Socrates has proven to be an excellent critic of both modern media and modern modes of education. His great virtue was moral integrity. He lived and taught by a simple principle, namely, that a conviction should stem from knowledge. This, Socrates held firmly, was the key to wisdom and, it would seem, essential to a real education.
In Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, Socrates is confronted by three Sophists: Gorgias, Prolus, and Callicles. This trio of adversaries is content to seem wise. Socrates believes it is better to be wise rather than to cultivate a sham pretension. Their conversation revolves around whether knowledge is needed in order for a person to be persuaded about something. Socrates cannot understand how a person could believe something if there were no basis for it in knowledge. The Sophists, however, are confident that they could persuade people without furnishing them with knowledge. The Athenian gadfly manages to get one of them to admit that baseless persuasion only works “in a crowd” and “among the ignorant,” which for Socrates is nothing less than manipulation. He admonishes his opponents, insisting that “Above all else, a man must study, not how to seem good, but to be so, both in public and in private life.”
I perused the academic landscape, zeroing in on the university where I was teaching. The various departments were more like receding galaxies than complementary disciplines forging a true university through the pursuit of different avenues of thought. Feminists had invaded the English Department, indoctrinating students in an ideology that was utterly unsupported by scholarship. Some of the historians were relativists who felt free to interpret their discipline without any fixed reference to actual events. Theologians were focused on dissent, confident that they could build a “second magisterium” solely from the standpoint of wishful thinking. Deconstruction was au courant. To be liberal meant being liberated from tradition. (Robert Hutchins, former president of the University of Chicago, once said that the only thing that united his school was the heating system.)
I picked up a widely used social science textbook, Sociology, edited by Robert Hagedorn (third edition). The chapter on “Socialization” by Marlene Mackie of the University of Calgary caught my attention. On page 64 she contends that the newborn child “is not yet human.” This is merely an assertion on her part devoid of any objective basis. How does it become human, university students may well ask? Dr. Mackie tells them: “The physical care, emotional response, and training provided by the family transform this noisy, wet, demanding bundle of matter into a functioning member of society.”
Well, that is quite a trick, even more impressive than pulling a rabbit out of a hat! Let’s throw out everything that biology, neonatology, and fetology tell us, turn parents into magicians, and neonates into blobs of matter. Where is Socrates when we need him?! Here is a concerted and systematic attempt, under the guise of education and devoid of any facts, to convince uncritical students that abortion is merely disposing of unwanted matter. Here ideology overruns education, aided and abetted by a network that includes a publishing house, a host of editors, a university, and an approving professor. The university student is outnumbered and outclassed.
Such unmitigated nonsense, continuing year after year, cannot be explained by a lack of information or an understandable misunderstanding of a complex subject. Parents do not transform a non-human into a human. No one believes such an outlandish proposition. The university may seem wise, imitating the Sophists, but it often falls far short. Socratic integrity would insist on providing students with a basis in knowledge for their convictions, and would strongly oppose indoctrinating a susceptible crowd of presumed ignoramuses.
Rather than create the impression that Professor Macklin is guilty of nothing more than a solitary lapse of judgment, let us note that she goes on to state that “Canadian society could not continue to exist unless the thousands of new members born each year eventually learn to think, believe, and behave as Canadians.” It may be surprising to some members of Canadian society that a ranking sociologist has failed to notice the fact that Canada is the most heterogeneous society in the world. Moreover, the Liberal, Progressive Conservative, and New Democratic Parties are virtually at war with each other. Here is an educator who rejects philosophy and the use of the human intellect in favor of all the citizens of her country becoming homogeneous Canadian clones.
The authentic university is a place where students apprehend the unity of truth through exposure to various disciplines of learning. It has now been replaced by a false enterprise that serves not education, but arbitrary ideologies that contradict the purpose of a university education. In its present fractured state, the university is complicit in undermining the intelligence of students and advancing agendas that have no justifying bases in knowledge.
Let us open the door to new followers of Socrates, who will insist that teachers honor their students by teaching them, as best they can, how to pursue the truth of things.