Monday, December 18, 2006

Re-education Camp

During the Cultural Revolution in China, those who were suspected of being politically incorrect were tormented in endless sessions of criticism / self-criticism with their accusers. Millions were sent to re-education camps, where they were subjected to indoctination designed to destroy any tendencies they still harbored towards independent thought.

As this editorial in today's Las Vegas Review-Journal demonstrates, at least one American university thinks the Chinese were on to something good:

The agents of political correctness who police the nation's college and university campuses generally use shame and scorn to beat down free expression deemed offensive by the tiniest minority.

But sometimes, institutions aren't content to merely marginalize those who fail to embrace a worldview that emphasizes the rights of groups over those of individuals. Rather than engage these free spirits in open debate in a classroom setting -- isn't that what college is all about? -- administrators seek to re-educate these malefactors on the proper way to think.

Michigan State University has taken the multicultural mantra of indoctrination to a new extreme. Students whose speech or behavior is deemed inappropriate for a university setting are ordered to complete, at their own expense, the school's Student Accountability in Community Seminar.

This program bills itself as an "early intervention" for those who take "any action of obscuring, concealing, or changing people's perceptions that result in your advantage and/or another's disadvantage." In other words, any behavior that might make someone feel bad. Seminar participants have included students who've argued with professors or cracked offensive jokes -- constitutionally protected free speech.

Once enrolled in the seminar, students are forced to complete written questionnaires about their behavior, sometimes several times, until an instructor believes the student has taken "full responsibility" for his actions. If a student refuses to enroll in the seminar, the university won't let the student register for classes, a de facto act of expulsion.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting free expression, civil rights and educational freedom on college campuses, has demanded that Michigan State University dismantle the program.

"As bad as it is to tell citizens in a free society what they can't say, it is even worse to tell them what they must say," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a news release. "Michigan State's program is an immoral and unconstitutional program of compelled speech, blatant thought reform, and pseudo-psychology."

The university has told FIRE that the program is under review. We were unable to secure further comment from Michigan State officials.

The existence of seminars such as Student Accountability in Community is an affront to the values that institutions of higher education should hold dear. Universities should aspire to give students the intellectual skills and information to discuss issues and refute arguments, not shelter them from the kinds of ideas and expressions that roam free outside campus walls.

But Michigan State has gone an unconstitutional step further, seeking not only to protect students from ever having their feelings hurt, but to control students' collective conscience.

This is a model for the kind of education colleges and universities should never offer.

(Italics mine)


Goesh said...

-it's the joy of enforcement and doling out punitive consequences, that's the 'juice' of it that counts, often simply called power

Internet Ronin said...

Thanks for looking in, goesh! There's definitely something said for the intoxicating effects the exercise of power has on some people.

Callimachus said...

As pitiful as this college's program is, I have to say the most powerful impression I'm taking away from this post is that an American newspaper in 2006 would actually have this clear-headed reaction to it, and express it in these plain words.

Internet Ronin said...

I hadn't thought of this that way. Perhaps their unique location allows the Review-Journal the freedom to be more direct than other newspapers. Then again, most newspapers have a vested interest in standing up for freedom of speech, as they realize that they are the most likely future targets should such limitations prove successful.

Thank you for stopping by, Callimachus. (And sorry about the delayed response. Lots going on in the 3D world at the moment.)

tjl said...

Forced participation in this program would be a sure way to instill a lifelong hatred of PC and everything it stands for. Obviously the brighter students dragooned into the prgram will quickly learn to parrot whatever PC drivel they need to spout to be found eligible for release. Then they'll spend the rest of their lives combatting the thought police.

Internet Ronin said...

Then they'll spend the rest of their lives combatting the thought police.

One would hope so, tjl. That said, I do believe that there is a long and sad historical record world-wide of successfully psychological traumatizing of such victims with such programs that they remain docile for years in fear of further retribution or public humiliation.

tjl said...

"there is a long and sad historical record world-wide of successfully psychological traumatizing of such victims with such programs that they remain docile for years."

But not for ever, Ronin. Survivors of the re-education camps of the Cultural Revolution were among those who returned China to a free-market economy, and enriched the lives of millions.

Internet Ronin said...

Good point, tjl. Good point! (Then again, that's business, not politics, and China today is not much more tolerant of political dissent than it was 40 years ago.)