"Teaching as a Subversive Activity": The Theory of Political Indoctrination
Clip 2: "A Two-Edged Sword"
H. Douglas Brown: Is all language teaching — does all language teaching have that same motive? Some of you may have taught at or been to the DLI, the Defense Language Institute, down in Monterey. And I would say when I was down there for several workshops that the teachers openly admitted that the reason for teaching a certain language was basically to listen to radio broadcasts and to — I mean if you want to use the word "spy," it's to spy on another country and figure out if they have any deep dark secrets or gonna come over our heads and annihilate the United States. So, that's not exactly the same spirit that this particular statement is in and it's not exactly why you teach language, in order to get people to be able to spy more easily. But it is a motive. And you and I know that there are languages being taught — perhaps in this country, in many countries of the world — where the ulterior motives are not necessarily for peace, they're not necessarily to communicate and be nice to somebody who is of another culture, another country or another religion; so it's a two-edged sword.
But I think most of us agree that at least in almost all of our schools and universities here in the USA, we are at the heart of the matter agents for change, for communicating across borders — and to try to bring down the barriers that lie between cultures, politics.
See, all the good teachers have pure hearts and just want peace, love and harmony; but down there at the evil Defense Language Institute, they just teach people to become spies. Boooooo! Because God forbid we take any steps to forestall our enemies by learning their languages.
In the passage above, Brown is segregating educators into two clearly distinct camps: the "good guys" like himself and the vast majority of liberal teachers who want to bring unity to the world; and the "bad guys" who use education to help the military-industrial complex. And the good guys are all "agents for change."
Clip 3: "Refrain From Revealing Your Own Beliefs"
H. Douglas Brown: Because if we, if we agree that we all kind of have a moral imperative as language teachers, an imperative to be someone, a teacher, not just another unit of linguistic bits and pieces. To be someone. And we're going to have to face these questions. So can we be agents of change? And at the same time refrain from revealing our own beliefs and convictions — or should we? It's kind of a two-pronged [...]. So, being an agent for change. But the question that I'm still leaving on this is "Can you, or can you refrain from revealing your own beliefs and convictions?" One of my teachers at the ALI says no, she would never be able to do that when it comes to hatred and prejudice. And she cited the issue of the KKK and she says, "I will NOT be balanced in my treatment of the Ku Klux Klan and what they did — and are doing — in the Southern part of the US. I will not present that other side."
"Oh well, you know, they could be right."
She just said, "I'm not there."
So, is that a good place to be? Should you present both sides? All the way, even though you intensely dislike that other side? I mean, that is the question.
You can see in this passage Brown's typical academic habit of hedging his statements by phrasing them as questions. Translated into direct speech, what he seems to be saying is: We shouldn't even bother hiding our political agendas when we indoctrinate our students. To illustrate this point, he cites a (probably apocryphal) scenario in which a teacher was expected to present "both sides" of arguments for and against the KKK, something she refused to do, and rightly so. Using an extreme example that nobody would argue with is a good way of getting your foot in the door; from there on down it's a slippery slope, and teachers can use the same excuse to justify one-sided discussions of all sorts of topics which they will claim also don't merit even-handedness, a process we see being played out in classrooms constantly, with stories cropping up nearly every day of teachers exclusively presenting the liberal side of issues, or actively disparaging or misrepresenting conservative concepts.
In case you didn't catch it, the phrase "moral imperative" means "My progressive views are so over-archingly correct that it becomes my moral duty to spread them, and a crime against the world to keep them to myself."
Here's the slide he was showing during the discussion above.
Clip 4: "Just a Complete Wacko"
H. Douglas Brown: The third question: "Does our zeal for realizing our own vision of a better world stand in the way of truly equal, balanced treatment of all issues?" So in this part I want to talk a little bit about Christianity or religion in general. I had a very devout Christian ALI teacher a few years back who came to me and said that, "I'm teaching English because I really want the whole world to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior." OK [laughs], I took a deep breath, and sat back in my chair and, y'know, made a few comments about how I appreciated anybody with zeal, but that first of all this is a state institution, and that we're not a Christian institution, and that part of our whole ethos in the United States of America has to do with freedom of religion or — if you wish — freedom from religion, depending on what your perspective is — and that a motive like that could remain in the back of her mind, I thought, but that we weren't going to ask her to get up and start reading John 3:16. [This is an] English class. That this was beyond the mandate and beyond the scope of what the American Language Institute was doing. Well. Was that the right thing to do? Was she just a complete wacko in saying that she wanted everybody to convert to Jesus Christ, or what? I still think y'know, I think I said the right thing. She left ALI fairly quickly [audience laughter] because she realized that we were not an institution where she could teach Jesus as The Way. And she did say Jesus was The Way, and I said that, well, y'know, "That's, I'm sorry, but we can't do that." And I think she went to another place.
So that's just one example of, y'know this balanced treatment, and how far does your zeal for a particular issue go? I mean, let's — we can name any issue — how far does it go?
Here's another kind of ridiculous little example, but: from an ESL textbook this dialogue came: "Why do you smoke? Because I like it. You shouldn't smoke. Well, it makes me less nervous. But it's not good for your health. I don't care. Well, you will die young." That was actually in a textbook. Well, you know, that's sending a message. That's not exactly balanced treatment of tobacco use. And I'm afraid I would have a hard time giving balanced treatment on an issue like that. I would tend to kind of go along with this dialogue and say, you know, "Stop smoking." But what is our mandate? What is our moral imperative as teachers and what can we do subversively and yet maybe not so subversively that could get to be fairly overt?
