Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Subversion and Truth

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jun 10, 2008

Originally posted on Half an Hour, June 10, 2008.

Responding to Ken Carroll, who writes,

The real purpose of education, I believe, centers around the pursuit of truth.

The pursuit of truth is a subversive activity. It is probably the most subversive activity.

Authority - especially in our own society - depends typically on fiction. These fictions typically describe some way in which our rulers are ‘naturally’ rulers.

The divine right of kings has been replaced, in secular society, by the right of the ballot, but the process of democratic election is itself a fiction.

The teacher’s role is to help learners find truth, not to instill a particular political view of the world.

Quite so - but it is precisely this practice that is discouraged, and even punished, in our education system.

Our mechanism of testing, for example, masures not how much students are *able* to learn, but rather, how much they *have learned* of a specified curriculum.

Our methods of teaching focus on the memorization of facts, rather than the cultivation of disciplines - such as, say, logic and critical thinking - that allow them to think for themselves.

Students’ assertions of their own right to express themselves are routinely squelched at all levels of administration, including the courts.

The teacher’s role is to help learners find truth, not to instill a particular political view of the world…

Teachers express ‘truth’ every day; it is the major part of the curriculum. This ‘truth’ constitutes the academic subjects, as well as the system of values and expectations created by a certain ‘polite’ society.

Teachers deviating from this approved curriculum are accused of ‘preaching’ and of ‘ideological teaching’ - as though the pronouncements from the permissable perspective are ideologically neutral.

Crucially: if a teacher is to be expected to teach the pursuit of truth, and to value students’ own pursuit of the truth, then they must *model* and demonstrate their *own* pursuit of truth, and their own exercise of the freedom to express their own truth.

How could you ever trust the assertions of a teacher who says “you are free” when all teachers, without exception, follow some sort of party line?

To teach the freedom to pursue one’s own truth is to *be* free to pursue one’s own truth. You do not encourage the seeking of truth in the classroom by telling teachers to suppress what they believe to be true.

If this means that some teachers - or even a majority - espouse a left wing ideology, so be it. For people of the right to promote the freedom of thought by squelching what they believe to be left wing or liberal ideology is the height of hypocrisy.

If you want teachers to espouse right wing philosophies, pay them more. Otherwise, the vast majority of teachers will choose their profession based on some concept of the social good, a position that will put them at odds with the set of fictions created and promoted in order to preserve the ideology of the government (accurately described above as “the kleptocracy of the powerful”).

As I say to Gardner, who writes,

Anti-authoritarianism doesn't solve the problem of authority, in my view.

Anti-authoritarianism is, in essence, thinking for oneself, rather than thinking as one is told.

No problem of authority has ever been solved by any other means.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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