17 October 2010

Academic Repression

As a thirty-eight year-old woman I am still working to get a college degree. For many years I avoided getting a degree because I did not feel like I needed a formal school environment to learn or a piece of paper to prove--to myself or anyone else--that I was an educated person. My thoughts and attitudes are evident in a discussion I had with my sociology teacher after an impassioned posting I had written for assigned class discussion. (A form of the original posting assignment is the blog post titled Utopian Realism.) His comments sparked some of the repressed animosity I have toward academia and modern education and science practice and philosophy.

Thank you for your comments Janika. Please remember that the discipline of sociology is one of the social sciences, like history, psychology, or economics. Issues of social class are as fundamental to the discipline of sociology as the personality is to the discipline of psychology. All people have different views on these issues, but few examine them at the level of a college student. Our discussions in the class are academic, and the focus is on gaining a better understanding of the material, and is not aimed at influencing beliefs.

When you read your textbook, please notice that there is no discussion on what is "right" or "wrong." Various theories are discussed (conflict, symbolic interaction, functionalism) but none of the theories are "right or wrong." Theories simply represent the different ways we perceive the world, and our perceptions of the world will generally follow one of the theoretical perspectives. Our biases are generally formed by our world view, and one of the objectives of the class is to help students in recognizing their own theoretical perspectives, and the social forces that goes into shaping their perspective

My response went something like this:
Thank you for your response. The way I see it, all sciences, even biology and astrophysics (a particular favorite of mine) are filled with people who have a biased belief. We are all seeking answers to questions about life and we all have specific goals in our pursuit of understanding. I will not pretend to be unbiased.

Whatever the "objective” of the class I have my own objectives for my education. My original purpose in returning to school was to study physical sciences and be a secondary school educator because I love science. Scientific method never refers to theories as "ways we perceive the world." Theories are something we are supposed to form from conclusions based on thorough testing to deem them right or wrong. However, because academia is as dogmatic as religion, and scientists are as emotionally attached to their theories as a zealot, they revise and append where they should re-orient and abandon inconclusive or incomplete theories. Re-defining the word "theory" in sociology is the ultimate example of this.

Pre-computer age sociology could not come close to rationalizing the complex equations and computations that data-based sociology requires. Because no theories could really be proven, could not really be classed as a science. Therefore, the approach you mention was appropriate to that time, but only qualified sociology as a pseudoscience. We have moved far past that. However, our entire course never required us to even read about data gathering and statistical method.

Science is the physical means of discovering universal law. I reject moral and cultural relativism. Universal truth is to be discovered by every person of every culture, and none of them have the whole of it. Studying all of them helps us uncover the pattern of foundational truth. Observing the results of personal and social behavior verifies or discredits the validity of the beliefs that undergird cultures. Strong, productive, and lasting cultures are made so because their philosophies and practices utilize some portion of universal truth (both ideological and scientific).

This, to me, is the purpose of sociology. That is nothing like anything I have read in the textbook. But it is what motivates me and makes me able to retain the quantities of knowledge that such a pursuit requires. I am not concerned about who agrees with me or how I am graded, but by sharing my ideas, I hope to open minds to non-standard perspectives and hope to find other students who challenge my perspectives with their own well-developed thinking.

As adults with significant life experience this format is for us to learn from each other as much as from our instructors. I want my fellow students to have the best quality education possible, regardless of the ascribed status of the university. We do not have to act stupid because we are getting and online education instead of a Harvard education.

You are right. Issues of social class are fundamental to our discussion here. I do not belong to the class of elite professors from prestigious universities who elevate themselves with their "peer reviewed" pompousness like the ancient priest class of middle civilization. I am a free and independent daughter of the information age. I don't care if I have a degree, but I will get one, so that, should my husband become unemployed again, I will be able to help my family, because I belong to a society that expects certain things, and I conform where I must.

Those who don't believe in absolute truth will never find it. Those who do believe at least have a chance of finding it, should it really exist. I will keep looking

I responded further to another student's reply.

My problem is not so much what we are supposed to talk about but the hidden curriculum evident in what we are NOT supposed to talk about. We read about family this week. That is the vital and fundamental unit of society, but not a single assignment in the whole course addresses it. Sociology is nothing without a firm understanding of familial impact on the greater society. If however, the importance and impact of family is minimized in education, it elevates the status of education as the fundamental unit of society and cultural cohesion. From a conflict perspective, it is about a power struggle for dominating control over the development of young minds.

And what about religion? That is another center of influence and power. If our education does not reinforce the value of religion while pointing to its own importance, it is again reinforcing its power as the central influence in our lives and minimizing religion's importance and impact on social development. The text pointed these things out, but we are not to discuss them to reinforce that learning. It is like the pundits after the State of the Union Address. We all listen to it, but then they spend two hours telling us what we heard, reinforcing the points they want us to remember, sometimes undermining (by skipping over) some of the most important statements the President was trying to make.

Knowledge is power. Who is directing the flow of information? How can we take responsibility for our own education to retain (or gain) our free and independent status?

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