Sunday, August 26, 2007

Indoctrination into Relativism

As a course assignment, I was required to read and learn educational researcher William Perry's primary stages of intellectual development in college students. He studied college students for many years and theorized the most important stages (or "positions", as he thought that the term "stages" was much too restricting and static...) he saw. The study was done in the 50's and 60's, and one can therefore imagine what "positions" the 21st century university minds/lack of minds are in. It is being used as the educational standard for many universities to this day.

Stage one: Dualism (either/or thinking)
This stage is one where the student sees the instructor's role as one who conveys truth, or the correct answers. The student studies the correct answers, ignoring all others. Perry saw that students who believed in the presence of right and wrong answers were quickly influenced to think in more flexible, "open minded" ways when in the presence of the pluralistic atmosphere of the university.

Sadly considered the most primitive form of intellectual functioning, IN REALITY, dualism is merely undeveloped critical thinking at worst, and a respectful view of the nature of Truth at best. Unequipped thinkers are then rather forcefully ushered into the next stage by their instructors in order to "help them to intellectually develop". This precludes any hope of the pursuit of any real intellectual honesty.

Stage two: Multiplicity (subjective knowledge)
Or,"you're entitled to your opinion". This stage is a challenge to the "constraints" of dualism, and students view knowledge as a matter of opinion. The instructor's role is to teach from his or her perspective, but that does not mean it is correct. Students expect the instructor to see value in all perspectives, even what could be considered to be "incorrect". Perry believes that most college students are in this stage.

In Perry's "middle ground", the nature of Truth has been cognitively obliterated. This view is ultimately nihilistic in its approach, for when everything has value, then really nothing does. That is, in order for something to have a high value, its relationship to that which possesses a lower value must be apparent. When everything is equal, then everything is thus rendered meaningless.

Stage three: Relativism (constructed knowledge)
Essentially the same as above with the rejection of absolute Truth, except knowledge is now defined by its functionality as opposed to merely being an opinion. The instructor is present as a guide, giving scenarios and helping the student to choose the most practical approach. Knowledge is reached through experience and reflection. According to Perry, relativism defines when the student has "arrived", so to speak, intellectually.

Aside from committing the fallacy of false association (relativism and intellectualism are always associated), this stage is one of convenience. If it is convenient and useful, then it is true.

Seeing as I, an ardent absolutist who believes that knowledge is an understanding of Truth, am intellectually unsound and undeveloped, I will attempt to use my lacking abilities to pursue Perry's theory.
1) A theory adherent assumes, contrary to relativistic values, that everyone must ultimately either conform to relativism, or that it must be their ultimate goal.
2) A theory adherent rather arrogantly believes that any thought not grounded in relativism is not truly intellectual. This, again, is not relativism. This is an appeal to an absolute concept. Hence, it is cheating.
3) At the so-called "pinnacle of development", if knowledge is that which is functional, and relativism itself is considered to be non-functional for a student, is that student not able to use this "constructed knowledge"?
4) Relativism is an elaborate exercise in absurdity. Without fixed standards, there is chaos. Where there is chaos with no hope of order, and life is rendered absurd. Why then pay for college to learn about absurdity? I for one am able to pursue that on my own.
5) True to postmodern form, we again see a disbanding of the categories of Truth. Perry's theory requires that an adherent merely ignores such boundaries. Gravity is ultimately in the same category as one's opinion on dark versus milk chocolate. (albeit you will likely never hear this from the postmodern mouth)

The truly disturbing part is that this is to be memorized and held to by those studying education in many colleges and universities. Furthermore, I do not believe this approach allows for one to process and test the theory's functionality before filing it away under "constructed knowledge".


Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


This is an astute debuncking of indoctrination posing as social science wisdom. Your analysis is on target. I wish more students had this philosophical discernment. Spread the word.

Tim said...

This is really bizarre stuff. Not that it's any stranger than the worst one can see in postmodernism (by those standards, the presentation is rather tame -- where's the sex?) but you're clearly right that this is an attempt to indoctrinate students under the guise of teaching education.

Not that you asked for advice, but you might seriously consider dropping education and getting a degree in (ahem) a real field. You have some talent for philosophical thinking; have you considered doing a philosophy major instead?