Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No foolin'?

Sometimes I have a hard time believing what a person's telling me. I repeatedly had that experience about twenty minutes ago.

It all started when I asked a guy I was working with if he'd heard of the book "God and Man at Yale." He said he hadn't. I gave him a quick summary, saying that it was one guy describing how one-sided his education at Yale had been, and how socialistic many of the professors there were.

The guy I was talking to saw no problem with Yale being like this. As he put it, professors are hired for their expertise. They're going to present things from their perspective. When I emphasized the fact that the professors Buckley described made no effort to include readings from books that balanced their own viewpoints, the guy I was talking to saw no problem with this. He said that it's up to students to expand their own reading, and gather both sides. What I asked was, how is a professor encouraging this when he's only talking about what he believes, and not even mentioning how he came to believe what he believes.

I mentioned that Buckley emphasized the discontinuity between what Yale said was taught, and what was actually taught. For example, the school might say that they were in favor of the free market system, but in actual fact, many economics professors were decrying the free market system. [I didn't say this, but even though they were not necessarily self-described socialists (and even though they said they were simply trying to improve the free market system), their ideas were indeed socialistic. As Buckley points out, it's an old trick to pretend your aligning yourself with a position to improve it, when in actual fact you're intent on destroying it!].

The guy I was talking to did not address this head on. He just said something about Yale being a unique school.

I think it was after some pause that he mentioned that America's definitions of "liberal " and "conservative" are much less progressive than that of most other countries. Not only is the arbitrary center line between "left" and "right" shifted left in many European countries, but these other countries have a much broader spectrum of ideas. I told him that I believed that yes, these other countries he was mentioning did have ideas significantly shifted to the left, but I could not accept the fact that they had a broader spectrum of ideas. He said that they have multiple parties. I mentioned that just because we have "only" two parties, that doesn't necessarily mean that we have few ideas.

He said that actually, since the 1970's, there haven't really been two distinct parties. Both seem to agree on most topics.

I couldn't accept this, and said that I saw major differences between the two parties, on topics like abortion and homosexuality. He didn't agree, and said that these points aren't even mentioned in their party platforms.

I realized he was absolutely right on the party platforms, and mentioned that a UIUC political science professor had just presented a plot of the amount of words in both the Republican and Democratic platforms dealing with moral issues. I think in both cases, it was less than 2%. So how important can these issues really be to either party?

Even realizing this indifference to big issues, I still maintained that there were distinctions between the two parties. I focused on abortion, and asked him how a Democrat would typically vote on abortion. He hedged, saying it depended on the Democrat. I said, yes, it depends on the Democrat, and yet, in which way is a Democrat more likely to vote? He refused to answer the question, saying -- well, are they voting because of what they believe, or is it based on something else, like piggyback bills? He started talking about how many times things are piggybacked, and how little people realize it. I refused to let him sidetrack, and asked (seeing his reluctance to admit that a Democrat is more likely to vote in a certain way on abortion) -- Who is more likely to bring forward bills on Parental Consent bills? Democrats or Republicans. He wouldn't answer this, saying he had to collect more information. I laughed and said, "Well, it's not Democrats!" (My point was that Republicans are more likely to bring up legislation that is anti-abortion. He didn't want to admit this, so he hedged on why a person would cast a vote for or against a bill dealing with abortion. With the example of a bill such as a parental consent bill, I hoped to make it clear that a person bringing forward such a bill is against abortion. If Republicans are the ones that bringing forward such bills, and Democrats are more likely to vote against them, then at least some Republicans and some Democrats do not agree on abortion! I guess I didn't realize until today that this is somehow a point of contention!)

At some point, I did tell him that in many ways Republicans and Democrats are indistinct from one another. For example, both parties are big advocates of government spending, and neither are very good at balancing the budget. (Writing that leads me to question -- does either party really even want to?) He agreed with that, or at least he didn't say anything. But when I said that both parties are progressing toward socialism at different rates, he objected. Why could I say this? Look at the No Child Left Behind Act! That was sponsored by Bush. Yes, I said, but he was partnering with Kennedy on that. He still challenged the idea that both parties are progressing toward socialism at different rates. I brought up the fact that only the frontrunners of one party were advocating socialized healthcare and homosexuality. He challenged this, saying that Hillary's ideas on socialized medicine had died back in the 90's. I told him, no, that I had seen an exchange between Hillary and Obama on Youtube were they were wrangling over who supported socialized medicine more! He wouldn't believe me, but said they haven't made those changes yet. I was confused by this statement, and simply said -- neither one is in office yet!

Earlier, when he kept mentioning how much more progressive European countries are than America, I asked him: "progressing toward what?" His answer came so quickly that it surprised me: "A socialistic state." He was absolutely right. I sat there wondering -- if he can see this, why does he continue to accept this? (My motivation in asking him what "progressive" means, is that I thought he didn't know. In my mind, I envisoned telling him what progressive meant, then he would react with horror, and turn away from it. But that's certainly not what happened! He is praising "progressive" politics, and he knows where they are headed!)

