Optimal thought and optimal fitness through reason, logic, science, passion, and wisdom.
“The Classroom Without Reason” by Douglas Campbell
“The Classroom Without Reason” by Douglas Campbell

“The Classroom Without Reason” by Douglas Campbell

Mr. Campbell identifies some important reasons why schooling is in the bad shape it is today: too many teachers and professors regard teaching as “moral training,” i.e., as pushing their own point of view on students; and too many teachers and professors train students in irrationalism: reason to them is evil or to be avoided, but going on emotions or ‘gut feelings’ or what the student is told is good. Ask yourself what it accomplishes, if students cannot think for themselves. In what periods of history do we find people who cannot reason and think independently? Is such a state of personal identity and of social mores values we should strive to achieve? Who does it benefit, if students cannot think for themselves? What do people use for guidance, when they cannot use reason to guide themselves individually by facts and reality? In “The Classroom Without Reason” by Douglas Campbell (April 27, 2009 on the National Association of Scholars Website), Mr. Campbell — lecturer with the Department of Recreation and Parks Management at California State University at Chico, CA — said, after giving some examples of discussions he’s had with students in which the students would be unable to articulate a reasoned viewpoint, but were instead emotionalistic:
Where does such [irrational, emotionalistic — MG] thinking in university students come from? The answer is that it comes from the university itself. [And from primary and secondary schools!! — MG] As further evidence I offer the following example. Recently, I completed a required program of instruction that was intended to improve my teaching. Among the required readings were two particularly disturbing books presented as critical to our personal and professional development. The first, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, by Stephen D. Brookfield, stated that our job is “to increase the amount of love and justice in the world” and “change the world.”[1] Brookfield described faculty with an “anti-collectivist orientation” as “obstructionist dinosaurs standing in the way of desirable innovation and reform”(249).
… Now that Brookfield has set the stage by insisting we all believe, on faith, in the existence of a conspiracy causing oppression and mass disenfranchisement and that all things are not as they seem, he tells us that the nonspecific they are overworking us, demanding unfair accountability and forcing us unfairly to respond to market and economic realities. Brookfield advocates for what he calls a “critical pedagogy” (208), whose foundations he credits to Karl Marx, as “a means by which students are helped to break out of oppressive ways of thinking and acting that seem habitual but that have been imposed by the dominant culture” (209). Brookfield goes on to assert that education cannot be practiced in a capitalist economic system—implying that universities need a collectivist environment to function properly and that the foundation of the conspiracy is capitalism itself. Finally, he encourages faculty to take the role of “agent provocateur” and urges readers to develop “tactical astuteness and cunning” (41) instead of honesty and candor. Brookfield’s fantasy conspiracy and his goal of increasing the amount of love and justice in the world now become the justification for engaging in an actual conspiracy and dishonesty in which the end justifies the means. The second book, Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, by Parker J. Palmer, was no better.[2] Palmer tells us “to correct our excessive regard for the powers of intellect”(6). He goes on to attack all philosophies that insist on the primacy of the rational thought process, and he blames rational thought for totalitarianism, violence, and every social ill imaginable. Palmer tells us that we must put our feelings on at least an equal—preferably—dominant position to logic and rational thought processes. The obvious problem with this is that when feelings are emphasized over logic in problem solving we cease to think rationally and instead devolve to rationalizing our feelings. Feeling and emotions are natural, but should flow from the rational examination of facts. Then the resulting feelings are justified and may even be called logical and worthy of respect. Education should be the triumph of facts, logic, and reason over unsupportable emotions.
I can vouch for that. I saw exactly that type of thing and those types of books when I was getting my teacher’s credentials from the University of Houston in the 90s. And in reading what is going on in modern education, I have learned about more of the same — for example, William Ayers is for “social justice,” which is merely a euphemism for Marxism and for the irrationalism that Mr. Campbell discusses above. I kept quiet mostly, so I could get my credentials and get out. I was “threatened” in writing once (a professor saying he thought I should not be a teacher, and if I contested the low grade he gave me, he’d speak against me) and — in getting my B.S. in Math and my B.A. in Philosophy at UT, Austin — I had a few professors “threaten” to fail me for speaking an alternative to their indoctrination (‘do not oppose me, or you will be failed’). Many/most teachers I taught with through the years were more collectivist than individualist. And they bought into many bogus theories of education — well, some people followed those things because their jobs and well-being were on the line; some because the theory behind the methods was too philosophic or abstract for them to grasp. Mr Campbell concludes:
I respectfully suggest that the philosophical and ethical foundations of both the United States and the modern American university are being undermined by the ideology of collectivism, with its dogmatic hatred of Western civilization and individuality, and, most serious, its hostility to rational debate. The quintessentially American acceptance of the right of individuals to come to their own educated conclusions, and then to speak and act according to these conclusions and their own conscience, is under siege by collectivist rules and a repressive group mentality. … If Aristotle was right that “Man is a rational animal,” it seems unlikely that these efforts to turn higher education into exercises in ideology can ultimately prevail. They run against something basic in human nature, even as they take advantage of human weaknesses, such as vanity. But such optimism as I can summon is for the very long term. The point at which students demand that their teachers once again take their rational capabilities seriously has not arrived and isn’t even on the horizon. What do we do in the mean time? We support the organizations and individuals who resist the irrationality. We do our best to keep alive the hope that one day teachers will be able to teach and students will be a ble to learn in an environment free from coercion and deceit, and that civility, rationality, and the open exchange of ideas and the virtues of tolerance will be returned to their rightful place. © 2009 National Association of Scholars. All rights reserved. Designed and Hosted by Princeton Online.
That is what I focus on when I teach/tutor: teaching students to reason and think independently. I don’t censor what they say — I just let them know that they damn well better be able to back up their statements with facts and good reasoning. Read the rest!


