Professors and Indoctrination

I’m currently reading the book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. Roose was a student at Brown University (my alma mater!) when he decided he wanted to learn more about the culture of evangelical Christianity. So he transferred to Liberty University for a semester.

I am only about a third of the way through the book and will probably post a full review when I have finished it. For now, though, I would like to post one brief excerpt that really jumped out at me. Roose is listing, in bullet point fashion, certain things “Liberty really, really wants us to know.” Here is one of the points:

Absolute truth exists. At Liberty, unlike many secular schools, professors teach with the view that there is one right answer to every question, that those right answers are found plainly in the Bible, and that their job is to transfer those right answers from their lecture notes to our minds. It’s a subtle difference in ideology, but it makes for big changes in teaching style. Most of my classes use workbooks — thin, self-published transcriptions of the professor’s notes with one or two words blanked out per sentence. As the professor teaches, his notes appear on PowerPoint slides, and we fill in the missing words in our workbooks. (pp. 87-88)

The irony here is that at every creationist conference I have attended, the alleged desire of dogmatic, left-wing, secular professors to indoctrinate their students has been a major theme. “Indoctrinate” seems to mean teaching anything that conflicts with their own idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible.

Roose is mistaken in describing Liberty’s attitude as a subtle change in ideology from what most professors at secular colleges do (or at more moderate Christian schools, for that matter). What Roose describes is the polar opposite of what most professors do. You can count on one hand the number of college professors who see their job as the communication of knowledge from the brain of the professor to the brain of the student. We bristle at the very thought. Our goal is to get students to think for themselves. Sure, we want to communicate certain facts about our subject, and we don’t want students to end up as little relativists who think anything could be true so long as enough people believe it with enough enthusiasm. But our main desire is for the students to make a good argument in defense of what they believe and to think critically about whatever subject is before them.

This is true even in math classes, where so often there really is an unambiguous fact of the matter. I love it when students argue with me about the Monty Hall problem, or about whether .99999… =1. I like some passion, even if it is in the service of a position that is, ultimately, simply wrong.

Comments

  1. #1 Troublesome Frog
    September 16, 2009

    This is true even in math classes, where so often there really is an unambiguous fact of the matter.

    I found that to be true especially in math classes. I had a wonderful university experience, and I don’t think that anything did a better job of training my brain to do things that don’t come naturally than good math classes. Studying basic number theory or real analysis and having to develop really basic things from first principles made me a better person.

    You can be taught the fact that the square root of two is irrational. With a little bit of effort, you can be shown a clever proof that the square root of two is irrational and completely comprehend it. Most people, without serious practice and instruction in how to think like a mathematician, would probably never be able to prove that the square root of two is irrational. Yet, after a little time developing that part of the brain, proving things like that miraculously becomes second nature for those very same people.

    It’s not just about learning a set of steps or tricks to such proofs, either. It’s learning to look at problems in a truly different way, taking your natural intuition and turning it into a powerful tool. It’s an amazing thing. Math professors rock.

  2. #2 abb3w
    September 16, 2009

    Put simply: it’s the difference between focus on instilling beliefs and focus on instilling methods for arriving at belief.

    Which (less simply) may be due to a difference in belief about correct selection of a method.

  3. #3 Ian
    September 16, 2009

    I think one of the challenges that most university-level instructors face is that we want to teach our students to think for themselves, but we haven’t been taught how to do that.

  4. #4 Bruno the Dinosaur Killer
    September 16, 2009

    This is indoctrination? What about the indoctrination that goes on withing elements of the far left community of so called professors? What about the left wing version of history? The left wing version of the non-existance so called “Seperation of church and state” that is absolutely no where in the constitution?

    What about the ban on Christmas every year and young minds being influenced with indoctrination about “tolerance” of everyone’s beliefs, not the beliefs of those of whose “holiday” (excuse the pun) we are celebrating?

    What about the indoctrination of students in the so called science classroom where fruitcake professors dismiss biblical creation and replace it with one man’s idea of evolution – a man who justified racism by his own theory! What about that?

