Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Schooling the love of wisdom, into the hatred of it

This is a small portion of an interview with a philosophy professor specializing in Aristotle, Carrie-Ann Biondi, on why she recently left Academia, and it is well worth reading. She goes into the problems that students have with being ready for college, how college has devolved from education to political activism, and how 'Critical Thinking' has come to have nothing to do with thinking clearly.

In this first snippet, she sums up how it has become ever more obvious that the issue which incoming college students have with being ready for college, isn't just that they are lacking knowledge and need remedial classes, but that they increasingly do not know how to recognize knowledge, and are unable to think through what they have or will learn.
Prof. Carrie-Ann Biondi
"...Hersey: I know you worked hard to get there. What soured your love for the job and convinced you to give all that up?

Biondi: ...I came to realize that I was spending at least 50 percent of my time helping students unlearn all their bad habits from before college. Many of them didn’t know how to learn. Many were terrified to think independently, and they really didn’t know why they were in college.

Some thought they were good students because they had gotten all A’s in high school. But they got all A’s by memorizing and regurgitating information that they were told to memorize. And that was not going to cut it for college-level courses, especially not in philosophy, where one of the most fundamental questions is: Why do you believe that? What are your reasons? There were lots of tears over the years, but some students were willing to work hard to break through. They unlearned bad habits and became motivated to learn how to think, to reason, to argue, to write.

A question I heard repeatedly over the years was, “Oh, my goodness! How come I never learned to do this when I was younger?” I often heard things like, “I feel like I have to start all over again!” Now that they knew how to think independently—had gained the courage and skills to do it—they’d say, “I wish I had been doing this for years so I could be doing even more of what I enjoy today, and at a higher level.”

I likewise wondered why they hadn’t learned to think independently earlier in their lives, and I came to realize that it’s because most students come through government schools, which reward teachers for pushing people through standardized tests and calling that education, though it’s not. So, a big part of the draw for me getting out of academia was to be part of the solution, to help address some of those underlying epistemological problems that left students unprepared to learn at a high level..."
She also explains how the problems of wacademia have intensified since 2016 to the point that administrators, professors, and students are not only uninterested in Education that does not serve political purposes, they've become hostile to it.
... But after the 2016 election, things became highly politicized at Marymount Manhattan, where I was then teaching. Throughout my career, there had always been a small percentage of faculty and students who wanted to politicize the classroom, to make it less about learning and more about political activism. But after the election, many students and faculty flipped out. That’s the only way I can think to describe it; they became deranged, politically, and wanted to push to a much wider agenda.

I’m not merely talking about some of the more radical Marxist-oriented professors. A lot more students wanted other professors—who were not seeking to politicize their classrooms—to make political activism part of their projects. And that’s something I resisted. They thought that they weren’t really learning something unless they could use it for social or political activism. They wanted course credit for activism-related projects in lieu of actual academic projects related to courses. A question I started hearing increasingly was, “How is this course relevant to what’s going on today?” If we were studying ancient Greek philosophy, and we were learning about the pre-Socratics, students would want to know, “How is this relevant to fighting for social justice?” In essence, they wanted to be fed what to say to win a particular political debate, to learn talking points that would help them take down opponents. And many students thought that pushing back on course material with questions like that would get me to change the course.

My response, in effect, was, I’m here to educate, not indoctrinate. You don’t need to know where I stand on certain issues. I’m not here to help you learn what to think but how to think for yourself about anything. You can hold your own political views, and you can come to whatever conclusions you see fit. But my classes are not to be politicized. Students, however, pushed more and more toward more indoctrination, which I deeply opposed.

Well, come 2020, the week of the riots after George Floyd’s death, everything changed. The college administration became overtly political. They crossed the line, traipsing on academic freedom. They said, in effect, “We’re going to vet your syllabi to make sure that certain viewpoints are embodied in them.” These viewpoints were highly political and highly controversial, and I was not going to be party to that. So, I knew it was time for me to leave academia. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I realized that I was not going to be able to pursue the values that, for twenty-five years, I had worked toward. I wouldn’t be able to cultivate independent thinking in my classrooms.

So, you can see there were those two strands: the epistemological problem and the political one...."
, and here she touches on how 'Critical Thinking' no longer even resembles the ability to think reasonably:
"...But there were certainly a lot of professors—increasingly, especially over the last five to eight years—who deliberately would not include canonical works.

Take literary criticism, for instance. They would omit canonical works and standard approaches and would focus instead almost exclusively on, say, post-structuralism, feminism, queer studies, or postmodernism. Leaving out certain approaches because you reject them, and including only perspectives you happen to agree with—I think that’s where teaching crosses the line into indoctrination.

Many faculty considered critical thinking to be synonymous with critical theory, which is critiquing canonical views—and, in their view, you’re not really critiquing something unless you’re taking an outsider or marginalized perspective on the topic. But that is not critical thinking. It’s equating independent thinking with adopting particular feminist or environmentalist or postmodernist perspectives. That conflation is deeply misleading and pernicious.

One key component of critical theory is that there is no objective reality. There are only subjective human experiences, and these competing narratives vie for power. And when you believe this, everything becomes a power grab. Instead of taking a principled stand to find out what’s true and to do what is objectively good, objectivity is out the window. Seeking to do what’s right is out the window. Everything boils down to a Machiavellian power grab. On this view, presenting alternative views in your classroom is a cession of power...."
[emphasis mine]
That process begins not just in high school, but in middle school, elementary, and now even in kindergarten & pre-school.

I truly do not say this lightly: If you are sending your child to any standard establishment minded school, public, private or charter - and church schools haven't been 'safe' for a decade - for an Education, it is more likely than not that that is NOT what they are getting there. They are not being educated, they are being trained into a form of thinking that PREVENTS them from becoming educated individuals, capable of comprehending knowledge, and able to think through it and pursue a life worth living.

We've left the realm of merely 'bad schools' far behind, and have entered into a situation where the standard establishment schools - public, private, charter, or church - are harming the lives, minds, and souls, of those students who are sent into them. If you don't have thorough first-hand knowledge that your school, its staff, teachers and curriculum are on the up & up... why on earth would you send a child - or a good teacher - into that school?


angie said...

The recent racism hoax at Parkway Schools is a perfect example of what the schools are producing. Students have been trained to view their lives through the lens of racism and oppression. Recognition and gratitude for the many blessings they have living in this country in west county are nowhere in their thought processes. And thus resilience or even an appropriate reaction to this ridiculous prank are nowhere to be found. And what does their superintendent do? He polishes and encourages their grievance lens. He said they have much work still to do, and with this attitude his work will never end.

Van Harvey said...

Very sad, and very true.