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The Trojan Horses of Education

Last time I described what I could find about the “Quiet Revolution” plan for medicine through the eyes and minds of the Bravewell Collaborative and Christy Mack, wife of the multi-millionaire or billionaire CEO John Mack. The idea seemed two-pronged; “humanize” physicians and medicine generally, and integrate folkway, sectarian and “alternative” methods into the system. What bothered me more, having become inured to patient philandering with quackery, was the brazen attempt to re-educate physicians and indoctrinate students into the political and social views of wealthy idealists. The entry below, one might conclude, has little to do with medical quackery and pseudoscience, but I beg your indulgence for this series as I attempt to connect dots between the stalls of the seemingly unrelated steeds of political indoctrination in universities and the proposed med school re-education camps of Bravewell. For several years a controversy has roiled at the University of Delaware over a program of educational activities for the dorms called Residence Life. The program structures student time with a number of usual activities – games, talks, discussion groups – but the content of the discussion groups and interpersonal counseling upset some students, who complained to an off-campus conservative organization, and got to the attention of faculty, which pressured the administration to stop the program last fall.

To outsiders such as we, the program looked like a feel-good, beneficent guidance tools. To the complaining students and critics the discussions seemed more like indoctrination groups, with political agendas taking on disguised roles as helpful guidance for student angst. Students complained about invasion of their privacy through group and leader pressures, and the faculty saw indoctrination and invasion of their educational duties (turf) by student counselors bearing ideological messages with little qualification.


Critics described the program thus: The University of Delaware subjects students in its residence halls to a shocking program of ideological reeducation that is referred to in the university’s own materials as a “treatment” for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs. The Orwellian program requires the approximately 7,000 students in Delaware’s residence halls to adopt highly specific university-approved views on issues ranging from politics to race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism. (http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/4851.html). Here are the stated goal of the curriculum:

Become an engaged and active citizen by understanding how your thoughts, values, beliefs, and actions affect the people with whom you live and recognize your responsibility to contribute to a sustainable society at a local, national, and global level.

From this stated goal twelve learning outcomes or competencies were developed:

Understand how your social identities affect how you view others.

Understand how differences in equity impact our society.

Understand your congruence with citizenship values.

Understand how others influence you.

Understand the impact of your decisions.

Understand the power of an individual in a community.

Understand the knowledge necessary for the development of a sustainable society.

Learn how to connect personal passions to vocational options in order to be able to contribute to a sustainable society.

Learn how to develop and sustain interdependent relationships.

Learn to contribute to the creation and maintenance of a sustainable society.

Learn the skills necessary to be a change agent.

Demonstrate civic engagement toward the development of a sustainable society.

English is a “slippery” language, with multiple meanings to words. Not surprisingly, critics found specific buzz words felt to imply a more political slant: sustainable society, global level, learning competencies (implying a scale of social adequacy) change agent, etc. (Interesting that “change” became a motto of one of our presidential candidates, with imprecise application, and criticisms to match.)

The 2007 Faculty critique read thus:

The Faculty Senate Committee on Student Life assessed the Residence Life Education Curriculum based on a review of the printed materials provided in the Residence Life Education Curriculum; a presentation from the Vice President of Student Life and the Director of Residence Life, a written report provided by the Director of Residence Life, a student forum on the topic and the deliberations of the committee.

1. Faculty Inclusion: The Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate believes that Residence Life should have relied on the faculty in the development of a Curricular Approach to Residence Life.

2. Curriculum Content and Implementation: The Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate acknowledges the fact that some of the topics that were addressed in the curriculum were worthy of discussion, but it would have been appropriate for the discussions on those topics to be led by qualified professionals and faculty.

3. Mandatory vs. Voluntary Participation: The Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate believes that there was not a clear understanding on whether the participation in the Residence Life Curriculum was voluntary or mandatory. Considering the nature of the topics, it would be imperative that students clearly understand that it is voluntary rather than having the impression it was mandatory.

4. Reliance on Residence Assistants: The Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate believes that there was an inappropriate reliance on resident assistants in the implementation of the curriculum. It was not in the best interest of either the residence assistants or the residents that certain activities were not led by qualified professionals.

5. Learning Outcomes and Activities: The Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate believes that although the intent of the curriculum was to engage students in discussion and debate about important topics related to citizenship, on several occasions stated learning outcomes and activities suggested a particular view was a correct view over another rather than encouraging students to have an open and honest discussion.