    What about the haters of traditional Americans? What about their indoctrination towards young minds to forget the “old fashioned” ideas and repalce them with secualr evil?

    The factof the mater is that good and evil exists. Right and wrong exists. They are absolutes. EXAMPLE:

    RAPE is WRONG!

    RACISM IS WRONG!

    MURDER IS WRONG! ABORTION, A FORM OF MURDER IS WRONG!

    See there are absolutes and all of these are absolutely evil.

    We conservatives don;t care if you don’t believe it , we just dont want you corrupting the minds of our kids that do.

    Stop teaching our kids that some magical cloud of goo exploded in space and becuase of it molecules turned into monkey and monkey turned into us. That’s not the way it happened. Amino acids are not living creatures! They have no soul, only a designer. Protein strands are not living creatures. They were designed though.

    There is no way that everything that is in perfect order and harmony in teh universe simply happened by sheer accident. Sorry.ut you are wrong Get over it.

    You use your evolution and your fake science to justify sin, but it just does not work that way. Wther you believe it or not You will be held to account before your creator one day. You can ignore it, bash it, smash, wreck it, call it racism, or whatever you people do when you loose an argument, but the simple matter is that we are rightmand you are wrong. Admit it and get over it already.

    Your worship of false idols (global warming crap, darwinist monkey worship, gayism, etc.) will only land you in alake of fire in the end. What will it have gained you then?

  5. #5 Ipecac
    September 16, 2009

    Re: Bruno’s post.

    Okaaaay. Was that satire? Because it was pretty hilarious. If not, then it was tragically stupid and ignorant.

  6. #6 NJ
    September 16, 2009

    Poe’s Law:

    Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.

    As perfect an example above as we will ever see…

  7. #7 SLC
    September 16, 2009

    Re Bruno the Dinosaur Killer

    I suspect that Mr. Bruno is not a Poe but is entirely sincere in his beliefs. The fact that he is full of crap and is totally ignorant of the subjects on which he rants is only incidental. The unfortunate fact is that whackjobs like him are all too prevalent in this country and, if they had their way and were somehow to assume control, they would institute an Eichmann solution against the nations’ intellectuals and scientists. In this regard, they differ not a jot or a tittle from Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. What’s even more frightening is that they are egged on by people like Norman Podhoretz who should know better.

  8. #8 Russell
    September 16, 2009

    Speaking as someone who studied math at the University of Texas, and whose significant other did her undergraduate work under R L Moore himself, I will say most vehemently that “transmission of doctrine” is NOT the way to teach math. This is the way to teach math:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore_method

  9. #9 Bob Carroll
    September 16, 2009

    I originally put Bruno in the Poe category, based on the tastefully low key series of grammatical/spelling errors throughout his rant.

    On rethinking this, I believe him to be a sincere dolt. His blunders of form and content are quite self-consistent.

    But we science types must always leave open the possibility of error.

  10. #10 paul
    September 16, 2009

    #8 “transmission of doctrine” may be a poor approach, but so is the Moore method IMHO.
    I also took a “Moore method” course at U texas (not form RL Moore) and one or two more in grad school. I’ve since taught dozens of graduate level math courses. My conclusion is that the Moore method is cumbersome and possibly just a slacker’s way to teach, since essentially the teacher does nothing except recycle their list of problems from the last time they taught this course. It only favors the best students and those who have studied the material before, and actively hurts the weaker students who would be better off learning from someone with experience rather than watching a fellow student. Assigning lots of homework works at least as well, and in addition gives the teacher class time to focus on demonstrating to the students that the subject is just within their reach.

    Back to the topic: of course fundies think college profs are trying to indoctrinate their students: Their “education” experience consists of nothing else (Bible “study”?) and grade and HS teaching in this country (and elsewhere) is at least 50% memorization of uncontroversial dogma.

  11. #11 Modusoperandi
    September 16, 2009

    SLC “The fact that he is full of crap and is totally ignorant of the subjects on which he rants is only incidental.”
    You fool! You can’t let minor distractions like “facts” or “reality” get in the way of ideology! Exclamation!

    “The unfortunate fact is that whackjobs like him are all too prevalent in this country…”
    From what I understand, they’ve got their own Party.

