Friday, October 12, 2007

Why My Classroom Is Not "Open to the Full Range of Opinions"

I had a half done essay on the topic, but this guy beat me to it. And his version is shorter and punchier than my long-winded one. So using it as a stepping stone, I'll try to make it even shorter:

Opinions and knowledge are two different things. Academia is concerned only with knowledge, never with opinion. (Knowledge that is probabilistic is OK, as long as we have some way to estimate the degree of probability).

Democracy (i.e. decision by majority vote) is only suitable for deciding subjects on which knowledge doesn't exist.

Hence, any subject or choice which we decide by majority vote is not something which can be profitably discussed in a classroom. Or to put it differently, if a subject is discussed in a classroom, that implies that it should not be decided by democratic methods.

This is why Socrates was unhappy with democracy -- because it was an open admission that politics, the most important field of all, was one in which we lack practical knowledge, and have only opinion.

(I've written about the incompatibility of democracy and expertise/knowledge before here.)

Hat tip here is due to George Leef at Phi Beta Cons. Which is ironic, since the general position of Phi Beta Cons is that the solution to having left-wing opinion in classrooms, is to have right-wing opinion side by its side. The result is further to reduce the amount of knowledge being actually taught our students in the primary institution dedicating to eschewing opinion for knowledge. The supposed cure actually amplifies the underlying disease.

(And yeah, I know this wasn't the post you were expecting. I'll get to it, I promise!)

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