6. Materials Used and Posted: The Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate believes that it was inappropriate for the educational materials of guest speaker Dr. Shakti Butler to be posted on the University website. The placement of the materials created an impression that these were the views of the Residence Life program and ultimately the University. Some of the posted material was not used by Dr. Butler in her workshop nor was it ever used in the residence halls with students. This makes the posting on the University website even more inappropriate. [Shakti had given off-campus talks with apparently radical or at least highly polarized content.

Summary: What is most important from these observations is what can be learned. In moving to the future, the Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate would like to make the following recommendations in regards to the development of a new residence life program.

It is imperative that students clearly understand that participation in Residence Life programming is voluntary rather than having an impression that it is mandatory. Respecting the moral autonomy and intellectual integrity of students should be a primary goal of all Residential Life programs. Such respect requires that no educational program of Residential Life be mandatory.

There followed a list of specific recommended changes too long and detailed for here, but couched in the usual mildness of courteous academic text.

So the administration sent Reslife authors back to the drawing board, but they came up with a barely sanitized version (also too long to detail here.) Presented last month, it was accepted by administration for a year. But the Delaware Association of Scholars, an unofficial watchdog faculty group weighed in with more pointed language:

The […] Association [..] is disappointed by the University of Delaware’s proposed Residence Life program and urges the Faculty Senate to reject it. The proposed program is little more than a re-tread of the notorious indoctrination program suspended last fall. The differences are largely cosmetic. The proposed program still tries to change students’ “thoughts, values, beliefs, and actions,” while focusing on “student learning outcomes.” It changes only the language. Like the old program, the new one centers on “sustainability.” But while the old program defined the term (“the triple bottom line of having a society which is socially just, and communities which are economically and environmentally responsible”), the new program leaves the term undefined. What Residence Life calls “transparency” is nothing more than invisibility. A sign that the programs are much the same is that the new program, which was designed and would be implemented by the same ResLife administrators who had designed and implemented the earlier program, will have a Graduate Assistant for Diversity Initiatives, whose responsibilities include “Stereotyping, Oppression, Prejudice Reduction, Privilege, Heterosexism/ Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness, Racism, Ageism, Sexism, Values Clarification, Multicultural Jeopardy, Classism” (http://www.udel.edu/reslife/candidates/hd_jobdesc2.html).

Back to medical re-education, the techniques used by the Reslife authors bore resemblance to the those of the “Alternative/Integrative” movement. Primary was the use of obscure language to disguise real messages. In Reslife, the two terms that raised the most ire were “sustainability” and “social justice.” Sustainability ostensibly referred to life styles that students could adopt locally to help preserve nature and local life and reduce conflict, a point of political contention. Social justice ostensibly referred to local disputes, respect for cohabitants, and such. But the terms quickly turned to global political ones and the program took on features of political re-education . This metamorphosis was particularly problematic for young students away from home, most for the first time, vulnerable to indoctrination by people in authority. The plan was described also as a “curriculum,” giving it a veneer of academic respectability, to which faculty objected.

There is a difference in the ways that pressures for ideological change have been received in academic universities and in medical colleges. Political domination by polar advocates in universities is now meeting a small nucleus of resistance from more classically oriented faculty, mainly in the social and letters schools. While hard science faculty generally oppose political moves described here, they do not much provoke.

In comparison, the infiltration by “Integrative ” changes into medicine has for the most part been welcomed or at least passively accepted by medical school facultie: , and reactions have been blunted by political correctness and fear of alienating the advocates. And, oh, yes, the taboo on endangering any inflow of funding, which now runs in the billions from NCCAM, NIH, OCCAM and from private pro-sectarian ideologues.

So, we have an Orwellian movement in the dorms at Delaware, while in schools of medicine we have a Huxleyan Bravewell New World, whose 2006 Public TV series was unsurprisingly …”The New Medicine”…(!) Although the aims of the two systems differ, and perhaps even reflect opposing politics, the methods are eerily similar.

Enough said. More infiltration news in some surprising areas next time.

Posted in: Medical Academia, Politics and Regulation

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10 thoughts on “The Trojan Horses of Education

  1. James Fox says:

    Indoctrination of this type is not just for those in undergraduate or graduate schools. The RA programs in most colleges recruit students from secondary education programs where staff and philosophies are often shared. The philosophies you mention are commonly used/taught in college classes where future teachers are being trained for the K-12 classroom. Having two children currently in High School I’ve seen numerous lesson plans and class projects that have been nothing more than thinly veiled political indoctrination. When it comes to being susceptible to indoctrination I’d say that an eight, eleven or fifteen year old is much more unable to critically weigh the merits of what is presented in an authoritative manner by an adult in a real position of power.

