Monday, October 04, 2004

Brainwashing Students

Up hiking in the Boston Mountains this weekend with my fellow liberal university professor and her husband and our two little tree-hugging children (who literally hugged trees along the trail, to our amusement) and afterwards went down into Fayetteville where I spotted a bumper sticker that read, “Tree Good. Bush Bad.”

“That must be a Left-Wing person who drives that car,” the kid commented sagely.

“Yes, indeed,” I said.

And we were even out of the eight-block radius of the university and everything: out where the normal people were supposed to be ranging. However, we were in the parking lot of a bookstore, which I suppose could explain it.

I’ve been thinking since the other day in the auto shop, about this theory that we’re brainwashing these students into little liberal robots, my fellow professors and I. My first reaction was, naturally, an evil cackle. “I must use this power only for the good!”

My second was, “Yeah, right. What students exactly are those?”

Anyone who thinks that has clearly either not been on a campus lately – or has been, and is a willful idiot.

These students are not, as John Locke would have it, tabula rasa. They come to us fully developed, with minds and hearts of their own. I can talk, and if they will, they can hear. If I present good information, and that information leads them to decide things in ways their conservative families or (in six or seven cases I know about) husbands don’t like, well, that’s not because I brainwashed them. It’s because I taught them.

I was leading – trying to lead – a discussion on Benjamin Franklin in American Lit the other morning, contrasting the section of his autobiography we read with Rowlandson’s autobiography, trying to get them to see the difference between her theistic Puritan worldview, in which everything that happens to her, from finding peanuts in the woods to having her child die in her arms, is ascribed directly to the actions of an immanent, intervening God; and Benjamin Franklin’s deistic Enlightenment worldview, in which he sees everything that happens to him as resulting from his own actions – being caused by things he did, not things God did to him. “If something has gone wrong in Ben’s life,” I pointed out, “if, for instance, he is stranded in England at the age of 18, why does he say that happened?”

They glared at me with little stony faces, arms folded over their chests, refusing to take notes or even pretend to hear a word of this -- because how dare I suggest that God slash Jesus was not immanently involved in every single little breath every single person on planet earth took? And how dare I suggest that one of Our Founding Fathers had such an evil belief system?

One of the six students who is not a fundamentalist Baptist or a Pentecostal spoke up: “It’s his fault, because he listened to the wrong guy.”

“Right,” I said, slowly, and went on.

Brainwash these students? My pet goat.

1 comment:

mcboops said...

As Thomas Jefferson put plainly explains in his Notes on the State of Virginia: Query XVII. Religion;
"Truth can stand by itself."
You are not coercing your students to believe these things, just giving them another point of view from which to look. Hopefully helping them break out of their sterile Bible belt boxes in order to see the world overall and not just the small sections they are exposed to on the local 5:00p.m. news.
Jefferson also told us "Reason and persuasion are the only practical instruments of free inquiry and must be indulged." Keep teaching reason and persuading openmindedness to your students. This is the only way back to the "truths", our country and our world needs to focus on, if we hope to make it better in any shape, form or fashion.
By the way, anyone who is raising "true tree huggers" is OK by me!