    “…if they had their way and were somehow to assume control, they would institute an Eichmann solution against the nations’ intellectuals and scientists.”
    No no, no no. It’s the Liberals who would put all of them in camps, and that’s why they have to do it to us first. We’re not just wrong, you see. We’re evil. I know! It came as quite a shock to me as well. Personally, I blame Charles Darwin. Or maybe James Hutton.

    “In this regard, they differ not a jot or a tittle from Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.”
    But those were all fascist, communist progressive Liberals! True story.

    “What’s even more frightening is that they are egged on by people like Norman Podhoretz who should know better.”
    The bit that gets me is how they can’t see themselves being used to help make other people richer. (On a side note: you know you’ve got a good con going when you can get people to argue against their own best interests)

  12. #12 Rieux
    September 17, 2009

    Isn’t this just more evidence that right-wing myths about liberals are, in more or less every case, big fat examples of projection?

  13. #13 Paul Murray
    September 17, 2009

    @4 – Bruno

    MURDER IS WRONG! ABORTION, A FORM OF MURDER IS WRONG!

    Hmm. And when God sent a great flood to kill all that liveth and breatheth on the face of the earth – including the pregnant women and babies – was that wrong?

  14. #14 llewelly
    September 17, 2009

    Posted by: Paul Murray | September 17, 2009 2:01 AM:

    Hmm. And when God sent a great flood to kill all that liveth and breatheth on the face of the earth – including the pregnant women and babies – was that wrong?

    God sent his son Jesus Christ to live on Earth. On Earth, Jesus Christ suffered on the cross, and paid the price for all sin, that sinners might repent, and be forgiven. Then God repented and was forgiven.

  15. #15 Dunc
    September 17, 2009

    Most of my classes use workbooks — thin, self-published transcriptions of the professor’s notes with one or two words blanked out per sentence. As the professor teaches, his notes appear on PowerPoint slides, and we fill in the missing words in our workbooks.

    Good grief – I thought that sort of approach was usually only used in the first couple of years of primary school.

  16. #16 SLC
    September 17, 2009

    Re Modusoperandi

    The bit that gets me is how they can’t see themselves being used to help make other people richer. (On a side note: you know you’ve got a good con going when you can get people to argue against their own best interests)

    The issue is, who is using whom. I’m quite sure that Mr. Podhoretz and his ilk think that they are using ignorant clowns like Mr. Bruno to further their agenda. A little history is in order. Conservatives in Germany in the 1920s and early 30s thought that they were using Hitler to advance their agenda. They were rudely jolted out of that theory when he came to power and quickly demonstrated that their priorities were not necessarily his priorities.

  17. #17 Tony61
    September 17, 2009

    When the right says universities engage in “indoctrination”, this is what psychologists call projection– projecting their negative attributes onto another, especially an adversary.

    This is a sign of pain. Another example is when Congressman who voted for wars based on lies call the current president “a liar.” Pain.

    Or when a family values Senator bemoans the moral collapse of society and then gets a blow job in a men’s bathroom. Projection and pain.

    There are examples too numerous to count…. it’s sad really, from an empathy standpoint. And now they have an entire University that portrays mass projection.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 17, 2009

    One of my colleagues here at JMU swears by the Moore method. I’m a little more ambivalent about it myself. In small, upper-level classes where the talent and motivation level is pretty uniform I think it can be effective. But if the class is large and heterogeneous I’m a little suspicious of it.

  19. #19 Modusoperandi
    September 17, 2009

    SLC “I’m quite sure that Mr. Podhoretz and his ilk think that they are using ignorant clowns like Mr. Bruno to further their agenda.”
    They were. The Right was using the Christian Right to deregulate and cut taxes. All the CR got, besides a soapbox, was the occasional Ten Commandments on courthouse steps and some poorly-drafted, unConstitutional laws restricting abortion (and even if they had managed to overturn Roe v Wade and the cases around that one, rich folk can go somewhere else to get one).

