Thursday, March 01, 2012

Universities and Indoctrination

Do universities indoctrinate people, as was claimed by one of the presidential candidates? In one sense indoctrinate is too strong a word. In another sense it's not.

Universities are institutions. They're bureaucracies. Any institution imposes its standards, its internal codes, values, ideas, ideology, and message, not upon every member of the institution but upon the successful members of the institution. Or, if you don't accept the values of the institution you're not going to rise through it.

Those who aggressively rise through the military are those who most thoroughly accept, internalize and externalize, the military ethos-- who in their person embody that ethos. More than this, those who rise are those who best accommodate themselves to their superiors.

In a university, the "best" students are those who best give the professors what they want to hear. The best students accommodate themselves to the professors' own assumptions, premises, prejudices, and beliefs. They're the students raising their hands in the front row, eagerly being guided, eagerly providing answers which make the professor happy. They're the students talking up the prof before and after class. Ingratiation is part of the game in every field. I have a quote from a character in my novel-in-progress in which he talks about government, and offers up a favorite slogan from within government: "There's the right way, the wrong way, and the government way. Do things the government way."

I've already shown on this blog how writing programs perpetuate a sameness of writing styles and thinking.

Think of an institution or bureaucracy as a living organism. It will reject disruptive bodies that cause disharmony within the organism. An institution likes harmony and compliance within that institution.

The "Best" students aren't those who question the university or the codes and values of the university. It's those who most thoroughly and successfully buy into them. Is this indoctrination? When the student climbs the ladder through receiving a Masters or Phd, he/she has to give a professor an acceptable plan of work and acceptable thesis. I'm told that professors in these situations have almost total control over what the student is going to write and present. If the thesis presents new ideas, those ideas have to be presented in acceptable ways-- ways that conform, that take place within what are in fact fairly narrow boundaries.

The "best" students are the best in high schools, the most pliable, receiving all A's, and being accepted to the "best" schools which means the Ivy League, and performing "best" there-- then moving on from there and taking jobs at the New York Times! Conform, conform, conform. It's how American literature, once it began relying on schools instead of life to provide its writers, became a hyperregulated swamp of mediocrity.

There's an argument to be made that those who rise to the top via the educational system are the most indoctrinated. The most loyal to the values of the system. It makes sense, whether consciously or unconsciously, from the system's standpoint. It's how any system perpetuates itself.

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