Teaching in an Age of Ideology
by Lee Trepanier
What does it mean to teach in an age of ideology?
At first glance, especially for conservatives, the answer appears to be obvious: to advocate for conservative ideas and principles against the prevailing ideologies of relativism, feminism, multiculturalism, and other “politically correct” dogmas that dominate the institutions of American higher education today. Alternatively, if you teach at an institution that is already conservative, or at least amendable to conservatism, then the ideological obstacles that plague most colleges and universities would seemed to be cleared, allowing professors to teach conservative ideas and principles without fear of retort or reprisal. Teaching therefore seems to be engaged in the “battle of ideas” with the hope that one set will prevail over another.
However, both of these approaches–whether teaching against certain ideologies or endorsing them–are flawed because they are fundamentally the same. Both types of teaching are ideological in nature, for genuine teaching is neither promoting nor denigrating certain pre-determined perspectives but rather the attempt to cultivate wonder in the student in the hope of turning their souls to the true, the beautiful, and the good. Plato’s Socrates called this activity periagoge, where one experiences a conversion in wonder to pursue truth. Teaching is not the student’s reception of doctrine, whether conservative or otherwise, but the attempt to pass the embodied experience of wonder, where the teacher’s presence becomes as important as the ideas that he or she is communicating.