I think the key here is the issue of dissent than it is the type of dissent. And what role have we as educators, members of the academy played in this lack or fear of dissent? How much do we accept dissent in our classrooms? How much do we allow dissent in our conversations? How quick are we to anger at dissent or claim that those who are dissenting don't know their place?
Noam Chomsky, who is often too far to the left for me, made an extraodinary point. He said our education system does not reward dissent but something very much the opposite. Over the last few decades those who have done the best in our educational system are those who have learned to give teachers or professors what they want, to learn to think like them so that the teacher believes that they are thinking in the right way. The people who make it to the top colleges and universities are often times the people who best learn how to play the system. We are a risk averse society because risk is not rewarded and those who take risks are often ostracized. The people who are rewarded are the people who don't take chances.
I have this extraordinary memory from about fifteen years back. I was sitting in a room at SRCD with about 300 of the most powerful academics in our field at a symposium. One of the presenters was a white researcher from South Africa. Before he started his talk he chastised SRCD for inviting him without making explicit the issues involving apartheid, and questioning why they were able to invite a white academic and not a black academic. It was a very courageous thing to say to that group. Out of these three hundred academics who had basically nothing to lose only one person in that room applauded (that person was actually Michael Cole, I was sitting two rows behind him. I always meant to tell him that I thought that was courageous as well). But two hundred ninety nine sat there and looked like how dare this person make a statement like this at SRCD. I didn't applaud either. I took the excuse that I was a student at the time, which was no excuse at all.
Democracy is something you live in your everyday lives, a system you build up over time. Respect for dissent is based on a continuous process in which those with the minority view are respected and listened to, even if you don't agree with them, even if that minority view makes you uncomfortable. Is it possible that we, through our own arrogance, have created a society in which people no longer really believe in dissent, believe that the best way to live their lives is to go along with those that are in power? Of course we need to take action and speak out, but we need to look to ourselves as well.
From: Cunningham, Donald J. [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sat 1/29/2005 8:21 PM
Subject: RE: Civility - RE: Resistance and speaking out
Tony Whitson asks "Why doesn't Bill Moyers behave more like Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh?"
I strongly recommend a book by George Lakoff "don't think of an elephant!".
From the book cover:
Don't Think of An Elephant! is the antidote to the last forty years of conservative strategizing and the right wing's stranglehold on political dialogue in the United States.
Author George Lakoff explains how conservatives think, and how to counter their arguments. He outlines in detail the traditional American values that progressives hold, but are often unable to articulate. Lakoff also breaks down the ways in which conservatives have framed the issues, and provides examples of how progressives can reframe the debate.
Lakoff's years of research and work with environmental and political leaders have been distilled into this essential guide, which shows progressives how to think in terms of values instead of programs, and why people vote their values and identities, often against their best interests.
Don't Think of an Elephant! is the definitive handbook for understanding and communicating effectively about key issues in the 2004 election, and beyond.
Read it, take action-and help take America back
From: Tony Whitson [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Saturday, January 29, 2005 8:04 PM
Subject: Civility - RE: Resistance and speaking out
Among the many compelling concerns raised by Jay and David is the matter of civility. I don't often think about that and I don't know how to think about it, but it clearly is important.
The thread started in reaction to Spellings' attack on a TV episode about a family of maple sugerers headed by two moms.
Spellings invoked the fact that the episode would embroil the program in controversy as justification for withdrawing it, since "Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode."
There's a piece in today's Boston Globe (at
that concludes, "Of course, many parents would not want their children exposed to Muslim, evangelical Christian, or Mormon families, all of which Buster has encountered in past episodes. Should those parents get to shape our children's understanding?"
I think the family Buster visited in Texas was involved with Rodeos. I think there are a lot of people who would regard aspects of that culture -- or, for another example, the culture of dehumanizing brutalization that is seen in some military situations and can lead to things like what happened at Abu Graib -- as no less objectionable than the families with same-sex parents are seen to be by those that Spelling is pandering to.
If the bare fact of CONTROVERSY is grounds for suppressing representation, then if we all behaved like the radical right, and insisted that the things we find objectionable must not be seen on television, then Spellings' could not use that justification so one-sidedly.
But the rest of us do not behave like the radical right.
Why doesn't Bill Moyers behave more like Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh? It's impossible to imagine, isn't it? It's partly a matter of disposition -- who would want to be like that? -- are we even capable of that way of being if we concluded that it makes sense strategically? But partly it's also that we don't believe in that manner of public conduct.
Still, as Jay is pointing out, this sensibility puts us at a disadvantage.
Again, I don't know how to think about this, but I thank Jay and David for forcing me to try thinking about it.
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