Sue the Teacher!

Education. It keeps coming back to that, doesn’t it. Especially education in the broadest sense, which emphatically includes self-education and education as an intrinsic good, along with institutional and instrumental education. Education, especially the institutional variety, can be where one gets infected with fashionable nonsense, but education, especially the intrinsic good variety, is also the way to inoculate against it, and the way to cure it once infected.

We posted a link a couple of weeks ago to a story about Michael Dini, a Texas biology professor who is being investigated by the US Justice Department for refusing to write recommendation letters for students who cannot affirm a scientific answer to the question of how the human species originated. Now we get to write a blog about a blog about a blog on the subject. (I wonder how many levels blogs can go. Infinite? Or only six billion or so.) The writer is Chris Mooney, who as he mentions here, wrote a piece for The American Prospect on the inadequacy of ‘Intelligent Design’ theory (a piece which, ever-alert, we linked to in early December). The core of this article is Mooney’s ‘I think higher education should challenge deeply held beliefs’ and Dini’s expansion on the same thought.

Nor is one guaranteed that his/her most cherished beliefs will go unchallenged. Indeed, many students find it difficult to communicate with friends and family after completing a college education because they no longer share the same beliefs and values. College has introduced them to new knowledge and new ways of thinking. For many, especially those raised by parents who were not college-educated, college is a time of “de-acculturation,” wherein one gives up the culture in which one was raised, and subsequent “re-acculturation” wherein one takes on a new culture. My hope for all of my students is that they will become acculturated in “the life of the mind.”

Of course, this is not what most people think college education is for. College education is vocational training, after which one will be able to get a job that pays better than flipping hamburgers, so that one can buy a Sport Utility Vehicle and intimidate everyone who is still stupid and poor enough to drive a smaller car or even walk. That’s what education is for. There are still some poor idealistic wretches who think otherwise, but a good lawsuit usually shuts them up. Mooney cites this discouraging article we just did a Note and Comment on yesterday, written by a classmate of his.

So which is it going to be? Education for the sake of critical thinking, and some understanding of why one believes what one does and whether one ought to go on believing it? Or education for the sake of Loadsa Money and an undisturbed set of evidence-free beliefs. Perhaps litigation will decide the question in the US.

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