Paul Nevins

Paul Nevins
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
October 29
Paul Nevins is the author of "The Politics of Selfishness: How John Locke’s Legacy Is Paralyzing America "(Greenwood /Praeger/ABC-CLIO). The central thesis of this important and unconventional work is that the United States has begun to experience a number of profound, interrelated problems that are caused, both directly and indirectly, by the country's dogmatic and often unconscious adherence, collectively as a political culture and individually as Americans, to the political philosophy of John Locke. That ideology, which is the bedrock upon which the American liberal democracy has been founded, asserts that human beings are by nature solitary, aggrandizing individuals. Hence, preoccupation with the self in all of its manifestations and attributes - as opposed to the whole, the public interest - has become the primary focus by which political, economic and societal decisions are made. Consequently, the preferred form of social and political relationships with others, including the state as the organized expression of political society, is solely contractual and is designed primarily to protect private property in all of its forms. "The Politics of Selfishness" provides compelling historic and contemporary evidence that U.S. institutions, at all levels, are failing because of the country's uncritical embrace of the anti-social individualism which is John Locke’s legacy. Paul Nevins has been a trial attorney in private practice since 1982. He concentrates in public and private sector employment law and litigation, related civil rights and constitutional law claims, and contract claims. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Paul Nevins taught in the Boston Public Schools. While teaching, Mr. Nevins served as a member of the Executive Board of the Boston Teachers Union, Local 66, AFT/AFL-CIO. Paul Nevins served as a conscript in the United States Army from 1968 to 1970. In 1969, he was a founder and the first chairman of GIs for Peace at Fort Bliss, Texas.This was the first organization of active duty soldiers who publicly opposed the Vietnam War. Mr. Nevins received an A.B. Degree from Suffolk University, a Master of Arts Degree from New York University, and a Juris Doctor Degree from Suffolk University Law School. He lives and works in Boston.


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MARCH 13, 2012 1:28PM

Is College the Antidote to Indoctrination?

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                       cross-posted at

         Rick Santorum’s recent criticism of colleges as elitist institutions that indoctrinate young people struck a resonant chord among evangelicals and among self-identified “conservative” voters who believe colleges and universities are bastions of godless socialism whose faculties relentlessly promote that agenda. Santorum further claimed that "62 percent of kids who enter college with some kind of faith commitment leave without it." Does the evidence support Santorum’s claims?



                         Courtesy of the New Yorker

        In a recent article by Calvin University Professor Jonathan P. Hill in The Chronicle of Higher Education [ “Parsing Santorum's Statistic on God and College: Looks as if It's Wrong”] examines the recent data by social scientists who have  examined religious commitment and higher education in recent years. Hill observes that the data “mostly contradicts the picture that Santorum paints.” Hill further notes that “Studies using comparable data from recent cohorts of young people (for example, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and the National Study of Youth and Religion) have found virtually no overall differences on most measures of identity, practice, and belief between those who head off to college and those who do not. The one exception to this is the consistent finding that college graduates attend religious services more frequently than those who do not graduate from college.”

        Aside from them the data that shows Santorum’s claims are not supported by real world evidence, his criticisms raise more fundamental questions that need to be asked. What is the purpose of higher education?  Should universities prepare young men and women for careers, or should it give them the tools that enable them to think for themselves? Should colleges be servants of the status-quo?  Should a higher education expose young men and women to ideas that challenge their world views? 

      C.P. Snow was not the first intellectual to bemoan the emergence of “Two Cultures”- the chasm between those who studied the humanities and those who pursued studies in science and engineering. The notorious curmudgeon and former president of Boston University, John Silber, consistently criticized the value of “shop” degrees  and urged undergraduates to pursue a broad liberal arts education. Silber further observed that college curricula were being “dumbed-down.” He once remarked that the high school education that mother received in Texas in the early part of the twentieth century was more rigorous than the undergraduate curriculum at Boston University during his tenure as president of that university.

    The U.S. Department of Education reports that between 1989 and 1999, the number of students enrolled in degree-granting post secondary institutions increased by 9 percent. During the next ten ears, from 1999-2009, enrollment increased 38 percent from 14.8 million to 20.4 million. Over and above enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, an additional 472,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible post secondary institutions in fall 2008. 

