Orwell goes to College
As yet another edition of the text titled Writing and Reading across the Curriculum edited by Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen is rolled out, I am faced with a serious dilemma concerning academic integrity. In chapter 11 entitled "Have You Heard This? The Latest on Rumor" I read one after another essay with a pro-Obama tilt. What irony for a book that purports to be about critical thinking acquisition!
In their introduction to the chapter, the editors write "[c]onsider political rumors, which often arise out of fear about what a president or political party might do unless stopped. During the health care debate of 2009, so many rumors were competing for public attention (among them, the government's 'death panels') that the White House eventually created a Web site to attempt to set the record straight" (341).
Apparently Behrens and Rosen conveniently forget pro-Obama sycophant Paul Krugman who recently admitted that, indeed,
We're going to need more revenue, we're going to need, and probably in the end, surely in the end it will require some sort of middle class taxes as well. So again, we won't be able to pay ...without some increase in taxes, not a huge one, but some increase on taxes on the middle class, maybe a value-added tax. We're going to have to make decisions about health care, not pay for health care that has no demonstrated medical benefits. So you know the snarky version I use, which is, I shouldn't even say because it will get me in trouble, is death panels and sales taxes is how we do this.
Will other instructors who teach from this text offer up this information to their students who are already low-information individuals? Will they update students about Sarah Palin's comments concerning the recent government intervention in the case of a 10-year old with cystic fibrosis? Will they expose the outright hypocrisy of Sebelius?
Then in the same introduction, Behrens and Rosen assert that "President Obama felt compelled to release his long form birth certificate to put to rest the stubbornly persistent rumor that he was not born in the United States" (341). Then there are "the falsehoods about Barack Obama's citizenship [which] are the most prominent recent manifestations of rumor in American presidential politics" (341).
Again, how do these academics refute the in-depth American Thinker investigations that have repeatedly exposed the forged documents? Certainly I will be telling my students about the Obama literary agency that touted Obama's birth in Kenya. But since the mainstream media ignored this information, most of my colleagues remained uninformed and cannot present these details.
In fact, Nick Chase and others have painstakingly pointed out that the Obama "birth certificate" is "a fake." Will other instructors present the "Obama Built This Forgery" piece to contemplate? Consequently, neither Behrens nor Rosen saw fit to include this information and instead made an outright assertion, and disregarded countering evidence. This is hardly notable in a text which is supposed to assist a student with "deducing consequences from what he knows, and ... seeking relevant sources of information to inform himself."
The relevant source in this chapter is none other than Cass R. Sunstein. Will the students have a chance to consider the myriad of Sunstein's ideas? Labeled as a "rumor expert" Mr. Sunstein seems most comfortable assaulting freedom of speech since he wrote,
....The notion that access [to the airwaves] will be a product of the marketplace might well be constitutionally troublesome. Government, ...has a moral obligation to force broadcast media companies to air commercials that represent a 'diversity' of views:
The idea that government should be neutral among all forms of speech seems right in the abstract, but as frequently applied it is no more plausible than the idea that it should be neutral between the associational interests of blacks and those of whites under conditions of segregation.
It seems quite possible that a law that contained regulatory remedies would promote rather than undermine the 'freedom of speech.'
Will students have the chance to debunk this contradictory assertion?
Sunstein proposes "compulsory public-affairs programming [and] content review by nonpartisan experts or guidelines to encourage attention to public issues and diversity of view."
Of religious freedom, Sunstein maintains that
[t]here would be no tension with the establishment clause if people with religious or other objections were forced to pay for that procedure (abortion). Indeed, taxpayers are often forced to pay for things -- national defense, welfare, certain forms of art, and others -- to which they have powerful moral and even religious objections.
He has also stated that
livestock and wild animals should have legal 'rights' and should be empowered to file lawsuits; that the human consumption of meat is a practice that should be ended permanently; and that the use of animals for work, entertainment, science, and food is akin to 'human slavery.'
According to Discover the Networks, "in 2008, Sunstein authored a paper proposing that the government use a variety of methods to limit or eliminate conspiracy theories critical of the U.S. government. These methods suggested that the government could:
• ban conspiracy theories outright
• impose a tax on those who advance conspiracy theories
• engage in counter-speech to 'discredit conspiracy theories and theorists'
• hire private parties to engage in counter-speech
• engage in informal communication with such private parties, encouraging them to help"
Added Sunstein: "Our main policy claim here is the government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories."
Quite a progressive agenda! Sounds rather Orwellian to me.
Then in the "Research Activities" section of this particular chapter, the student will read the following:
In an op-ed for the Washington Post (November 17, 2011), Paul Farhi asserts that the 'e-mail rumor mill is run by conservatives.' While he discusses political rumors associated with both Republicans and Democrats, Farhi claims that 'when it comes to generating and sustaining specious and shocking stories, there's no contest. The majority of the junk comes from the right, aimed at the left.' Research some of the more notorious rumors that have been a feature of recent politics. Describe and characterize them. To what extent are their agendas and political purposes clear? Based on your research, do you agree with Farhi? Develop your argument using Knapp's scheme. What do your findings suggest about political discourse in both parties?
With the mainstream media shilling for Obama, e-mail rumor mills are quite beside the point, but the unsuspecting student gets yet another skewed view under the liberal agenda mantle. Furthermore, most students use Google as their first source of information and most of that is decidedly one-sided.
Repeatedly, instructors must deal with the imbalance of perspectives in various articles and essays. Few counterarguments, little background information, and outright acceptance of ideas with no substantiation are often the norm.
My class will read the assigned pieces from the textbook but I will present the other points of view in order to truly stimulate their critical thinking skills. Yet, that still leaves a good many students in the dark and they will be voting in 2014!
Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org