Ideology Club

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Nevada Family Alliance: That Body Cams for Teachers Group (curmudgucation.blogspot.com)

The first rule of Ideology Club is anyone who claims someone else is pushing their ideology on others is trying to push their own ideology without admitting it’s an ideology. The second rule of Ideology Club is anyone who claims someone else is pushing their ideology on others is trying to push their own ideology without admitting it’s an ideology. Yeah, I know it’s not as catchy as the source material, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate.

Like the latest pop song or annoying trend of the day, ideology is everywhere. Even when we make choices in our lives without consciously thinking about our own ideologies, those ideologies can still slip into our thinking in unconscious ways. More to the point, everything we interact with in our lives was structured, in both large and small ways, based on the ideologies of others, especially those who have historically had power over others. You can choose to ignore the influence of others’ ideologies over your life if you want (it’s a very complex topic to conceptualize, and usually it’s not very fun to think about), but that doesn’t make those ideologies disappear.

If I were to continue the metaphor from earlier, I should probably say something along the lines of how the third rule of Ideology Club is whenever someone in a debate claims that they don’t have (or aren’t trying to promote) an ideology, the debate is over, and whoever made that claim automatically loses. As convenient as that might be, though, it’s unrealistic in this day and age. (After the last six years of American politics, it feels like Godwin’s Law has become as obsolete as 300 baud modems.) Instead, a better third rule would be that everyone has an ideology. Everyone.

On one level, claiming to not have an ideology is a very vapid rhetorical technique, appealing to people’s ideas of what is “normal” or “natural” or “traditional” or what have you. By framing an audience’s beliefs as existing beyond the bounds of the nitty-gritty of ideology, pure and unsullied by such a nasty-sounding concept (there’s a reason why some religious types leap on this technique, framing their own ideologies as received divine wisdom), that audience gets the same dopamine rush of validation as they get from the media echo chambers that have taken over the American political landscape these past four decades like kudzu. Given the huge amounts of money that can still be made by nurturing and growing those echo chambers, it makes sense that there is a parallel growth in some people claiming that all their political opponents are trying to push their ideologies on people, but they themselves are not beholden to any ideology.

There’s no denying the effectiveness of this tactic, though. Beginning with the Reagan Revolution, but picking up speed during the Gingrichization of the Republican Party and its focus group-tested rhetoric, conservatives have managed to reframe their “ideology-free” ideologies with such terms as “American values” and “family values” and “Christian values” and so on and so on and so on. Beyond that, their work to disparage ideas that are anathema to them continues in a myriad of other ways, such as turning people against the idea of civil rights by using the term “identity politics” to describe the struggles for those rights at every available opportunity. It doesn’t come as a surprise that as right-wingers realized that they were gaining traction in their efforts to censor the teaching of past and present discrimination in America by referring to it with the term “critical race theory,” conservative politicians and media figures have practically deluged the American cultural landscape with those three words, along with their strawperson condensation of what they think critical race theory is to the rage-inducing (and highly inaccurate) shorthand “white people are evil.”

Every conscious decision made by a teacher is, in some way, a reflection of that teacher’s ideology. My teaching practices, just like my decision to pursue teaching as a career, is based largely on my experiences of having teachers try to force their ideologies on me when I was younger (and punish me when I didn’t regurgitate those ideologies on command), and my belief that no student should have to put up with having teachers force ideologies on them. My decision to do that is, in and of itself, an ideology. If I were to ape the worst aspects of my previous teachers and force my ideologies on my students, that would also be an ideology. If I were in the kind of environment where I had bosses (superiors down the hall, school boards, state and federal governments) try to micromanage everything I say and do in my classes, and I were to go along with those demands, that would be an ideology. Defying those demands because they go against my moral and ethical beliefs would be an ideology.

The only conceivable way in which I could act in a classroom without any kind of ideology would be to have some kind of brain surgery that completely removed my ability to make conscious decisions about anything and everything I do. It’s not exactly a shock, then, that the same people bleating about their twisted redefinition of critical race theory right now are the same people who have been pushing for “teacher-proof” curricula in schools for years now, and are mounting increasing pressure to move more instruction out of the hands of human teachers and into the decisions of computer algorithms, as if those algorithms are somehow disconnected from the historical and contemporary ideologies of the people who designed and programmed them, and the data those algorithms use to make their decisions.

My job as an English instructor is not just to teach the mechanics of writing and research, but to help students develop their abilities to engage in critical thinking for themselves, which necessitates a healthy respect for my students’ ideologies. I’m there to teach my students how to think, not what to think, and that means interrogating deeply-held beliefs — theirs, my own, others that they could conceivably run into — to help them see problems from a variety of perspectives, apply their own judgments, and come to conclusions that may be contested and malleable, but will always be authentic and, more importantly, authentically theirs. Doing that while being conscious of my own ideologies, and not allowing these ideologies to unduly influence my daily teaching practices, is a difficult process, but that’s why good teachers — not just at the college level, but all the way down to kindergarten — not only train for years in the theory and practice of instruction, but continuously evaluate and retool their classroom practices for the needs of their individual students, which can vary not just from term to term, but day to day as well.

These are all still ideologies, but they are no more worthy of that term than the ideologies of people who want to impose their own ideologies on America’s schools, even if those people claim that their ideologies are somehow not ideologies. The current fight over the definition and appropriateness of critical race theory is just the latest iteration of a long-running war over the role and shape of American education that began ages ago, and will still be going on long after I stop teaching one day. The needs of a healthy democracy require that we have these debates, but for entities involved in such a debate to claim that everyone else but them is influenced by some kind of ideology is the height of acting in bad faith, and those claims must be challenged whenever they are brought up, if these debates are to be anything more than a farce for the sake of public spectacle. The real first rule of Ideology Club is you always talk about Ideology Club.

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