  2. bcorden says:

    I can’t put my finger on it but it seems to me you are digging yourself into a mighty paradox. Take “sustainability,” if you will. Can there really be a debate about whether we should or should not have a sustainable society? Certainly a dorm at a University should not be forced to argue about a moot point. At an academic institution “everything” is not on the table. That is, you should not waste people’s time by arguing whether the moon is or is not made of green cheese. Yes, if the world lasted forever, but not if you have only four years to inculcate even a fraction of human knowledge that doubles every ten years (at least the medical part of it.) On the other hand you could just advocate being an ostrich. Nothing controversial about that.

    We should not be teaching CAM in medical schools. There is way too much information that doctors need to know to waste valuable time, no matter how rich your donors are.

  3. On May 12th I gave a talk at Yale and many of the faculty seemed to be quite surprised to learn what is going on there. It’s summarised at
    Integrative baloney @ Yale
    There is a short movie that concatenates some of the worst bits of their symposium.

    Yale is no worse and no better than many other places of course, but I got the impression that a concentrated push might just bring about some change.

  4. CarolynS says:

    In Berkeley California, home to a great university with lots of Nobel Prize winners and so forth, another wealthy idealist, Alice Waters (the chef of Chez Panisse fame) has been able to buy her way into the curriculum of the local public schools via the Chez Panisse Foundation, so that food is supposed to be integrated into all the classes. Now, no one is against food, but shouldn’t this be a decision made by educators and not just on the basis of the money that it generates? Also the schools teach the value of organic food and certainly also imply that it is known to be more healthful, hardly a given scientific fact.

  5. apteryx says:

    You make it sound like Alice Waters has bribed the local school district into letting her brainwash the children into … what? growing up to be the sort of people who might eat at her restaurant? I doubt they’re really talking about food in every class, although you certainly could link food to almost any subject, and there are worse things for kids to hear about than the fundamental basics of life (you gotta eat!), especially in an era when most Americans eat an unhealthy processed diet and hundreds of millions elsewhere are threatened with famine. The Berkeley program has kids grow vegetables in school gardens and teaches them to enjoy eating well-prepared fresh local food with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Such food tastes better, if your palate is used to anything beyond Big Macs, and there is quite a bit of evidence that it is not just better for your environment but better for your health. As for Alice Waters, her donations to give cash-strapped local schools the funds to set up gardens comes OUT of her pocket. She is being charitable, not making money off of this, so it’s not appropriate to say she is “buying in” to anything. If any attempt to help kids learn about non-corporate food is seen as something sinister, what about all the corporate advertising that is their main source of “information”?

  6. Apteryx you wrote, “The Berkeley program has kids grow vegetables in school gardens and teaches them to enjoy eating well-prepared fresh local food with plenty of fruits and vegetables…As for Alice Waters, her donations to give cash-strapped local schools the funds to set up gardens comes OUT of her pocket. She is being charitable…”

    I think it is much more complicated than that. I am not familiar with the Berkeley program per se so my comments are meant as generalizations. In many American schools teachers don’t have time to cover the basics of education like reading comprehension and basic math. Introducing additional programs or “food into every class” will make that even worse plus there are some students who will really resent have to learn all about food and having to tend a garden. Forcing them to do so might actually turn them against fruits and vegetables.

    While I suspect that your degree may be in nutrition, it is a subject I know little about. However, I believe that most experts agree that the typical American diet is unhealthy because it contains too many calories, chloresterol and salt. I don’t believe there is agreement about whether or not organic food offers advantages which according to Carolyn is what the course implies. If that is the case, then obviously parents who disagree will be angry, and rightly so, that it is being taught to their children.

    Many parents feel that they are the ones who should teach basic values to their children, not schools or Alice Waters. Ms. Waters has the option of setting up free private programs that parents who agree with her values can elect to send their children to. By setting up her progam in a public school she must accept the criticism of “buying in” or trying to indoctrinate children. Her agenda may not be financial gain. It is what is referred to in politics as an “agenda”. An agenda can be sinister or noble, but when you try to influence others into accepting your values, you most certainly have an agenda.

    I personally feel that schools shouldn’t take money from people to finance their pet projects no matter how noble they are or how good their intentions are. If people who care about education have money to spare, they can give it to schools to finance existing programs or they can set up private programs outside the public school system.

