The Classroom Without Reason
by Douglas Campbell
Douglas G. Campbell is a lecturer with the Department of Recreation and Parks Management at California State University at Chico, Chico, CA, 95929; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Afew years ago I was asked by the instructor of a philosophy class, then titled “Roots of War,” to discuss with his students the culture of the U.S. military community. After identifying myself as a former career military officer, I discussed my impression of our military’s culture. When I was done, a young woman who had been glowering at me and holding her arms tightly across her chest raised her hand. When called upon she vehemently said, “I don’t agree with you. I don’t think it is anything like that. You have just been brainwashed by the military.”
“OK,” I said, “what do you think our military’s culture is like?”
“Well, certainly nothing like that,” she sputtered. I could see some heads in the class nodding in agreement.
I asked, “Could you share with us your experience in or around the military?”
“I haven’t had anything to do with the military,” she indignantly replied.
“Have you extensively studied the U.S. military or worked with current or former members of the military?”
“No,” she angrily said.
“So where have you gotten your impression of the military’s culture?” I tried to ask softly.
“I am entitled to my opinion, and I think you are a Nazi!” was her voracious reply. The class was clearly enjoying her attack on me at this point and the philosophy professor sat smugly satisfied.
I decided to end this ridiculous exchange: “So let us review. You have no personal experience or knowledge of the military. You have not studied the military. You cannot explain why you disagree with me. And you think you are entitled to your opinion. Well, I agree with you on one point. You do have a right to an opinion, and I have a right to point out that yours is an ignorant opinion—ignorant because by your own admission it is not based on any facts, education, research, or experience. Your opinion is apparently based on nothing more than simple ignorant prejudice.”
The class was silent for a moment. The young woman began to sob and yell at me, “You can’t say that to me!”
I replied, “Yes I can, because it is the truth.”
The now visibly upset philosophy professor said, “Doug, you are being a little harsh on her.”
“No Ron, I am just stating the truth.”
“Well Doug, you have to respect her feelings.” Much of the class was nodding in agreement while attempting to soothe the young woman who was now obviously enjoying the attention.
“Gee Ron, I thought this was a university where we discussed subjects rationally using facts and logic.”
“A lot of us feel the same way she does,” the philosophy professor responded, as if that were justification for her ignorance and her personal insults.
Fed up with the charade, I walked out of the class.
Later, I sat in the campus office of a friend, relating the story. He smiled and occasionally laughed as I recounted what happened. “Of course you were right Doug, but you can’t say that here. Where do you think you are, America?” We both laughed, while knowing that it was no laughing matter.
My friend calmly pointed out what I had already surmised. The philosophy professor wanted the young women to believe what he believed. He had played upon the students’ ignorance and on their feelings, fears, and prejudices to ensure that they felt the way the young woman did. He expected me to be attacked and did not anticipate my defense. He objected to my reply to the student because my words might have had the effect of breaking the spell he had woven, and perhaps would cause his students to reconsider their indoctrination. Rational discussion was not that professor’s goal.
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