A little more insight into this bland acceptance of socialism and our progress toward it was yet to come. He was talking about the characteristics of Republicans and I guess was trying to come up with maybe one distinction between Republicans and Democrats. He said that Republicans were war mongering. I said, "What about FDR?" He said that he was talking more recent history.

(I should not have clammed up. Why must we restrict our debate to "more recent history"? "More recent history" is still developing! More remote history (and only by 60 years, which is a blip, and not even that) can help us to put"more recent history" in perspective! I gave up way too easily on this point!).

I asked him to define warmongering. His definition hinged on invasion/attack that was groundless. I said something negative about Saddam (I forget what, maybe something about his intentions being known). He said that "at least it was under control." When he said that, my spirit sank. I have never felt such horror as I did when he said that. As he went on talking, saying that it wasn't that bad, I could only say "I didn't live there. I can't say."

(I think I was so horrified because this all brought back a conversation I'd had with a friend on socialism and control. He told me that the Left in our country enshrine people like Castro because both the Leftists and Castro love control. I told mom that I heartily agree with this, but that I can't reconcile this love of control with the hate of Hitler that the Left somehow manages to maintain. Then she told me that I couldn't expect their ideas to be entirely reasonable, and then I understood).

He said, well, at least they had clean water and healthcare then. I mean, not the greatest healthcare, but healthcare still! (The more he tried to defend life under Saddam, the more horrified I became. And then I remembered that the guy I was talking to was a Muslim.)

He then went on to describe how wrong we were to invade Iraq and try to impose some other system of government on them. I asked him if we had forced Iraqis to take our Constitution. He said no, but that since we didn't understand their culture, we couldn't understand that the parliamentary system we were trying to impose on them just wouldn't work.

I said, well, America will at some point pull out like so many people seem to want them to. Then it can collapse, and every one can blame America. (It was on the tip of my tongue to bring out the fact that no country ruled by Islamic law is a democracy, and to talk about how their religion inhibits it. Then I remembered that he was a Muslim).

Somehow, either before or after this, we got into environmentalism. I think it might have been after we talked about progressivism, that he started downplaying the effects a socialistic state might have. I came up with an example of how it's already failing: America could become much more self-sufficient if its government allowed oil companies to explore the oil reserves here in our own country. I mentioned the Shell Oil Company's president saying that currently they're only allowed to explore 35% of the US continental shelf. If they could explore more of this, then we cut our dependence on foreign oil. He said he didn't see what the government had to do with this. I told him that some federal land is entirely fenced off, and that oil companies can't even see what natural resources are contained in them.

His answer to this? Arabic oil is much more superior to the deposits you're talking about. I asked him how he knows this is the case, if the deposits I'm talking about haven't even been explored yet? He said that there are certain named deposits, and you drill around the perimeter to see what the oil's composition is. He said that much of the unexplored oil deposits are made up of "low-grade diesel." I told him I'd never heard that, but I'd look into it. (My question now: if this is the case, why would oil companies such as Shell be so eager to explore inside the US? Surely they know more about oil than the guy I'm talking to or me, and they want to explore these deposits! The picture doesn't make sense). Even if all of our oil was inferior, I said (without believing it for a millisecond!), couldn't we at least be independent for diesel? He said that it contains too much sulfur. I said -- well, you can remove sulfur ("sweeten" it). He said that it's cheaper to sell our cheap diesel than to purify it and use it ourselves.

Somewhere in this whole discussion we got onto education, and that's what we tossed around. He asked me if I had gone to public school, and I said that I hadn't. This seemed to send an alarm flag up for him, and he told me that I should look into it more. (Several of his family members teach at public schools).

I said that facts, should, of course be taught. That's the given. (I mistakenly said "foundation," but that's turning it on its head!). What I'm concerned about is the interpretation that is taught. I told him that right now secular humanism is dominating education. He hadn't heard the term, so I explained it to him. When I asked him about the creation/evolution debate, he told me that he would rather hear from a viewpoint that had more facts to back itself up. (So he didn't see my effort to distinguish between fact and interpreation! Which shows me that he, like many others, sees things naturalistically. While it is true that he is much more familiar with public education than I am, I am not ashamed of this. I see it like Plato's cave -- because I've seen what it's like outside the cave, I can understand what the cave really is. At the same time, I have got to doubly sure that I don't come off as arrogantly trying to pit private education versus public education. That is not my point at all. I'm talking about worldviews, not who gets better SAT scores).

On the creation/evolution question, he said that many disclaimers are being made in the public schools now, that teachers are saying -- this is only one theory. I pushed the point, though, saying that it's great that they're putting in disclaimers, but they're still presenting the ideas from only one viewpoint. He seemed irritated with me here. He said that, then, we should have people teaching about the flying spaghetti monster. I said that indeed, some ideas are absurd, and should not be taught. He countered that I was deciding that simply based on my own values. (And I realized -- I'm talking to a relativist. I am looking for universals. I want to know what the true nature of reality is. I'm not interested in creating a world of fancies where I describe things in a way that sounds good to me. If I was, then yes, you can say that my ideas shouldn't have to impact you. But since I am looking for universals, I'm looking for truth that applies to you and to me. If you're going to rebuke me, rebuke me the all the way. Tell me that my idea has no basis in reality, and thus, it would be wrong for you to believe it, and it would be wrong for me to believe it! Don't try to go halfway and tell me that my ideas might work for me, but they don't work for you! If we live in the same reality, then truth is truth, and it is higher than you or me. If my ideas don't really apply to this reality, do me a favor and tell me!)

