Janice Fiamengo’s brilliant article, “The Unteachables: A Generation that Cannot Learn,” fits my past experience teaching at American universities. But I realized that her account applied perfectly to…something else.
Fiamengo writes that students are upset when teachers get tough on grading, “Offended pride and sulkiness replace the careless cheer of former days.”
They don’t get it when the professor points out the shortcomings in their papers . “But my work has always been praised before! Your criticisms are exaggerated!” And they may boast: “The general idea was good, wasn’t it? I’m better at the big ideas. On the details, well…”
And then if you don’t give in they become belligerent. As Fiamengo puts it:
“Their tendency is,…not to confront the problem directly but to hit back at its perceived source.…These students experience a range of negative reactions, including anger, anxiety, and depression.”
They are incapable of learning because they are can’t deal constructively with criticism orr learn from failure.
Now does this sound familiar? It sounds exactly like President Barack Obama. So I wondered. Suppose I was Obama’s professor in a class called, “Being President 1” and I gave him an “F.” If he fails to improve his grade he won’t be allowed to continue for next term. Here’s how such a meeting might play out:
Me: Barack, I’m happy to discuss the grade on your paper, “How to Fundamentally Transform America and Make It Fair” with you but I hope you listen carefully and learn how to improve.
Obama: There must be some mistake! I’ve always gotten an A+ from the media. I was admitted to Harvard! I was editor of the law review! And in 2008 I won the presidency and then the Nobel Peace Prize! I’m the smartest man in the world! The mass media–which can’t find any occasion where I was everr wrong–and millions of people can’t stop raving about how wonderful I am!
Obama: Well, it works on all of the other professors. So don’t you think I should be one of the students who get 99 percent? I want an America where everyone has an equal chance to get an “A” no matter how much or little work they do.
Me: Frankly, I think your grade is closer to 1 percent. You missed the point of the assignment; you didn’t answer most of the questions; your argument is illogical; and you totally misrepresent the facts. Oil prices have nothing to do with supply and demand? Helping put the Muslim Brotherhood into power is a good idea? Massive debt and spending on unproductive things brings prosperity? Higher taxes in the midst of a depression is a good idea? I just can’t change your grade. And I regret to say you don’t seem to learn anything about improving your work. You have failed every subject. If you haven’t changed completely by November I think we’re going to have to expel you at the end of the semester.
Obama: Hmm. Oh, I get it. You’re a racist!
Me: What you really mean is that you should get a higher grade, have to meet lower standards, and be immune from criticism just because you were born in Hawaii.
FP: Not only can I vouch from personal experience for this failure of the educational system, but it is also a major reason I decided to leave academia. As Rubin’s satire suggests, what the educational system inculcates or not will be reflected in its later graduates’ later behavior which, depending on how much responsibility they get, can critically affect the entire society.
Obama’s policies are an excellent example of the consequences of the failure to instill the importance of knowledge and the ability to reason critically and independently. Learning from criticism and mistakes is a major component thereof.
Do yourself a favor and read it all. One of those “to laugh or cry” instances.
Now consider Rubin’s A Sentence by the State Department Sentences The World to Disaster in the above context:
“`People say things in a campaign and then when they get elected they actually have to govern,’ [U.S. State Department] spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.”
The specific context of this statement were remarks by the Obama Administration’s favorite Egyptian presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, in a debate. He called Israel racist, an enemy of Egypt, and a state based on occupation (that is, has no right to exist), then calling to alter the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain, says Nuland, he doesn’t really mean it.
The problem with this, like hundreds of other statements by the currently dominant worldview in the West, is that almost nobody is around in the mainstream media or academia to say: Wait a minute! In fact, I can make a very strong counter-argument that would persuade most people if they were allowed to hear it.
So let us parse Ms. Nuland’s sentence, which does accurately reflect U.S. foreign policy today and is indeed a death or prison sentence for many people in the Middle East. Nothing is easier, of course, than finding examples of politicians who did not keep their election promises. But that’s not what we are dealing with here. No, the case here is:
Do radical ideological movements say things in their campaigns to gain power, including election campaigns, which disappear due to the pragmatism forced by the need to govern?
I’ve heard this argument before, most notably in 1978-1979, when the Islamist revolution came to Iran. The Islamists have won every election since and have not been moderated by the need to govern. On the contrary, they have used their extremism to continue to govern.
Were the Communists moderated by being in power? Well not in the USSR, maybe a bit after 70 years. And not in China, well yes more than a bit after only about a half-century. We’re still waiting for Cuba and North Korea, both between five and six decades old. Add in such examples as the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Ba’th Party in Syria or Iraq, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
It is important to understand why this isn’t true. There are some dangerously false assumptions in Ms. Nuland’s simple sentence.
She is assuming that radical movements are saying things to please voters in the same way that American politicians do. But American politicians are overwhelmingly unideological. Deep down, few of them think that ideas matter.
First, note how an education system that fails to instill reliance on knowledge and reasoning leads to foreign policies that are ignorant of foreign cultures and devoid of critical thinking.
Second, in a previous post I mentioned the American tendency to operate based on projection from itself to foreign cultures. Rubin provides here an excellent example of such a projection. It is a direct result from the first point: if you don’t have knowledge of foreign cultures and your mind has not been trained to seek, you will operate on what you do know: how you think and operate.
In other words, there are lots of reasons for radicals to remain radicals in government. And, after all, that is what usually happens.
But that’s not all by a long shot. What happens when those who actually have to govern fail to make things better and to satisfy the masses’ aspirations? Then they really need those things said in the campaign: the demagoguery, scapegoating, and impossible demands.
At this point, these kinds of things aren't just forgotten promises, they are magical solutions that are vital for governance! Instead of falling or facing serious internal conflict due to its failures, the regime puts itself at the head of the masses marching against evil foreign enemies onto whom it puts the blame for these failures.
This is exactly what I’ve been reiterating here so often. Not only will they do just that but
(1) that’s what Arabs have always done when in trouble: they are not exactly known for taking responsibility for their own actions and doing something about them;
(2) as I argued in previous post, they’ll do it in the name of Allah: it’s called Jihad, it has hard and soft versions, it resonates with a majority of Arabs/Muslims and, therefore, it can be very effective politically, particularly in difficult circumstances.
The article by Fiamengo that Rubin refers to has the subtitle “The greatest tragedy of progressive education is not the students' lack of skills, but of teachable character”. Teachable character and the ability to learn are not flaws children are born with. It’s part of the intellectual development with which parents and the education system are tasked with, but whose capacity to fulfill the task has been practically destroyed. An excellent example of that is the video in my previous post.