Who’s afraid of information?

Recently, Salon.com reported this disturbing tidbit: “Seton Hall University political science professor King Mott was notified that the class he was planning to teach in the fall, titled “Gay Marriage,” might be canceled by the university’s governing board….Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said the course conflicts with the teachings of the Catholic Church (Seton Hall is a Catholic university). “This proposed course seeks to promote as legitimate a train of thought that is contrary to what the Church teaches,” Archbishop Myers said in a statement. “As a result, the course is not in sync with Catholic teaching.”

Firstly, this development disturbs me because it reflects an antiquated understanding of learning. According to the people who canceled this class, learning is a transaction, where a teacher opens a student’s head and inserts knowledge, opinions, and facts. The student then becomes a puppet, repeating and believing everything that has been inserted into her/his head. While this may be the way that kids learn math in second grade, it does not reflect the way that college students learn. College students learn to filter information, facts, opinions, and question them. Critical thinking is the primary skill I endeavor to teach my students, and I know many other college profs agree with me.

Secondly, this article reveals an underlying fear that learning, reading, or being exposed to ideas will harm a person. Talking about gay marriage suddenly becomes advocating gay marriage. (Something I support, FTR). The assumption is that students should not be exposed to ideas because it may affect them in untold ways. Rather than compare this to other issues in the Catholic church, I’d like to expose several other examples where people’s fear of information has dictated educational policy.

The prime example is the idea of banned or censored books. Groups speak out against books that they disagree with and argue for them to be removed from classes or libraries because they are afraid of what might happen if students are exposed to dangerous ideas. Who knows what would happen if students read Catcher in the Rye. The ALA hosts a banned book week every year to discourage the banning of books in the name of intellectual freedom. Books are still banned today, by various groups, in various contexts.

Another example of fear of information is abstinence-only education. Now, as a person who is not afraid of information, I am in favor of comprehensive sex education that includes abstinence as part of the curriculum. But many schools, parents, churches, administrators, and teachers across this country are afraid that teaching safe sex will promote sex. If people know how to do it safely, they will do it. (More on the issue of the “sex is bad mmkay” “rationale” at another time).

And the third example I offer you is the Texas state board of education, which we’ve posted about on here a few times. The Texas SBOE is banning people, events, and books in a way that literally alters this nation’s history so it fits a specific ideological agenda. They are trying to make people afraid of information that we ourselves have access to via a Google search. Why are they afraid of sharing facts with students? Why are they afraid of information?

We should not be afraid of ideas, especially those that we disagree with.

We should be encouraging our students, friends, colleagues, and family to expose themselves to ideas they disagree with as well as agree with.

So who IS afraid of information? Those who are worried that accurate information might make you change your mind. Be wary of those who limit what you intake, whether it be from a bench, a pulpit, or a blackboard.

//crossposted from me at Equality101

Posted on: June 16th, 2010 by Fair and Feminist No Comments

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