because I said so

telling it like I think it is: sunili’s blog

Encouraging Conversation

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We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers, leave those kids alone

Looks like Gregory Melleuish’s been listening to too much Pink Floyd… His latest column about liberal education raises some very valid points about the stagnation of intellectual debate.

To collapse many conversations into one is to reduce the vitality of the intellectual life of a society or culture. For ideas to develop and grow, individuals holding those ideas must be in touch with those who hold different positions so that they do not grow complacent and arrogant in their own rightness.

Apparently this stagnation occurs because there are too many whacko-lefties in universities. But surely if Tories weren’t too busy making money, there might be a more “fair and balanced” intellectual status quo in universities? So how about properly funding universities and paying people properly for their intellectual contribution to society, instead of forcing brilliant minds to the stupor of the corporate world? (Argh, my tongue appears to be stuck to my cheek… must be the weather.)

Greg observes that the problem of “academic conformity”

prevents any form of vigorous conversation occurring within the universities. Instead, it is left to journalists and mavericks such as Keith Windschuttle to engage the academics from outside the universities. The result is not a conversation but a shouting match that is more like a gladiatorial spectacle than a debate.

I totally agree. Pseudo-academic insurgency merely prevents proper discussion, analysis and solutions. We shouldn’t encourage intellectual blowback. Furthermore, the purpose of education is to encourage people to learn and make choices based on their analysis of all the information available. The presentation of only one perspective is “thought control”.

Greg’s solution to this odious scourge

is to create the conditions under which other institutions, including private universities, think tanks and institutes, are able to flourish.

But isn’t that just building a Colosseum in which intellectual gladiators may fight, rather than encouraging a civil approach to intellectual debate? Governments should provide “a more favourable environment” for intellectual conversation by supporting universities properly.

Providing tax breaks for think-tanks isn’t going to solve anything.

Update: A reply to the comment left by my Good Friend Anonymous because I have a cheap-arse comments system (can anyone help me out with that, not looking at anyone in particular?) which won’t accept over 1000 characters…

First of all, I reckon you should put your name to your opinions. You don’t have to leave contact details, but it really looks bad when you have to hide in Anonyland.

In any event, this is an issue of education policy. What I’m saying is that you can’t run around crying that universities aren’t up to scratch (which is what Greg was doing) when you support less funding for them (which is what, let’s face it, Greg does). What we need are universities which are able to hire enough staff from diverse backgrounds and keep them there so these institutions are able to provide students with the opportunity to understand all facets of the debate.

The problem at hand is that universities are unable to have enough staff to teach classes let alone provide differing viewpoints, further exacerbated by the fact they just can’t attract the right people by paying them properly (although another issue is whether Right people want to be involved in the first place; they seem to happy sitting on the side lines having a whinge).

The think-tanks Greg wants tax breaks for are not “true think-thanks”. They are intellectual lobby-groups. They do not ‘thoroughly [discuss] all options’; they present very partisan opinions in the hope of influencing decision makers. They are not an arena for encouraging “vigorous conversation”, they are participants in the inevitable “shouting match” which results from the fractionalisation of the intelligentsia.

If it needs to be made clearer for you, Anon, what I’m saying is that Greg can’t bemoan the lack of intellectual conversation in universities then argue the best way to solve this problem is to encourage external shouting.

My solution, to repeat myself in case it was *misread* the first time, is to encourage conversation within universities so THEY really can be “true think-tanks”, and this should be done through providing proper funding and support for what they were established to do, cf pumping up partisan gladiators with ridiculous tax-breaks. Of course, if we’re supposed to be so obsessed with tax breaks, yes, give them to the universities, but not hacks from think-tanks.


Written by Sunili

20 December 2004 at 9:44 am

Posted in education

Tagged with ,

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