  1. Autumn

    Thanks for the link. I really enjoyed his writing and yours as well. From the beginning of our childrens’ education my husband and I thought it was wrong to tell our children to “do as the teacher says even if you disagree”. On an intuitive level we knew that telling our kids to follow and not think for themselves was a huge mistake. I watched the kids filing down the hall in silent, single file lines and thought, “Why do they have to walk in lines? Can’t they walk in a group and just be quiet?” Now I understand it is more about teaching submission and knowing your place than maintaining order.

  2. Autumn:

    Thanks! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post, and hope you got something out of it.

    Maybe it was a mistake saying what you did to your children — but don’t you know better only in hindsight? And when children are young, shouldn’t they generally “obey” adults and learn that they can trust adults? In the situation your children were in, wouldn’t it have been hard on them if they had to deal with the consequences of not “obeying?” Angry teachers. Fellow students who would probably mock the individual. Upset principals.

    Sounds like you did the best you could in the context you were in.

    It’s hard to know what’s really going on in the school system, and what all the influences are. It takes a lot of research and reading.

    Unfortunately, from what I know (but I’d want to research this further!), our educational system — especially/primarily the public — has been influenced by the authoritarianism of Prussia, Austria, and Germany. Many Americans, after graduating from college in the mid- to late-1800s, went on trips to Europe, and especially Prussia/Austria/Germany. Americans brought back “intellectual viruses'” from the Germanic regions. The viruses have been infecting and degrading Americans ever since.

    Read some of the posts I’ve made about Montessori education. (I’ll be posting more.) Montessori teaches order by teaching self-sovereignty instead of submission. It appeals to human nature instead of abusing human nature. Children in Montessori schools (real Montessori schools) show order because they want to, and they “obey” because they like and respect other people.

  3. Student in Australia

    Hi, thank goodness I found this site. I am doing a Master of Teaching in Australia and have just handed in a reflective writing task focusing on “The Courage to Teach”. I am so disturbed after having the book forced upon me (it was a required text and required reading). I felt that I had to agree with the contents of it but felt that my integrity was compromised so I told the truth. I am yet to get my results back…will let you know! The first couple of pages into Palmer’s book I knew something was up. I thought I was reading a book about god that had cleverly omitted the word “god” from the text. A quick google search into the background of Palmer revealed that my suspicions were correct. I am quite annoyed, not unlike the writers above, with the anti-Western sentiment and academic bashing in Palmer’s book. The book reads like an anti-science, anti-rationalist, pro-tradition, pro-irrational rant; a knee-jerk reaction that defends Palmer’s position as a Christian Quaker threatened by realities of the “real” world. I consider myself rationalist and am athiest. I am from a language and social science/anthropology background. My idea of good teaching is to present all sides/perspectives of a topic, allow students to reasearch further and let me them come to their own conclusion based on the information available. I am also interested in alternative humanist approaches to teaching-like Montessori education. I am very open minded. But I think I will shutup from now on too; toe the line until I graduate.

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