Arguing for Argument
14 October 2004

Re:

FrontPage magazine.com :: Shut Up and Teach! by Mike Adams, which includes excerpts from: Argument, which is a guide for completing an assignment for a freshman composition class at California State University at Long Beach taught by Dr. Clifton Snider. Snider's classroom behavior seems consistent with the assignment guide, at least according to this entry in the SAF Complaint Center run by Students for Academic Freedom.

- - -

Adams writes about a professor who, while pretending to teach students how to compose a written argument, is actually trying to get them to accept his general political orientation without any argument at all. The assignment guide lists 56 possible paper topics, almost all of which are political and many of which simply presume an anti-Bush, anti-Republican, anti-conservative position. Consider topic number 40: "Should Justice Sandra Day O'Connor have been impeached for her partisan, political actions in the Bush v. Gore case of December 2000 . . ."

How cheeky can you get? The question presumes that O'Connor's actions were "partisan" and "political." The only question left for the student to struggle with is: Should the Justice "have been impeached?"

I oppose Bush and his administration and his war. I speak and write against them. I argue against them. If I were teaching, I would want my students to become able to argue as well as, or better than, I can, regardless of their positions. If I were ever defeated by someone I had taught to argue, that would be the crowning achievment of my career.

Snider treats his students with contempt, as if they are incapable of noticing his sneaky agenda of indoctrination. Here is part of an entry from the Students for Academic Freedom Complaint Center:

On the first night of this class, a student sitting next to me who had apparently become disgusted by the teachers quote that "Bush is just as evil as Saddam Hussein" raised his hand and asked how Dr. Snider could even make such a comparison. I too spoke out and said that there is no way that you can compare a dictator who gasses thousands of people with our President.

. . .

This other student and I were instantly ridiculed by the rest of the class and told by Dr. Snider that it was all "the fault of the Fox so called "news" media's propaganda and that he would also like to show the class "OutFoxed" and another film on the Lies of Bush and Tony Blair to the world to show us what is really going on.

First, Bush is not "just as evil as Saddam Hussein." Period. No way! I would say that Bush, as President of the United States, has inflicted more damage on the world order than Hussein. I'd also say that Bush has inflicted more pain and suffering on the Iraqi people over the last 18 months than Saddam would have inflicted during the same period.

But Bush is more tragic than evil. Like Oedipus, he went on a journey after a drinking bout and ended up as a head of state. Oedipus had his Sphinx, Bush had 9-11. Bush then pledged to cleanse the world of the evil that led to 9-11. There are differences. The tragic flaw of Oedipus was his unjustified belief that his abstract reasoning abilities could lead to a cure of the plague that afflicted his city of Thebes. The tragic flaw of George W. Bush is his complete rejection of abstract reason.

There is, as well, something tragic going on in Snider's little freshman composition class. Those conservative students, bless them, learned something powerful from their experiences. They learned that they can take an abusive situation and make a public issue out of it and thereby initiate a process of reform. They have learned the power of the written word.

What did all the snickering liberals learn? That they never have to think about why someone might disagree with them? That differences of opinion can be dismissed because the other side has obviously been brainwashed by Fox News? That constructing an actual argument is hard work, but unnecessary if most of the people in the room already agree with you? I mean this most sincerely: I hope the liberals in that class realize some day how much they are being cheated.

The actions of Bush, his administration, his neo-con cheerleaders in the media, all point to a deep, devastating corruption on the American Right.

Snider and other professors in his mold point to a similar corruption on the American Left.

Addendum, 27 October 2004

Here is another FrontPage Magazine article about Dr. Snider's classroom conduct:
Is This an English Class?? by Marissa Freimanis.
She mentions three class period's devoted to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911. I think Moore is a fine propagandist and I think his movie made some fair points quite powerfully, along with a number of cheap shots, etc., but the only proper use of movies in a freshman composition class would be something like "go see a politically oriented movie and write a paper about it, pro or con."

The decline of American education over the last century can be easily described: Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Hello, Clifton Snider.

Addendum, 3 November 2004

In comments following the Marissa Freimanis article, an individual posting under the name Sol_Invictus wrote:

Higher education exists first and foremost to help a student destroy preconceived ideals, values and dogmas and to provide him with the intellectual framework to construct . . . his own system of thought and belief, untainted by any received tradition.
Another poster pointed out, "If we truly want to encourage people to develop their own, untainted system of thought and belief, then Dr. Snider's one-sided teaching philosophy does very little to advance this cause," to which Mr. Invictus replied:
Not at all. Techniques such as Dr. Snider's are of inestimable value. Socialized beliefs are often so entrenched that they can only be taken in the assault, so to speak, by forcing students to confront and discard their pre-existing beliefs.

That's a rather astounding statement, but I would bet many people in academia would agree with it. It is true, a good teacher can get students to look at things from different perspectives and that will sometimes result in students changing their minds about different issues. But what was happening in Clifton Snider's class was indoctrination, pure and simple.

On the frieze of Angell Hall on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, these words from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 are inscribed: "Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall ever be encouraged."

Now it seems that many involved in the enterprise of education regard its fundamental mission to be a radical transformation of society. Inane talk about "forcing students to confront and discard their pre-existing beliefs" serves to forward that project.

The Freimanis article is yet another worthy report from a front line of the culture wars, but some of the comments that follow are truly illuminating for what they reveal about various rigid ways of thinking that are all too common these days in colleges and universities. Read them and see what you think.

Addendum, 7 February 2005

Ms. Freimanis recently posted a follow-up piece on FrontPageMag.com: Victory at Cal State-Long Beach.

 
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