Common Good and indoctrination

The last couple days’ discussion haven’t left a consistent impression upon my memory. In the afternoon I remember them going well, yet by evening, I can’t articulate whether or not I taught anything, much less what I might have taught.

Monday we dug into the question of community size and common good in 9:00. Plato insists that a community that becomes too large is not a community any more. My students seemed to think that UGA is still a community, despite its size, but I don’t think I led the conversation down too many roads helpful for answering that. My impression is that UGA is less a community, dedicated to an intelligible common good, and more a shopping mall of sorts. One picks up staple credit-hours from mine and others’ required classes, invests in skill-set-stock in one’s major classes, and buys overpriced drinks at clubs on weekends. Yes, the metaphor became less abstract on that last one. Deal with it.

In 10:00 our discussion dealt more with the question of Plato’s noble lie. Again, students’ willingness to accept a lying government shocked me. We also had a fairly fruitful discussion about why a community would want guardians rather than a democracy.

Today’s discussion focused more on indoctrination and Plato’s unflinching praise of it. My students, in a way that surprised me, seemed for the most part willing to accept indoctrination as a potentially good thing. Hauerwas, I’m sure, would be pleased. I’m not. Of course, I have to blame myself for that lapsed teaching moment–had I set up the discussion better, perhaps I could have rendered a bit more of the shock of Plato’s praise of brainwashing. Perhaps not.

And here I sit, having graded (but not marked up) about a third of their second papers. Back to the grind.



Filed under Plato, teaching

2 responses to “Common Good and indoctrination

  1. forestwalker

    re: indoctrination discussion

    Did you get any sense of a source of your students’ acceptance of indoctrination as a social good? If Plato’s ideas on the matter resonated would Strauss’? I’ve been hearing a lot of the hypothesis that those for whom 9/11 was a formative event in the teen years are showing a markedly different outlook on authority than the several generations that preceded them.

    Or perhaps it’s akin to the relativism described by Kay Haugaard’s CHE opinion piece describing the change in reaction to Jackson’s “The Lottery” over her years of teaching it?

  2. Nathan P. Gilmour

    I don’t have a subscription to CHE, so I could only read the first paragraph or so. I think I do remember reading that, though.

    I think my mistake was laying out Plato’s case for indoctrination before I asked my students’ opinion of it. Because my rehearsal of Plato was fresh in the air, it became the dominant argument. I think, had I done it differently, I could have built a stronger contrast over the course of the hour between an initial hostility to indoctrination, a critical reading of Plato, and a postcritical reflection upon “indoctrination” (whatever that term means when all’s said and done) that would generate further moral reasoning. Or at least that’s how I imagined it after class was over.

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