Certainty, that is to say, is either for those much smarter than me; or for those who have given up completely.
I happily encountered a kind philosophy professor, my freshman year in college, who took the time to essentially deprogram me from the fundamentalist religious upbringing I brought with me into his Technology, Society, and Values seminar. Frankly, I'm not even sure I'd have turned out quite sane, without Charlie's patient Socratic questioning about "truths" I was so certain of. *No comments from the peanut gallery about my relative sanity, either.
What part of your upbringing and education do you look at and think, "That. That helped define who I've become. That person (or insert other noun of your own experience) shaped how I think"?
That said, you should read Michael Bérubé's Academic Freedom essay (via Making Light.)
What animates the radical right, in other words, is not so much a specific liberal belief about stem-cell research here or gay civil unions there; on an abstract level, it’s not about any specific liberal issues at all. Rather, it’s about the very existence of areas of political and intellectual independence that do not answer directly and favorably to the state. So, for example (and this is my final example, chosen especially for you librarians out there), when in April 2005 Alabama state representative Gerald Allen proposed a bill that would have prevented Alabama’s public libraries from buying books by gay authors or involving gay characters, he wasn’t actually acting as a conservative. Real “conservatives” don’t do that. He was behaving like a member of the radical right. Indeed, his original intent was to strip libraries of all such works, from Shakespeare to Alice Walker; and as he put it, “I don’t look at it as censorship. I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children.” Thankfully, relatively few public officials see it as their job to protect the children of America from the heritage of Western culture.
But some do, and that’s why academic freedom is so important. It may not be written into the Bill of Rights—you know, the real one, the one in the Constitution. It is far younger than the rights enumerated there, and more fragile. But together with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the freedom of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, academic freedom is an aspect of procedural liberalism that is one of the cornerstones of a free society. If you believe in the ideals of the open society and the intellectual legacies of the Enlightenment, you should believe in academic freedom—and you should believe that it is a freedom is worth defending.
Now--I admittedly associate anecdotes like the one above with southern and midwestern states, almost exclusively. Or I did, until the PA Intelligent Design case came up, and was so hard-fought.
Is there no sin in it? offers an interesting take on that snobbery and reverse-snobbery--which I'm as guilty of as the next guy or gal:
Those who would appeal to the uneducated hold that there is a coterie of liberal wealthy academics, atheists all, who spend most of a day out-laughing one another over dark witticisms in French while they rave over food that smells like old socks. The uneducated propose that, in private, these people must actually find bodily fluids funny.I think those observations are true and important, because those stereotypes polarize the opposite sides of the debate about what should and shouldn't be taught; and about how things should or shouldn't be taught. Deep down, she's got me pegged. On some level, I believe that if parents wants their kids to hear about Creation--or Intelligent Design, because frankly, I believe it's the same thing--those parents must be mouth-breathing Nascar fans with GEDs, and living in a 1974 double-wide, thinking frozen tater-tots are a vegetable.
Those who would appeal to the educated claim that there is a tragic sector of the population who are functionally illiterate, watch hours and hours of television, love killing things, and find nothing more wonderful under the sun than a well-timed fart. The educated assume that, in private, these people are deeply, solemnly at one with God.
That is, of course, quite wrong. So how on earth did I develop that conviction? Is this a media thing? How did these careful constructs get built? How did I manage to be so susceptible to them? This isn't a product of how I was raised. We were hardly rich and intellectual liberals--my generation was the first on either side of the family to complete college. So where do these come from, these polarized constructs in my mind?
While we're at it, how do you perceive the state of academic freedom? Are we in danger? Or for the more conservative readers, here--you know who you are *grin*--do you have personal experiences with academic bias? Not stories you've heard, mind you; but things that happened to you or yours.
What is the single most important thing to teach our children?