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Santorum: Colleges are ‘indoctrination mills’

Aaron Sprinkles, Viewpoint Editor

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The race for the Republican nomination this year has been more interesting than any I can remember. It seems like Rick Santorum may beat Gingrich in their apparent competition to see who can tell the biggest, most ideological lie. The former Pennsylvania senator characterized the nation’s colleges as “indoctrination mills” last Thursday in an attempt to criticize one of President Obama’s initiatives on higher education. Employing a variation of the standard “academia is a liberal cesspool” rhetoric, Santorum argued (with a straight face) that our universities brainwash students – in four to six short years transforming them into liberal atheists.

Santorum’s unfortunate comments were made in an interview with the lunatic and notorious demagogue Glenn Beck, claiming “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.” Further, “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.” Santorum was unable to cite a source for this figure, and since most of the studies that aren’t ambiguous say the opposite, that those who don’t go to college are the least religious, it seems clear the statistic was a calculated lie.

Santorum is in an interesting position in the race for the nomination. Rival candidate Mitt Romney, as a Mormon and a former financier, naturally appeals to business but has been unable to reach evangelicals and the populist segment of the Republican power base that opposed the bank bailouts. This makes Santorum an extremely dangerous person. With every incentive to weld a coalition between blue-collar workers anxious about outsourcing and religious extremists anxious to foist their dogmas on the public, the former senator is building a constituency comprised of the most reactionary and philistine elements of the body politic.

As for Santorum’s comments, they drip with the typical hypocrisy of institutional religion. Indoctrination techniques are a mainstay of religious instruction in many traditions, children and the vulnerable being almost exclusively the subject. Additionally, enrollment in a university is usually the first opportunity many young adults have to create distance from their parents – and their parents’ worldview. The real problem fundamentalists have with universities is that, unlike the evangelical home, the college environment at least nominally promotes intellectual freedom. As such it is a weak link in the pattern of control that hardline religious traditions attempt to erect around the lives of their adherents, allowing a portion of their captive audience to escape into other interpretations of the world.

Not to mention extremist objections to the fact that universities are the repository for information that refutes foolish claims, chief among them being that the Bible or any other religious text is inerrant and literally true. The intellectual challenge to fundamentalist worldviews, although not universally present, is centered on college campuses and is implicit in the curriculum of incoming students. Paradoxically, the “indoctrination” of students with facts has led a number of these religious fringe organizations to get into the business of higher education for themselves, allowing their students to bypass any serious threat to their beliefs. Schools like Bob Jones and Brigham Young are universities in name only, their mission being to inculcate the minimum facts necessary for accreditation while requiring students to attend religious classes in a sad effort to preserve their worldview unchallenged and unchanged.

Santorum has allied himself with the contemptible and the fear-ridden in a bid for the nomination and can’t be allowed to prevail. The educated public in Kentucky is used to dealing with, and being embarrassed by, fundamentalists who besmirch the reputation of our state and its institutions; and we find ourselves in a unique position to educate the nation on the dangers of engaging with extremists who defile the minds (and sometimes the bodies) of children.

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Santorum: Colleges are ‘indoctrination mills’