Education vs. Indoctrination in American Political Science Education

Noam Chomksy once said, “Get educated and I don’t mean go to school.” I recently went to work at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, on a one semester contract, to educate students in political science and international relations. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the overarching powers do not want to educate students, but rather to indoctrinate them and turn them into debt-ridden obedient workers. How does this relate to the role of a university professor in political science?

If you have tenure you can teach how you see fit on a long-term basis. Well, how does a  professor get tenure in the U.S? The famous psychologist Carl Rogers answered this question through his own experience:

I have often been grateful that I have never had to live through the frequently degrading competitive process of step-by-step promotion in university faculties, where individuals so frequently learn only one lesson – not to stick their necks out.

The operative phrase here is not to stick their necks out. Just as in politics, academics in political science are often weeded out by separating the ones who keep quiet on the most important moral and legal issues of our time and the ones that don’t, with the latter often being shown the door. Yes, there are some excellent professors in my field– let me put that out there so as not to offend those who are doing their jobs well, including some excellent human beings that I know personally. However, more often than not, if you ask a political scientist who is truly focused on educating students, you’ll likely hear that they feel they have to conceal truthful information in a wrapper and tip-toe around difficult issues. Some will say it is because this is a proper pedagogical method, letting students come to the information themselves. However, while this is good practice– since teaching is an art as well as a craft– what I have seen, far too often, is not a process of gently presenting students with sensitive material in a pedagogically sound manner, rather academics ignoring sensitive topics all together! There are at least two reasons why American students are not fully educated in political science and international relations.

1) Many political science professors and instructors went through the same American academic system in which they are working and are fully indoctrinated themselves.

2) Some academics in this field have a true commitment to educating students, but concerns for their employment cause them to walk on egg shells. They don’t want students to complain, nor do they want to catch the negative attention of the university administration– which is a big business entity as well as an educational institution. However, these types of academics tell themselves that their students are getting the material that is concealed in a carefully crafted wrapper– as if it is a subliminal message. One needs to take a good hard look at the general level of knowledge of American university students. It is poor, and it often sinks to embarrassing levels of ignorance. I’ve had university students that would still be stuck in eighth grade in many Western European countries. Many American college and university students have not had sufficient training in critical thinking, have only been taught revisionist history, and largely been exposed to biased, corporate news media coverage. How then are they to suddenly absorb and integrate such extremely subtle information that you, Mr. and  Mrs. Political Science Professor, think is given in such a pedagogically sound manner?

If you think everything is fine and dandy and the United States is a shining light on the hill, you are surely free to think as you like– but maybe it’s just because you never were allowed the opportunity to see a different perspective or a real history of your country. It is highly unlikely that you would see this other perspective in an American university– unless you find yourself in a class that I teach or in a class with someone else who has an equally bold commitment to truly educating students. This is a viewpoint and a lens with which much of the world views the United States. The good news is that this information is readily available to you if you desire it. In the words of Malcolm X, “I am not anti-American, the truth is anti-American. So don’t blame me, blame the truth.”

La vie est belle, profitez de chaque moment

Tweaking the Speaking

I ‘ve been speaking to audiences large and small since I was in fourth grade—when I delivered MLK’s “I have a dream” speech at church. The largest crowd I have ever addressed was at a rally at San Francisco Civic Center in 2002—40,000 people protesting the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and against the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian territories. Since then, I’ve given many one-time lectures at universities, high schools, youth organizations, and policy organizations– in addition to teaching college and university courses. Most of my presentations have been of high quality; at times, I’ve been in the zone and seriously moved a crowd—on fire, the words rolling like crashing waves. A few times, I’ve made the mistake of speaking over the heads of my audience. You certainly can tell you are doing that when you look at the audience and see people sitting up tall like merkats with wide open eyes and befuddled gazes, straining to understand the information. One or two times, I momentarily blanked out and completely forgot what I was talking about. The one time this happened in an extremely noticeable way, a year and a half ago (perhaps it was from mental fatigue or a high TSH level or just nerves), a woman sitting in the front row whispered to me—“You’re okay, you’re okay. You got it.” And I got back on track. Thank goodness!! There’s nothing like being in front of a full room and thinking to yourself– what was I going to say? Thankfully, that hasn’t happened more than a couple of times. Anyway, it was a great gesture by this very nice woman. I appreciated it, because it refocused my brain and helped me get back on track. It wasn’t a great presentation at all, but those are the ones you can really learn from and make improvements and work to get better. It helps to get a video copy of your presentation to review. Remember, an audience, unless you are going into an unusually hostile situation, wants you to succeed. They feel awkward too if you mess up. The audience is on your side. So speaking, like writing or painting, is an art form, and one grows better with practice. Some performances are going to be better than others. If you have talent for it, some days you will be in the zone and may amaze the audience, other days it will be good but not great. But the job of a professional speaker is to make sure that you reach a level of consistency in your presentations, so that you never disappoint and that the audience always leaves feeling informed and hopefully slightly entertained.

