Assault on (Higher) Education – a Lakoffian Perspective

Assault on (Higher) Education - a Lakoffian PerspectiveThis post was first written on October 28, 2004 on Science And Politics, then it was republished on December 05, 2005 on The Magic School Bus. The Village vs. The University – all in your mind.

Eric at Total Information Awareness wrote two excellent posts on something that touches me personally, yet has much broader consequences on the country as a whole: the well-organized and well-funded assault of the Right on the University (check some links in the comments section, too): Freedom Fighters and Academic Freedom Fighters.
There were a couple of other articles on the same topic, e.g.,The Right’s Kind of Campus, Thought Control for Middle East Studies and University of Fear.
In Lakoffian perspective, the ultimate goal of Strict Father ideology is the defense and spread of Strict Father ideology, with no tricks and tactics entirely deemed a ‘no-no’.
As I keep repeating, inculcation into an ideology is a developmental process starting at birth. Strict Father parents will, without much effort (or perhaps using Dobson’s childrearing books they buy at christian bookstores), produce little Strict Fathers of the future. Unfortunately for them, the “childrearing” shelves in bookstores are packed with Benjamin Spock, Penelope Leach, T.Berry Brazelton and the like – an extremely Nurturant Parent bunch of advisors.
But once the kids leave home to go to school, there is interference, as the teachers are generally Nurturant Parents, thus negating the influence of home. For this reason, many conservatives home-school. For the same reason, conservatives push vouchers, pass and underfund NCLB, and generally try to undermine the public schools in order to usher as many kids, especially “their” kids, into parochial schools that continue the Strict Father indoctrination (including corporal punsihment etc.).
In a previous post I used the village and the university as examples of environments in which Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models, respectivelly, are easily reproduced. I meant that quite literally. James at the “The Left End of the Dial” understood these to be metaphors, and he may be right.
The metaphor of The Village aptly describes a small, intimate, closed, and a bit paranoid community, in which everyone knows everyone else, keeping the traditions is one of the most important aspects of life, everyone knows one’s place, and you can envision the local schoolteacher in a small village school pulling ears and using his ruler to punish every inkling of a kiddo questioning his authority. The outside world is strange and uncomprehensible, thus scary.
The University as a metaphor, on the other hand, evokes a large bustling community of strangers, each bringing in a different set of traditions and beliefs, all questioning authority, all dependent on each other for learning and personal growth. This is an example of a network of intertwined and inter-dependent destinies, each coming in, contributing something, taking away something, and leaving more appreciative of the world as a whole. Students learn from professors, professors learn from students, students learn from students, old barriers fall, old prejudices are erased. It is no coincidence that The University is a metaphor for a Nurturant Parent model of a community.
It is also no coincidence that The University is the seeding place for progress of the society, a place where new ideas first arise before they are disseminated, by departing graduates, into the big world. Of course most of the faculty are liberal. Of course this is a place where young conservatives see the light and become liberals – their own experience in college forces them to abandon the outdated beliefs and traditions they brought from the Villages they grew up in. Liberal Enlightement is slowly and steadily replacing the medieval conservativism, and The University is the way station where this conversion takes place.
So, of course, The University, being the main nexus for turning young Strict Fathers into adult Nurturant Parents, is the logical next target for the remaining rabid conservative groups. If they are to survive, and they can feel the time is working against them, they have to stem the flow of kids leaving them and joining the modernity. Their attempt at imposing conservative faculty on colleges is the most logical thing for them to do. They are pretty smart with the tactics and the use of language, but they are fighting an uphill battle as their enemies are the smartest, best educated, most liberal, and most political people in the country, people who can read right through the fog of words, and have such a majority voice at the University, they will not find it too difficult to defend themselves and their students from the assault of the Right. We’ll wait and see if I am correct to feel this optimistic.


3 responses to “Assault on (Higher) Education – a Lakoffian Perspective

  1. I hate to break this to you, but Universities are run as Villages.
    If you grow up with parents who are nearly archetypical “Nurturant Parents”; if you were raised in a house that mostly ignored gender roles and aggressively rejected capitalist values not as a matter of rhetoric but as a way of life; if you were homeschooled not because your parents wanted more control over your schooling but because they thought you deserved more control over your own education… universities are stiffling, stuffy, pedantic, authoritarian places where people fight petty battles over parking instead of becoming meaningfully politically engaged.

  2. Which university do you go to? You must go to Oral Roberts if you think it’s that fucking bad.
    I’m a Wisconsin Badger, and for what it’s worth, I love my university. It is about as ‘Nurturant’ as it gets.

  3. I’m doing my graduate work at an academic medical center branch of a different Big Ten school; I did my undergrad at UIUC. I was not aware there were that many dramatic cultural differences between Large Midwestern Land Grant Universities… well, except that mine was better than yours in CS 😉
    So I think my opinion is shaped not by our schools being so different, but by the fact I’ve had such a dramatically different basis for comparison. Had I gone to a typical high school, I undoubtably would have felt University represented expansion of my freedom. Given that I was unschooled, I felt horribly confined. Part of it is the sheer size of such universities- it’s awfully hard to be “nurtured” when you are one of 300 students (that said, I can think of at least four professors who did rather amazing jobs of getting to know individual students and encouraging discussion… but they couldn’t make it work most of the time just due to logistics).
    I put my view out there not as “this is the truth, you are blind not to see it” but as a “you are so confined by the status quo you don’t even see how different it could be”. “Universities = progressive” is a common cultural meme… but it all depends on what you are comparing them to, really.