Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Daniels, Zinn, and Higher Education

You may have heard that some emails have surfaced from 2010 in which then Governor Daniels expressed his desire to make sure Howard Zinn was not part of Indiana University's training for secondary school teachers.  Certainly we are all allowed to think of various positions as excrement, and special care should be given to what is taught in public schools.

I've only read a couple chapters of Zinn's book, so I can't speak to its excremental qualities. But the situation is a good reminder about what a quality education and, indeed, what the pursuit of truth is really about.  Knowledge of facts is clearly an important element of education, but arguably the most significant element is learning how to think critically.

A quality education will present multiple perspectives and develop a student's ability to arbitrate between them. Quality colleges are not institutions of indoctrination, as if the truth needs us to hide the alternatives. Quality institutions of higher learning try their best to look at each interpretation of the evidence as objectively as possible, both for strong points and weak points.

So if a liberal professor were to disallow all perspectives but that of Zinn, that would be a bad education.  I imagine there is some of that going around here and there. Similarly, if Daniels in his new role were to try to keep Purdue professors from presenting Zinn, it would immediately disqualify him from his job. I don't imagine he will try that.

It is a reminder, though, that those who cry "truth" the loudest are often those least interested in it. God is not worried about the new atheists, because he knows he exists. Go ahead, present your case to the contrary.

If we are really interested in the truth, we are willing to listen as objectively as possible to varying and contrasting perspectives.  We are even willing to change our mind given a sufficient basis.  God would change his mind about his own existence if you could convince him :-)

Anger and militancy can actually be a sign of insecurity about what one believes, a kind of compensation for lack of substance.  Not always, but often.

Feel free to disagree...


Susan Moore said...

Part one.
I think one must pause before making equivocal the methods of learning and teaching various and conflicting views of historical ‘truths’, with various and conflicting views of absolute truth. One would expect that views of history will be as varied and as conflicting as there were the number of witnesses to the historical event under examination. For instance, if there were five witnesses to an event, then I would expect there to be five different points of view about what happened during that event, and that all five views may conflict in some ways with one another. And it is equally possible that only one of those views is true, or that none of them are true. Attempting to study historical events through other peoples’ eyes may be as much a study into the thinking, perception and motivation of each of those people, as it is a study of the historical event, itself. And how does one choose which view is most truthful, if one is so led to make a choice? And what makes a person’s heart pick historical view ‘A’ over historical view ‘B’? And when a sibling picks ‘B’ over ‘A’, then how is that conflict handled within the sibling relationship? I would have no issue having my children, regardless of their ages, study various views of historical ‘truths’ within the goals of strengthening their compassion by seeing the world through other people’s eyes, as well as strengthening their critical thinking skills by comparing and contrasting views. In my mind, studying history can be used to strengthen both our hearts and our heads.

Susan Moore said...

Part two.
But I cannot say the same is true when studying and comparing relative truth to absolute truth. I believe there is only one absolute truth, and it exists within the triune God who created the universe in six 24 hour periods, and then rested. I believe the God who created light before He made the things that give off light, the God who made the sky before He made the gasses that filled the atmosphere, the God who sent water to its places and then formed the dry land around the water, is the same God who created the 24 hour time period before He made the movements of the celestial bodies that mark it. No, I do not want my yet fallen or new Child of Christ to be intentionally exposed to teachings that reflect relative truth before they are saved, and strong enough in their faith to understand and at least ‘see’ the difference between the Christian worldview and the non-Christian worldview as it plays out in their everyday lives. And as a teacher, I would refuse to teach it to them. If I did not refuse to teach it to them, I would be putting a false god (probably in the form of my paycheck) before the God who saved me and healed me. One would expect there to be consequences for my lack of integrity and sin against God. Those consequences, I would suspect, would play out in my life, my children’s lives, and the institution that intentionally tempted me to sin or go against my conscience.
I would think that just about everything can be taught at IWU, but because it refers to itself as a Christian school it must assume a Godly charge to impart not just knowledge but also wisdom into unformed or newly forming minds, therefore whatever is taught must always be taught from the perspective of a Christian worldview. For hypothetical example, I would expect a Christian university to suffer consequences of teaching ‘counseling’ from a secular psychological viewpoint, instead of from the viewpoint of the Wonderful Counselor, who is full of forgiveness and grace.
The Bible sets the bar for every other written work in regards to the amount and quality of influence its words have had on humanity. In my own life, there are two other books that have strongly influenced my own global humanity. One is called ‘The True Believer’, by Eric Hoffer. Most likely and unfortunately, it’s still out of print. Because of my apparent suffering from having been exposed to ritual abuse as a child, my first psychiatrist almost demanded that I find a copy of it and read it. So, I did. I was seventeen. If I remember correctly, it was a Hoffer’s graduate thesis. It’s a study of fanaticism and mass movements. The concept of fanaticism tends to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. One only needs to think of recent and unprovoked violence within our own country to have a mental picture about what a fanatic looks like. But one must also remember that Jesus was a fanatic when He walked on this earth. If that is true, then unchangeable God still desires to be a fanatic through us. If we, as followers of Christ, do not accept His identity as aliens to this world, then we are not truly His. We are nothing more than the gawking crowd that is persuaded by every wind of truth that blows our way. Was He militant and angry? Absolutely not! Quite the contrary. He was a fanatic in that He overflowed with sacrificial love as a servant-leader who expressed truth and compassion from every pore of His being. We must desire this way, His way, too, because we know Him as the way, the truth and the life. We who say we are His must then follow Him, and walk only in His way.