Reflections on teaching in Hawaii

I was a lecturer in International Relations at UHH in Spring of 2014 on a one semester contract.

What I liked about teaching at the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH)?

I loved sharing ideas and information, and hopefully inspiring some students.

The most rewarding part of the experience?

It was definitely having some students tell me at the end of the semester that I influenced the way they thought about the world. I really cared about inspiring and informing my students. The small administrative staff in my division was helpful and friendly. I appreciated that. The secretary, if that is the right title (it might not be), was always friendly and it was nice to go check my office box and say hello.

The most enraging moment of my experience?

There is only one moment that I can say really got me angry, and that would be when I asked mid-semester if the department had any faculty meetings and was told that I “wasn’t part of the faculty,” even though I had a faculty card and was officially full time. The previous school I worked at and many other colleges and universities invite adjuncts to faculty meetings, however this department, although it is small, did not. I couldn’t believe it, with all the work I was putting in to do my job, to actually be told that I wasn’t part of the faculty. Also, when I went to the new faculty and staff orientation, I was completely ignored or forgotten when they called new employees to be recognized– as if lecturers are just hired wage slaves not deserving of courtesy. I was annoyed. I think this should be discussed in a wider post about the poor conditions for adjuncts or in a post just on bad manners.

The worst part?

Hilo is a boring place to live unless you are a surfer (and the beaches are not very nice there) or studying volcanoes. Everything (and that’s not much) shuts down at around 9p.m., which leaves you with the only option of 7-11, a very sub-par out of the way diner, or McDonald’s– which I never eat. There is a lot of nature in the surrounding areas, but when you are working really hard and long hours, it’s nice to have something open at night. I was grateful for the manager of my apartment for welcoming me with Aloha spirit and taking me to see the volcanoes and for someone taking me to see Kona before I left the island, but as far as campus community for a lecturer or faculty events– there was absolutely nothing. Given how small a community it is– I would have thought it would be a little more open than just going through the motions and doing the bare minimum, if anything at all. I appreciated the few hallway conversations I had with a couple of the more outgoing or friendlier of my colleagues and the cup of tea with one. The United Nations Association of America Hilo Branch welcomed me with open arms as a member of their board and gave me a great farewell dinner, which was very nice of them. But as far as any structural cohesion or communication from my department, there was none, and I wished that there had been. I remember passing a dinner event and asking the security guard what was happening, and he told me it was a faculty dinner, and I laughed and responded, “I guess I didn’t get the memo.” I didn’t get an invitation.

My personal worst moment in Hilo?

I had food poisoning or a norovirus that hit me one Saturday. I’ll spare you the details, but in dedicated fashion I dragged myself into work on Monday and showed my students an interesting film. I didn’t eat for almost a week. I thought it might have been the crab cakes that I had eaten.

What I took away?

I had good experiences teaching, but I was quite isolated and bored in Hilo. During the summer, I attended the World Congress of Political Science in Montreal (a great city), and at the end of my trip I found myself mentally fatigued– part of that was probably due to the stress of my experience in Hilo, which could actually be any little podunk town in the middle of nowhere USA, except it has a coastline. A few weeks ago, I found out that I was hypothyroid with a TSH level of 9.24 and then 8.35, and this also may have greatly contributed to my feeling tired– in addition to a lot of work, travel, and that experience in the middle of the ocean.

I will write more about my experiences in Hawaii later…to be continued.