Grist for the Mill

Posted on February 26, 2012


This past week Rick Santorum said: “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely. The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

OK, one of my jobs is to teach at the college level. I teach both undergraduate and graduate publishing courses. For me, publishing is the science and art of making documents public. The underlying principle behind this “doctrine” is GIGO — or, “garbage in; garbage out.” We make all of our life’s decisions based on the information we receive from a wide array of published documents — textbooks, newspapers, magazines, books of any sort, the Internet, even Bibles. We are, in fact, intellectually and emotionally, the information that we consume. If what we consume is crap, then what decisions we make based on that intel is also crap.

So, I essentially teach students the processes by which we create useful and accurate info for people to use in their lives. Each of these processes adds value to that original document — evaluating (acquiring) it, editing it, fact checking, design (package) and marketing. I attempt to ready students for careers in the profession of the business of disseminating information.

In my mind, the hallmarks of good publishing professionals are: first, that they are keen observers — of everything; second, that they are avid researchers. When it comes to papers, I tell my students that I do not want thesis papers. I tell them: go forth, look for as much info as you can, shift through that evidence and then come to a conclusion. Deciding on what you believe, or advocating a particular point of view or action or conclusion, beforehand effectively puts the blinders on and narrows what information the student can find. In the business world, ignoring a particular point of view because it does not fit a thesis can have disastrous effects.

Once students have observed and researched, then I ask them to sift through the evidence to find threads and arguments and counterarguments. It’s not about rules or doctrines, but about opening the senses. I ask them to think critically, to determine (based on what they observed and researched) what’s truly important for the reader to know, to create solid, accurate and interesting information that will result in sound decisions — both sound decisions on individual and societal levels.

So, if this is indoctrination, I plead guilty.  But our fates as individuals rest in being able to make decisions that will enrich our lives (not just necessarily monetarily) but that will also sustain the advancement of human culture. I’m just saddened (and angry) about being told what I do is a source of harm.

Note: Many people are salivating for the Republicans to nominate someone — like Santorum — who’s so absurdly conservative that (the reasoning goes) no sane person would vote for him/her. That assumes far too much for my liking. On the one hand, it presupposes an informed voting public. And on the other hand, it vastly underestimates the Republicans’ propagandist efforts. Need I remind folks that before 2008, most sane centrists and liberals discounted that W. had any chance of getting elected. Don’t let this be an instance of the unintended consequences of getting what you ask for. McGovern did not have the resources of corporate America behind him; W. did, and the agendas of megacorporations will just love an ultraconservative like Santorum. Major differences between Goldwater’s disaster in 1964 and today? Far stronger and bigger corporations, with more money and drive to enforce their will (ex: Fox News and Citizens United).

Posted in: conservatives