motivated ideologues, even if those individuals are the professors. Such an experience is educational for a number of reasons: i) it can shake the students’ worldviews by exposing them to a perspective that is wholly unique; ii) it can force them to start to think critically about their own worldview and the one being thrust in front of them; and iii) it prepares them for the cultural marketplace of politically and economically motivated ideas.

    I will concede now to a counter argument I think you will make: that it would be better to have such a course taught by an agenda neutral professor who facilitates the critical thinking process around an ideologue’s ideas or writings. If one could find a good supply of such neutral professors who could actually do the other agendas ideas justice, this would work. But I think it would be something like reading Shakespeare instead of seeing one of his works performed, and it would lose some of its educational/theatrical impact.