dog bites person; right winger endorses ignorance

North Carolina is “blessed” with a statewide center dedicated to right-wing attacks on higher education, the John W Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. One of their more prolific commentators is Jay Schalin, a small-time journalist with no credentials, experience, or expertise in education, research, or scholarship, but who apparently feels entirely qualified to present himself as an expert on higher education policy.

Some of Mr. Schalin’s gems in the past have included calls for less education overall, and a thoroughgoing plan for redesigning “essential education” to match Mr. Sahlins’ personal preferences. Yesterday’s entry, though, was particularly revealing.

In this item, Mr. Schalin discusses the new chair of African and Afro-American Studies at UNC, Eunice Sahle. Prof. Sahle is an accomplished, well-published political scientist and political theorist with global interests, a strong academic pedigree, and teaching awards. No matter, though, about her accomplishments, expertise, or qualifications; Schalin judges her ideas to be “injurious,” claiming that “sometimes ignorance is better” than exposure to uncomfortable ideas like hers.

Unlike the Pope Center’s other writings, in which their overall disdain for intellectualism and independent thought is veiled (if thinly) under a veneer of claims about instructional quality and public expenditures, this piece makes a thorough, unvarnished, and unabashed anti-intellectual case. It is better to keep students ignorant than to expose them to ideas that might encourage them to disagree with Schalin.  Dangerous ideas–presumably categorized as such by intellectual luminaries like Schalin–should be suppressed, their proponents marginalized. So much for the marketplace of ideas. So much for the critical evaluation of evidence. It is now entirely clear that Mr. Schalin and his sponsors have no interest in quality education; they are interested in ideological indoctrination and are happy to engage the most blatantly authoritarian claims to achieve it.

I suggest a new motto for the masthead of the Pope Center’s website: IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

7 Comments

  1. Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I have long worried over the threat that anti-intellectualism poses not only to higher education, but political and social discourse of all kinds. The especially difficult problem is that this line of thinking (or perhaps it is better to call it an orientation?) is impervious to evidence and reasoned argument. When academics encounter it, we almost entirely rely on more data! better, clearer, arguments! but that just doesn’t work.

    As uncomfortable as it is for many of us who are practiced in the art of considering ideas with which we disagree, I am convinced that the only line of defense against anti-intellectualism is mockery. Get right on that, will you Andy?

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  2. jmir
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I think mockery plays right into their hands – remember that part of the package is casting intellectuals in an elitist, snobby light. Making fun of them does their work for them. I don’t know if an appeal to intellect can work, either, but at least one doesn’t have to abandon the high ground.

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  3. Posted January 25, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    The issue is finding the appropriate level of deference to expertise, always a challenge in a democracy. But I’m glad I go to a dentist, trained, experienced, and equipped, when I have problems with my teeth. Biologists, physicists, and, uh, sociologists don’t generally command similar respect for their expertise. This is a problem far more serious and threatening to all of us than a handful of well-funded and ill-informed crusaders on the edges of influence in NC. Listen to the broader debates about climate change, deficits, or gun violence and try to find respect for expertise beyond the circle of marginal elite outlets you normally frequent.

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  4. ksiler
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    For the most part, there’s nothing nearly as awful as the Pope Center in Canada. However, disdain for academic expertise can also arise out of realpolitik alone. Expertise doesn’t get you re-elected in many democracies. Granted, this strategy might only be viable for a C/conservative party these days.

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/08/09/cracking-eggheads/

    Ironically, both Harper and Brodie are academics by trade.

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  5. Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Darn right, no one from outside the higher education establishment should dare criticize the higher education establishment! Likewise, only Fortune 500 executives can legitimately assess the behavior of Fortune 500 companies and only politicians should scrutinize other politicians. I hate it when the taxpayers who pay my salary try to tell me what do to. Jerks!

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    • Posted January 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Your comment makes no sense whatsoever. The problem is with the content of Sahlin’s attack, not with whether he’s “outside the higher education establishment.” Sahlins asserts, sans evidence, that a set of ideas is “dangerous,” that ignorance is better than them, and that they should be suppressed. These would be outrageous claims and positions whether they came from within or outside academia.

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  6. candrews1
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I would like to see well-respected (and tenured given the contentious nature of this) academics in NC publicly take this person to task.

    Otherwise, pseudoscholars like him end up having influence in public discourse.

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