Even though he did not explicity state this, it seemed that he put as much credence in the flying spaghetti monster as the creation story.

Earlier, as we were talking about the US political parties, he mentioned that another way that the parties are the same is that nobody wants to raise taxes. I told him I didn't agree: that raising taxes was part of progressing toward a socialistic state.

We somehow got from that to the state's role in education, I mentioned that I saw a problem with decreasing the age that kids went to school. I told as the role of the state increases, the role of the family decreases. He said that I was making a value judgement, trying to say what the family should be like -- that one parent should stay home with the kids. I told him I wasn't trying to say that, but that the trend in the size of the state is always changing. No one's content with the size of the government as it is now. Some people want it to decrease, but many more want it to increase! He said that there were programs at schools to encourage family interactions -- there's some kind of program with Moms and preschoolers, and there's PTA conferences. I told him that the Moms and preschoolers class is just another example of the state interfering with the family: it's a state-run program, and it dictates the terms of the program.

I told him that since the Dept. of Education wasn't described in the Consitution, I didn't think it should exist. (At this point, another guy had come in. He said that the Constitution didn't prohibit the Dept. of Education, and besides, Medicare wasn't described in the Constitution. I said that I didn't agree with Medicare either, but that's another point!).

I emphasized the fact that parents should be the ones deciding how their kids are educated. He seemed to take this mean that all kids should be directly educated by their parents, which wasn't what I meant. He gave a defense of the teaching profession, talking about how tough a job it is, and that most parents aren't prepared to do it.

I kept trying to remind him that I hadn't said parents had to be the ones doing the teaching, but that they should be the ones with say in the system -- not the government. I said, what the real question is, who's job is it to educate the child? "Both," the second guy said. I brought up the sign at Clinton Central that said "No excused absences." I told them that I really say this as a clear statement of how the state views the family: the state is more important, and they should have the final say on the child.

Somehow, from there we got onto homosexuality in the classroom. I think there might have been some comment on morals earlier, and the first guy was saying I shouldn't bring in morals to the school. I told him that moral choices are already being taught there. That young kids are having to read "Heather Has Two Mommies," or "Dad's Roomate." He told me that updating the curriculum to include homosexuals is the same as updating books to show people that have darker skin. It's showing kids some of the types of people that are in the world. (The second guy said that it's keeping kids from being sheltered).

I told them that including homosexuality in kids curriculum was much more than that. That it was part of a homosexual agenda. (They both reacted negatively and immediately). I told them that if you look at the motivation of the people instating homosexuality into curriculum, it's in order to recruit kids. The first guy's reaction could not have been more negative. He said that if there's a homosexual agenda, there certainly is a heterosexual agenda. I said, sure.

The second TA mentioned something about hate crimes. I am on a personal mission to prevent the term "hate crime" from coming into public use. I asked him what he meant by hate crime. He looked shocked that I didn't know, and I explained that I'd heard the term used, but I wanted to know what he personally meant by it. He said that it was a crime directed toward a person because of that person's sex, gender, or something like that. I asked him if he thought that a "hate crime" should be prosecuted differently than other crimes. He said that he totally didn't think so. We talked about how could you know what a person was thinking. He said, well, if the person admits it. I asked him -- if the only way we know what a person is thinking is if they tell us, then what if the person refuses to tell us what he's really thinking? [I didn't think about it then, but thinking about it again now, how can we really know which crimes really ARE hate crimes. And also, when was the last time that your motivation was purely one thing, and not mixed with other motivations?] We seemed to agree, but then he brought up a really good point. We currently do punish people differently, based on their intentions. As he said, if somebody accidentally hits another person with their car, or hits someone at a weak point on their head and they have a brain aneurism and die even though you didn't mean to kill them, they're prosecuted differently than if they deliberately go out and kill someone. It's a great point, and I've got to understand this better. I definitely agree that a planned murder should be prosecuted differently from an accidental killing (Scripture makes this clear!). But it does not follow that someone targeting another person because of their identity should be put into it's own classification.

Toward the end, I just restated the idea that you can't teach in a vacuum. Every person that teaches has a worldview, and it's conveyed in varying degrees. Some teachers may explicitly say what they believe, and others will convey it implicitly. But all the same, they have a worldview.

Both guys nodded their heads. It might have been because they understood, they agree, or that they wanted to get rid of me!

Looking back at our conversation, it definitely got side-tracked on state education, and what the ideal school structure would be. Typing up this conversation, I realize how often I allowed him to shift the point when he was losing the argument. I think part of this was a desire to be polite, and not hammer him. On the other side, though, it allowed him to continue in his superciliousness. I don't know what the better approach would have been, but I think it might have involved not backing down on points he was weak on.

I need to understand logic better, man!

Here's some questions I have, too:

What did Dewey teach?
What is Outcome Based Education?
When can I read "None Dare Call it Education"?

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