Well, I think that's the realistic thing when we become agents for change and when we become teachers with some sense of our moral imperative.
So one of my favorite books that came out by a former ALI student, had a chapter in it on homosexuals in— I think they were just in just Any City, USA, and it was about "Daddy's Roommate." And do you teach this, and how do you teach it? And what do you do when students rise up in holy wrath and say, "Well, you know that's" — whatever they're going to say — "It's a sin, it's bad, or whatever, to be a homosexual?" How do you treat that? What do you do as a language teacher?
We had a unit at ALI about, it was a videotape, about My Two Mommies, a wonderful, wonderful, very sweet videotape, and kids of gay parents were being interviewed. Beautiful, beautiful tape. But some students didn't like this, right? I mean, you can imagine. They thought, "What are you trying to teach me?" Well, we're trying to teach English, but we're trying to get you to think a little bit. Maybe some of them didn't like that, and we got some controversy over that.
We had an article about burning down an abortion clinic that we also used at ALI once. Equally controversial.
This clip is truly mind-boggling. Brown first cites the example of a Christian teacher who of course is completely forbidden from discussing her crazy values with the students, something Brown recounts with pride — and then moments later he turns right around and discusses how "wonderful" and "beautiful" and thus reasonable and praiseworthy is his curriculum about homosexuality and abortion clinics and so forth. He's not even trying to be unbiased here; he's just presuming that his worldview is correct and superior, and the Christian's worldview is "wacko," and thus it is right and proper to banish her and instead promote his agenda.
(An explanatory note that applies to this clip and many of the other clips as well: Professor Brown's specialty was teaching English as a second language to adult students, so many of the scenarios he presented involved introducing progressive American liberalism to foreign students who sometimes had brought with them conservative or old-fashioned values from their native cultures, and who were therefore affronted by his politicized language lessons. As a result, the "indoctrination" scenarios he described are somewhat different from standard public school scenarios in which teachers can manipulate the comparatively unformed psyches of young American children.)
Clip 5: "I wish that people didn't have that freedom"
H. Douglas Brown: So I'm kind of pushing down here toward a resolution of all this, in a way, and that is: In order to make these decisions about what you do or don't do or what you face or don't face in a classroom: Are there universal values? I happen to think they're not universal, because "universal" means everybody believes in them. There's no such thing as everyone, six and a half whatever it is billion people on earth believing the same thing.
But, I do think that within our culture, and this is speaking in the United States of America, within our culture, there is a certain given set of working moral hypotheses. One is the equality of human beings. Two is freedom of individuals to speak out, write their opinions about sensitive — that's a double-edged sword. Sometimes I think all of us wish that people didn't have so much freedom [audience laughter]. I don't know how many of you listen to any syndicated morning talk shows lately, but there are some times when I wish that people didn't have that freedom. Ultimately because they disagree with me [audience laughter]. A culture of open-mindedness. We tend to think, yeah, you know, we believe that's basic to our ethos. We believe in nonviolent resolution of conflict and we tend to believe in responsibility as stewards of the earth, to take care of this planet.
And so some people have disagreed, of course, that we shouldn't even be talking about this stuff, and [one] teacher said, "Your charge is to teach English or French or whatever, Finnish, or whatever language you're teaching, and not morality. So just teach the bits and pieces and get off this, you know, sort of holier-than-thou kind of thing. Teachers should emphasize unity, not difference, so don't do any of that controversial stuff. You get people too upset. The teacher is an authority figure. Students will believe whatever you believe in order to please you, so you should steer clear of sensitive issues. Because if you say something that is on one of these sensitive issues, the student is likely to look at the teacher and say 'Oh yeah, well, whatever you say, teacher.' Or teachers will inevitably sometimes they push their own beliefs and agendas." Yes. I think we do.
The question is: How do we do it? And the view that you don't have to believe in a point of view, I mean, I, I — maybe, maybe if you really backed me into a corner I might sort of reluctantly respect a student's point of view who said that, y'know, "Racial prejudice is good." But I don't think I'd respect it as much as respect the right of the person to believe this. And then to dialogue with the person.
I nearly fell out of my chair when he first said that he wished conservatives didn't have freedom of speech, and then practically the very next phrase out of his mouth was that people like him believe in "a culture of open-mindedness." I mean c'mon, does he have any self-awareness? How could someone say that with a straight face? And the audience just laughed, ha ha ha. This only confirms what I have long suspected: That liberals have banished overt conservative thought from many college campuses with "speech codes," and that given half a chance they would implement the same thing society-wide, and feel sanctimonious and justified in doing so.
The key phrase in the passage above, which you kind of have to hear in the audio clip to fully appreciate, is when he says "Yes. I think we do." The tone of his voice is a sort of adolescent "Duh!" Of course we're going to push our own beliefs and agendas on our students. That's a given. The only remaining question is: How should we indoctrinate your children? Overtly, or surreptitiously? Rigidly, with no talking back allowed; or more casually?
The key thing to remember from this passage is: Liberal teachers are so convinced of their moral superiority and pure intentions that they do not feel guilt or doubt about imposing their views on others.
The expression on his face conveys how he feels about the counter-arguments presented on the PowerPoint slide.