‘Training,’ Not Education

May 31, 2005

I wanted to further highlight FIRE cofounder Harvey Silverglate’s strong critique of portions of the reports by Harvard’s Task Force on Women Faculty and Task Force on Women in the Sciences and Engineering. Money graphs:

The report on women in the sciences and engineering recommends that doctoral students in those fields (and eventually grad students in all departments) be required to complete a training course with a component on gender bias. The report also recommends that search committee members undergo mandatory training in implicit bias. Implicit bias (a concept pioneered by Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, among others) refers to supposed unconscious or hidden prejudices that don’t manifest themselves overtly. While such research may (or may not) be scientifically credible, it can function as a convenient scientific justification for interpreting any behavior as proof of sexism (or racism). In practice, such training can discourage dissent from campus orthodoxies and discussion of uncomfortable ideas.

The task force on women faculty also recommends that faculty and staff undergo mandatory sexual harassment training. It is revealing that Harvard refers to these programs as “training” rather than dress them up as “education” as some universities do (and as the report does elsewhere). Orwellian language games can’t conceal the true nature of these programs, which attempt to coerce participants into identifying themselves as either victims or oppressors. Like “implicit bias training,” sexual harassment training is a species of thought-reform intended to amplify hostility towards ideas or attitudes deemed offensive. And as President Summers is doubtless acutely aware, even the most innocuous comment can be interpreted as offensive when everyone on both left and right seems on hair-trigger alert for offense.

I am in the midst of reading an interesting new book by Frank Ellis. Called Political Correctness and the Theoretical Struggle: From Lenin and Mao to Marcuse and Foucault, the book notes the importance Lenin placed in specific “training” in “correct” ideologies—where the party bureaucracy essentially merged with the education process to enforce ideological discipline through endless propaganda sessions and through ruthless discipline. While the price of dissent at Harvard (or CUNY Brooklyn or Rhode Island College) does not include a trip to the gulag, the methodological similarities to Leninism still remain.

Schools:  Harvard University