    “A little history is in order. Conservatives in Germany in the 1920s and early 30s thought that they were using Hitler to advance their agenda. They were rudely jolted out of that theory when he came to power and quickly demonstrated that their priorities were not necessarily his priorities.”
    So the teabaggers are Hitler?! I thought they were Brownshirts. Does that make Obama Stalin, FDR or Chamberlain?
    Oh, I find these tortured analogies ever so confusing! I don’t even know who I’m supposed to hate anymore!

    Jason Rosenhouse “One of my colleagues here at JMU swears by the Moore method.”
    I prefer the Michael Moore method, where he uses ambush interviews on Big Math, mixing jovial little-guy charm with greasy tactics.

  20. #20 oldfuzz
    September 17, 2009

    “At Liberty, unlike many secular schools, professors teach with the view that there is one right answer to every question, that those right answers are found plainly in the Bible, and that their job is to transfer those right answers from their lecture notes to our minds.”

    One could rewrite the opening as, “At Liberty, unlike most secular and Christian schools…”

    Most schools, even Christian universities, teach that there may be one answer for many things, but there are many answers for most, especially Biblical interpretation. It has been thus for decades. Ask any Christian cleric, “What did you learn in seminary that you won’t tell your congregation because you want to keep your job?” (Or if you are in Cincinnati, audit an Art Dewey class at Xavier.)

    Even creationists disagree on the beginning. There are YECs (young earth) and OECs (old earth) who believe the earth began 10,000 or 13.7 billion years ago respectively. How do they resolve this disagreement? They don’t. They accept it as a disagreement, but refuse to sanction the other. How’s that for inerrancy?

  21. #21 itchy
    September 17, 2009

    God sent his son Jesus Christ to live on Earth. On Earth, Jesus Christ suffered on the cross, and paid the price for all sin, that sinners might repent, and be forgiven. Then God repented and was forgiven.

    That is FUNNY!

  22. #22 scratchy
    September 18, 2009

    That is FUNNY!

    So’s this-POW!

  23. #23 John Kwok
    September 18, 2009

    @ Jason -

    Kevin Roose’s intellectual “adventure” at Liberty University was the subject of a superb cover story a few months back in the Brown Alumni Magazine. Thought I’d mention it as a quick reminder in the event you didn’t see it.

    Regards,

    John

  24. #24 Noel
    September 23, 2009

    I think Bruno’s comments are in essence showing that Bruno believes in absolute Truths, so in that vein, it is ok for professors to teach students ‘The Facts’ rather than letting them work it out for themselves, because in the end, if the student comes to a different answer then the student is wrong.

    While someone accepts absolute Truths as reality, I cannot imagine that their mindset would allow individuals to ‘work something out for themselves’, so indoctrination is the only way forward.

    The ‘F’act that bruno does not directly challenge the statement that ‘filling in missing words’ as an inappropriate way to ‘teach’ says it all for me, instead we get a tirade of opinions stated as facts.

    Love you all!

  25. #25 GravityIsJustATheory
    September 29, 2009

    “The factof the mater is that good and evil exists. Right and wrong exists. They are absolutes. EXAMPLE:

    RAPE is WRONG!”

    Well, that depends really. If the woman is an unbetrothed virgin, then its ok as long as you pay her father fifty shekels of silver and then marry her. (Deuteronomy 22:28)

    Of course, if she was enganged, then its a much more serious matter, and the rapist should be executed; although if the “attack” took place in a city, and the woman didn’t call for help, then obviously it wasn’t really rape, so she should be executed as well. (Deut. 22:23-27)

    And if the woman is a slave, then all you have to do is scourge the woman (Leviticus 19:20)

    Virgin prisoners of war, on the other hand, are fair game. (Numbers 31:15-18)

    “RACISM IS WRONG!”

    Just as long people don’t mix too much with other nations, like Zimri and the Midianitish woman (Numbers 25).

    “MURDER IS WRONG! ABORTION, A FORM OF MURDER IS WRONG!”

    Only if the woman herself dies, otherwise its just a minor offence deserving of a fine:

    Exodus 21:22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
    21:23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life

    Indeed, God seems to be quite happy both with abortion (when he does it), and killing women and children (when its done under his orders): http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/abortion.html

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