Educators and Academics: Educate Yourselves as Americans Turn to the Right
As Americans increasingly buy into political notions that prioritize budget cuts over the provision of necessary human services, educational institutions across the country find themselves facing severe economic crises. Teachers face layoffs. College professors witness their students increasingly distracted by economic fears. Classes at all levels are overpacked, making individual attention to students’ needs increasingly difficult to supply. From kindergarten to graduate and professional schools, the threat of online or computerized teaching replacing face-to-face teaching puts the very future of the education profession in doubt. The resulting economic insecurity pervades teachers’ consciousness.
And yet, educators and academics in some ways helped to create this crisis by failing to introduce students to a different worldview that would have protected education and prioritized caring for others over maximizing the bottom line and looking out for number one.
Few of us have any ability to offset the massive indoctrination toward materialism and selfishness offered by the mass media. The call to maximize self-interest at the expense of others and the belief that success is measured by how much money or power you can accumulate, how many consumer items you possess, how much fame you garner, how many sexual conquests you can boast about, or how much your looks conform to popular images of beauty—these are drummed into our heads by the media in subtle but persistent ways, day in and day out.
There’s only one group in society that has similar access and ability to shape the worldviews and belief structures of most Americans: teachers and academics. The vast majority of Americans go through school, and many go through colleges and professional schools, where they have an opportunity to learn a different set of values. But most don’t. And this is the fault largely (not entirely) of the teachers and academics who play a major role in shaping what those students learn.
Don’t get me wrong. I was a college professor for many years and I know how difficult it is to counter the dominant ideology that has already been internalized in the consciousness of most Americans. They believe that they live in a meritocracy, that they are going to “make it” if they really try, that the system is fundamentally fair or can easily be reformed if enough people want to make changes, that class background is irrelevant to future success, and that the world is made up of people who are fundamentally selfish and hence unreliable as potential allies. By the time students reached my classroom, these ideas were not only deeply ingrained—they were also experienced by most students as a “personal” outlook that they had come to by themselves. Most were unaware of how much these ideas had been drummed into their heads and shared by almost everyone around them.
But it wouldn’t be impossible to challenge these ideas if schools and colleges were interested in doing so—that is to say, if schools and colleges were to help students reach a more accurate understanding of the world in which they live. Students could be taught that billions of people on this planet want a world based on love, kindness, generosity, caring for each other, environmental sustainability, and joy, but that these same people have come to believe that nobody else really wants that kind of a world. Most people believe that they are being foolish, naive, childish, or unsophisticated if they act to bring such a world into being. And many fear that they will be humiliated, lose economic opportunities, and find themselves isolated, lonely, and abandoned should they act on these desires. Education ought to help students develop confidence in their own capacities to work for a world based on caring and to develop the skills needed to make such a world work.
For students to believe that such a world is possible, thereby rejecting what their parents and their favorite TV shows have taught them, they would need to have transformative experiences in their educational institutions. Educational institutions would have to intentionally counter the dominant ethos of materialism and selfishness, and replace it with an ethos of empathy. ...
Lerner, Michael. 2012. Educators and Academics: Educate Yourselves as Americans Turn to the Right. Tikkun 27(1): 5.