Ayn Rand indoctrination in Universities:
What if I taught Atlas Shrugged by guiding students through a semester-long process of ripping apart every single page, while delivering a well-versed political critique of the socially abhorrent “philosophy” of objectivism? (Well, I would be immediately fired without recourse.) I’ve read several criticism of the university-as-corporation over the past few years, though they’ve tended to focus more on the consumer attitudes of students, and pressures exerted on professors who are actually trying to get people to challenge themselves, and not just fill up grade sheets with easy As. This article traces the problem to the source: massive conservative funding and privatizing agendas, which are successfully eroding any remaining semblances of oft-celebrated ‘academic freedom’ in a tide of money and propaganda.
Looking back, my seemingly liberal liberal arts education failed to expose me to the interconnected systemic oppressions of race, class and gender, or even to give me a clear picture of the kind of country we’re living in: an imperialist, capitalist, military dictatorship masquerading as democracy. I had to realize this outside the academy, through radical writing and communities, with an entry point through feminism. Admittedly, in college I mostly studied English Literature, which tends to put you out of touch with what’s happening in the world (not by inherent necessity, of course—I believe the study of literature can be as politically relevant as any study of history—but through the musty-eyed, obfuscatory way literature is often taught in classrooms, sequestering the students away into realms of pure language, symbols, motifs and themes which scrape the surface of real-world problems, but never rip off the skin). And in grad school, I did Creative Writing which is even more individualistic, elitist and careerist; despite a writer’s necessary engagement with “the real world,” discussion of this engagement usually focused on garnering material, profiling a readership, or navigating the bureaucracy of the publishing industry. Rarely did we talk, except in the abstract, of the political potential of writing, or engage with social problems beyond their narrative utilization within a story to create ‘conflict’. What I experienced was a friendly, supportive, intellectually-curious, but ultimately enclosed, self-congratulatory and bourgeois community of writers reading and critiquing each other’s work, with the intent of somehow making money off of writing.
Even after a year-long study of globalization as part of a community college honors program, which employed an economic, social and political analysis of this capitalist phenomenon, I emerged with a hazily rosy image of a more connected, communicative world, despite some problems. Though we talked about global homogenization and the destruction of indigenous cultures, the general attitude was of a Thomas Freidman-y, flat-earth optimism which espoused the benefits of micro-credit, the internet and international markets. Though I may be unfairly misremembering, due to my lack of engagement, it’s certainly true that imperialist wars, corporate destruction, world wide wage repression, and international racism were not made the focus of our discussion. No marxist or feminist perspectives were presented, nor was any sustained and integrated criticism of US. imperialism, neoliberal doctrine, or capitalism as the dominant economic mode; we read Friedman instead of Chomsky. We talked about the alienating technologies, but not the alienation of capitalist production. Taking the course now, I’m sure I would have serious objections, but at the time I was aimlessly apolitical and spent most classes doodling. I certainly can’t blame my professors for that, but in retrospect I can see my education marked by the insidious effects of a cultural climate which forces out into the illegitimate fringes any radical critique of the status quo.
Not once in my education did the curriculum challenge the existence of capitalism: sure there were liberal criticisms of its more egregious excesses such as corporate monopolies and extreme wealth inequality. But there was no theoretical or material understanding of the fact that these problems are endemic to the system, and certainly no exploration of alternative economic theories or collectivist societies (except as pieces of trash in the dustbin of history). My liberal arts education was truly liberal in its emphasis on individual development, abstract freedoms, and fundamental complicity with capitalism.
The article quotes the conservative dictum, “Ideas have consequences,” which sounds to me suspiciously Marxist. Certainly, what we are taught in classrooms comes loaded with the weight of truth, by simple virtue of being taught in a classroom, and those of us less critically engaged will easily buy whatever ideas are sold to us in educational market—in fact, we often have to accept and regurgitate the given truths in order to pass tests and classes, to receive the degrees we pay so much money for. Recently I was in the NYU library at 4am overhearing some students studying for their Economics finals. Their accents were not American, but South Asian. While dozing under a desk, I heard them running through the popular objections to US out-sourcing labor, mostly focused on the damage inflicted on the wages and quality of living of people in developing countries. The neoliberal justifications the students recited in response basically amounted to nothing more than “these objections are false, and even if they are true it doesn’t matter because out-sourcing is good for US business.” The blase way they reeled off this propaganda as unquestioned fact was, literally, a frightening wake-up call. I had heard of the unabashed capitalist monopoly over the Economics discipline, but never experienced it first hand.
The danger of this monopoly of ideas is not so much in the intellectual limitation of individual students, but in the way it legitimates these harmful ‘philosophies,’ forcing us as a society to perpetuate the alarmingly irresponsible policies which murder and impoverish people all around the world for corporate profit.
What are you experiences with educational biases and agendas? And have you had any great radical professors?