  7. Fifi says:

    First I’ll just say that forcing adult students into ideological programs funded by outside sources with an agenda – corporate entities of any kind – seems over the top. However it’s naive to think that education and what’s taught isn’t influenced by corporate and private donors with agendas. And let’s not forget that institutions themselves have ideologies, deep relationships with powerful industry, corporate and political entities, and are intricately involved in the larger power structure – they’re not neutral. It wasn’t really that long ago that these institutions started to acknowledge that women deserve equality. People immersed within an institution or system often have a hard time seeing it simply because they’re engaged with it.

    CarolynS – Weirdly, I have to agree with apertyx here for the most part (though unlike him I can see and understand the huge PR benefits and attraction of spreading one’s food ideology). Do you really consider chefs going into schools and doing nutritional education and getting kids involved with growing their own veggies a bad thing? Would you prefer schools continue to pander to corporate entities that have been indoctrinating American kids in the classroom and cafeteria for the past couple of decades? I suspect having only vending machines which sell Twinkies and cafeterias that sell McBurgers does more to turn children off veggies and healthy food (and promotes obesity and ignorance of basic nutrition).

    From what I’ve read – and I could be misinformed so I’m open to evidence I haven’t come across – there do seem to be some nutritional differences between organic and non-organic produce. And it’s really just common sense that an animal’s flesh – and the nutritional properties it has – would be affected by what they eat. It will be interesting to see what further research reveals.

    I think you may be barking up the wrong tree here and perhaps unaware of just how political food in schools already is and has been for decades, and who’s been in control of it. Not that food hasn’t always been political and ideological – from slavery and plantations to TV Dinners and RediWhip to Monsanto suing a farmer for the unwanted GM seeds that the wind blew onto his land and selling sterile seed/pesticide combo packs. The food industry has been selling people “food products” that serve the industry’s need first – to make money. Sometimes by using by-products from other industries.

    I really have to wonder why anyone would think organic food or sustainable farming methods are bad. It’s just food grown how it has been historically and if someone is actually looking at the evidence there’s lots to support traditional farming methods and increasing amounts of evidence of the environmental damage of chemical based commercial farming and food production. I’m certainly not against GM but I do think that it needs to be studied much more thoroughly than it has been and GM food should be labeled so that people can make their own choice. As it is, it’s something being heavily promoted and pushed by commercial interests who have historical interest in having monopolies over food and have proven themselves to have little interest in public health. These same corporations have been consistently trying to erode organic standards as a means to create the potential for profit.

    And, full disclosure, I subscribe to an organic veggie box from a local farm each year. Not only is it cheaper than buying non-organic produce shipped in from afar and even local organic produce at the market, but it’s much fresher and tastier (no doubt partly because it’s fresher). I’m not evangelical about it but it’s something that’s certainly improved my life and is obviously the better choice for me on many levels. Americans have a very strange relationship with food which seems to be based on quantity over quality (the serving sizes in the US are insane!), on cheap prices over taste and nutrition (which has distorted the real price and taste of food), and some strange ideas about what “real men” eat and so on.

  8. I don’t know anything about whether or not organic produce is superior to the other kind or better for the environment, but I do know several scientists who do not believe that is true and assume that they have good evidence to base that conclusion on. Since I don’t have time to investigate, I will reserve judgment.

    However, I do know that a big part of the effort to market “dietary supplements” and “alt. med.” is about pushing the benefits of “organic” and “natural” which is part of the campaign to convince consumers that natural is good and safe and synthetic is bad and dangerous. Or that “natural remedies” are much better at preventing and curing disease than nasty, unnatural synthetic drugs. Organic produce, alt. med and dietary supplements were all introduced to the market by health fraud stores who continue to push them and who were insturmental in making them a billion $$$ industry.

    I believe that there are safety concerns with organic produce that the general public isn’t aware of and also difficulties producing the quantities of food needed if only organic is grown. But I am not sure of this. There are probably experts here who can give us the facts. I recall at least one instance in which an unpasturized organic apple juice caused disease.

    I would guess that there is something between organic and the kind of mass agricultural production common today that might work best of all.

    However, I think that most American schools are doing such a bad job of basic education that that is where resources should be concentrated. I certainly don’t think anything controversial should be introduced by people offering private funds especially when they have the option of setting up private programs that parents who believe in the concept can choose for their children.

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