    Over and above the data Professor Hill cites that shows little evidence of indoctrination, there is evidence that suggests that today’s college students, despite their increased numbers, are not as broadly or as well-educated as their predecessors, including in the critical in the area of citizenship education. In a 2005 report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 14,000 freshman and seniors at fifty colleges and universities were administered 60 multiple-choice questions which were intended to measure their knowledge of American history and government, world affairs, and the market economy. The first of its major findings was that "America’s colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America’s history and institutions.” 

     The report noted a trivial difference between college seniors and their freshman counterparts regarding knowledge of America’s heritage. “Seniors scored just 1.5 percent higher on average than freshman, and, at many schools, seniors know less than freshman about America’s history, government, foreign affairs, and economy. Overall, college seniors failed the civic literacy exam, with an average score of 53.2 percent, or F, on a traditional grading scale."

     Hence, Santorum may have misdiagnosed the malady. It's not that college students are being indoctrinated; to the contrary, the evidence suggests that they are not learning enough, and that they are unable to defend their own ideas and beliefs with the kind of knowledge and logic that a liberal arts education implies.

    The Marxist philosopher and social critic, Herbert Marcuse warned that “An economic system that encourages its young men and women to tailor their educations to the needs of the marketplace, irrespective of their hopes and ambitions, is an economic system that should be roundly condemned. A nation that discourages the study of art, music and the Humanities is a nation that will inevitably find itself populated by unthinking dolts and automatons.”

    Santorum’s fears about indoctrination are nonsensical. Colleges and universities are not indoctrinating young men and women. Rather, it appears that, because a number of colleges and universities today have less rigorous and less comprehensive courses of study, they are failing in their core mission of educate our youth. If this trend is not reversed, the seeds of the GOP’s anti-intellectualism will continue to fall on fertile ground among those who fear change in all of its manifestations and those who stubbornly cling to the chains that bind them.

    The real danger is that Santorum’s criticism of education at all levels, if it were to be translated into public policy, would have a chilling effect upon the intellectual curiosity of young people and their willingness to explore the world of ideas. Marcuse’s warning then will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

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Well, you are so right. I abhor the trend inn higher education to emphasize preparation for the workplace over broader exploration. In some respects, higher educators have sold out to the business community. The other thing is that I learned much, much more from involvement in the civil rights movement than I did in the classroom. This involvement took me out into the community. Still, I received a broad and culturally relevant education at the University of Florida in my undergraduate years, especially. Indoctrination? I think not.
Is College the Antidote to Indoctrination? Certainly not if Santorum is any indication.
Santorum's objection is that they aren't imposing his preferred indoctrination. He has clearly adopted his own beliefs and he is trying to impose them on everyone else which is why both he and Romney ahould be stopped as well as many others.

However he may have actually made a good point in ways that he didn't intend or that the study you cited may not have addressed.

College has often taught strict ideology including the capitalist ideology without question. It has often taught support for the current position on foreign affairs. There was a survey during the Vietnam era that indicated that more college educated people supported the war than the working class which should raise some doubts.

Hence my conclusion is that the answer to you question is, It depends. If it is done right and openness to new ideas is allowed then it shouldn't involve indoctrination; if on the other hand a strict belief system or ideology is dictated by charismatic professors that don't tolerate dissent then it could be.

BTW the belief/religion author tag doesn't work due to technical difficulties neither does the open+call tag. the / and + should be removed to solve this in the short run in the long run perhaps the tech staff should fix it.
I'd want to know more about those studies. I'm sure there's been a "dumbing" down of "higher" education, and would ask: who gets into college these days? I have a feeling the criteria has more to do with the market place for students among universities than anything else. i.e. how many can we fit in the larger we make the classes and the more dependant they are on "computer" learning.

The opportunity of actually having a discussion about ideas has become a luxury that only the rich can afford. Witness how many more "readers" there are here in blogland than contributors--even when the opportunity presents itself they are speechless. And how the hell do you explain a culture that re-elects Bush and what is passing for the Republican primary if it isn't ignorance on the part of the electorate?

They can't read, they can't write, they play computer games and "facebook" has become a verb. call me a curmudgeon too.