February 28, 2012
On at least two occasions in recent weeks, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has charged that U.S. colleges and universities “indoctrinate” students. He said it once in a long interview with Glen Beck on February 23, and he had said it in October in an interview with Shane Vander Hart, who blogs at CaffeinatedThoughts.com.
To Beck, Santorum charged that the reason President Obama wants to send every young person to college is because they are “indoctrination mills.” To Vander Hart, Santorum suggested that even though he believed there should be less federal regulation of education that he would support a requirement, enforced by accreditors, that colleges have equal numbers of liberal and conservative professors as a condition of receiving federal financial aid. You can read a transcript of that conversation here.
Laugh, cry, but certainly shake your head at the sheer madness of imagining such a regulatory apparatus.
Conor Friedersdorf, a conservative blogger for the Atlantic, writes an interesting response “Admit It, American Colleges Do Indoctrinate Students.” After praising much about American higher education, he says, “It is nevertheless true that institutions of higher education generally value reason more than faith; they value intellectual achievement more than moral achievement; they’re implicated in America’s careerism; they advance a whole host of value judgments under the banner of diversity, some of them uncontroversial, others deeply contested; and if the typical American college was more like Hillsdale or Notre Dame or Bob Jones than Harvard in its value judgments, I cannot believe President Obama would be equally enthusiastic about subsidizing them.”
In today’s New York Times, columnist Frank Bruni pushes back, arguing “It’s a College, Not a Cloister.” He acknowledges “that many universities skew more politically progressive than the general population. They’re dominated by people in their late teens and 20s, the age range that represents a particularly experimental chapter in life. And over the last half century, when it comes to issues of, say, race and sexual orientation, younger generations have often demonstrated more acceptance and open-mindedness than older ones.” And he adds, “That, fortunately, is the arc of social change, distilled on campuses.”
Bruni goes to to say that a college education “does what it’s supposed to do, encouraging young adults to survey a broader field of perspectives, exhorting them to tap into a deeper well of information, inviting them to draw their own conclusions, and allowing them to figure out for themselves what they believe and who they are.”
Reading about this controversy I grew curious about the origins and etymology of “indoctrinate.” Etymology.com tells us this about the words: “indoctrinate” and “doctrine:”
I am intrigued that the words originally had a positive valence having to do with teaching and learning. But much like “politically correct” (who wouldn’t want to be “correct” in thinking or acting?) the words come to take on a sense of being told what to think instead of thinking for oneself.
I am for education that helps students to think and learn for themselves, and I believe we all need .