The education vs. indoctrination debate

I’m the RSS reader type who subscribes to a little bit of everything and then doesn’t really pay attention to which is which when skimming through the feeds (let’s just say “detail oriented” doesn’t go on my resume). Yet somehow in the melee of my reader, the Digital Reference blog keeps getting my attention. It’s not that Stephen’s posts are particularly controversial, but he just keeps hitting topics in a way that sparks my mind into motion. Most recently the one that got the wheels turning was “Referring patrons to open access resources.” Here’s what he had to say:

As I’ve been reading up on open access journals and open access archives (AKA open access repositories), I’ve been wondering to what extent I have been intentionally and unintentionally guiding patrons to these resources. I have to admit that I can’t remember a time when I explicitly referred a student to search for content in an open access archive or suggested they use a tool to locate articles in OA journals.

What got me in this paragraph was the “I have to admit” part, the feeling that this post is somehow an apology for not directing students to OA databases first. If that’s something to be sorry for then I’d better get in line, because I’ve never deliberately led a student to an OA resource. In my opinion, that would be something like suggesting a book on their topic because it was a nice color. Sure, I enjoy looking at a book with a pretty cover, but I’m sure as heck not going to select (er, judge) it on that point.

So here we go, into the “education vs. indoctrination” debate. Do we push tools and resources because we want to teach students to believe what we believe, or because they deliver what the student wants? Seems like a no-brainer, but even so early in my career I’ve been in a few situations where I wrestled with that question — such as the young boy who came in when I was at the public library and asked for books that support his pro-life opinion (can you have politics at 10?). I can remember some passionate debates on the subject in library school, and the issue reaches into all of higher education. Do a search on “education and indoctrination” anywhere you like and you’ll immediately find yourself in the thick of it. For instance, consider this comment in a Chronicle article by Jonathan Malesic entitled, “The Smell of Indoctrination in the Morning”:

In graduate school, I once overheard one teaching assistant tell another that she wanted to try to make her students into liberals before it was too late. Now, I think that having a few more liberals around, especially if they were strategically placed in swing states, would be a great thing for the republic. So in one sense, I sympathize with that TA. But I also know that to make students into liberals is an essentially illiberal act.

The fuzzy part of the issue is the question of where that line between education and indoctrination actually lies. Is it like pornography: you know it when you see it? Maybe. Or it could be even more tenuous and grey; an ever-shifting line that challenges us on a daily basis to uphold our own democratic values. It’s our privilege as librarians to know what the best information sources are, and to know what sources make for a healthy future of information. It is our challenge to communicate that knowledge to others. But is a reference interview the place to do so?

What do you think? Do you recommend resources based on need and relevance to the reference question, or do other factors come into play? In what circumstances do you (however subtly) push your values out to unsuspecting students? It’s a question worth asking ourselves periodically, and trying to measure how close we stand to that shifting, grey line.

6 thoughts on “The education vs. indoctrination debate”

  1. Kim, thanks for the nod to my post. I should note that what compelled me to write about the issue of OA journals was not that I was hoping to instruct students at the desk about OA. Instead, I was simply wondering what discovery tools I should be using to find OA content. If a student is looking for a known article, and my e-journal/link resolver tool indicates that I don’t have access to it via subscription services, what confidence should I have that might be discovery tools somewhere that will help me find out if the article is available in a preprint or postprint OA repository (or, better yet, is available online freely because the journal itself is OA). If my databases don’t have access to a known article, before I recommend ILL to my student, should I first always/often/sometimes/rarely try searching things like OAIster, Google Scholar, Live Search Academic, or DOAJ?

    I also wonder which if any of these search tools we might want to hook up to our federated search tool and also list on our databases page. There dozens of subject-specific OA archives (there are two just for library and information science, for example). Should we add these? Can we count on some sort of meta OA search tool yet?

    In short, how should we be connecting our users to content that may be OA?

  2. I’m not sure I’d equate referring someone to an open access source to referring based on the color of the book. To me, it seems more like referring someone to something held by the library vs. referring them to something that can be retrieved through ILL. To be fair, I’m not a reference librarian so don’t have immediate experience, but it seems like access to materials should be one factor in what’s recommended (though certainly not the only factor — if the “best” resource is only available through ILL then they need to go that route).

  3. If this has anything to do with indoctrination, it’s that we’ve been indoctrinated by vendors (and ourselves) into thinking that we’re teaching students the proper way to do research if we guide them to stuff we pay for and ignore scholarship that anyone can access, even though we’ve been telling scholars to go the open access route.

    I don’t want students to believe that once they graduate and move to some part of the country or the world where there isn’t a well-funded library that they’re outta luck. Teaching them to find resources that are available to all makes a lot of sense. So why don’t I do it more often?

    This disconnect seems to parallel the vexing fact that so few librarians self-archive their own work (or choose to publish in OA journals) and that our very own association’s publications are not 100% OA.

    We’ve been indoctrinated.

    By the way, there’s been a pretty wholehearted effort to suggest that academia is indoctrinating Our Youth and turning them into Radicals. David Horowitz keeps trying to force scholars into teaching “both sides” of everything – as if everything has two sides.

    The Free Exchange on Campus blog keeps track of these claims of indoctrination, in case you’re interested. I owe them a few blog posts, in fact.

    In answer to your question, yes, I do push my values to unsuspecting students. They think I’m just going to give them an answer – look there, copy that down, off you go. Instead I give them an interrogation, hoping they’ll realize that honing a good question is what college is about and that easy answers aren’t usually good answers. But that’s sorta my job.

    Isn’t college about teaching values? Not who to vote for or what to think, but what makes for good evidence, how to analyze an argument, that all claims are open to analysis. Those are values, and for some students the inherent challenge they pose to certain “truths” they don’t want to examine critically can be threatening and unwelcome.

    I work at a Lutheran institution and the department that gets the most heat for this kind of “indoctrination” into academic values is the religion department.

  4. We’ve incorporated open access materials into our link resolver—which should put these resources into the mix of materials that students and scholars will consult. The key to making open access resources more central to the research process is their integration into the tools that students and scholars use—key research databases and (let’s be honest) Google Scholar. When developing an instruction session for undergraduates, I usually focus on how to evaluate information—but don’t discuss the open access issue. We actively encourage our undergraduates to use ILL to acquire materials not held locally, so access is not as much of an issue. I have, however, raised the open access issue with graduate students and faculty. I teach a series of workshops called the “Survival Skills for Graduate Students” and we introduced a workshop in that series this past year on the publishing process (at the request of graduate students!) Especially in that workshop, I talk about copyright, publishing, and open access—not to discourage graduate students from publishing in for-profit journals but to raise their awareness of the publishing options available and of their rights as authors.

  5. I have to admit (there is a lot of that going around) that I rarely if ever refer students to OA journals except in response to a specific request for a specific title. And my reasons for this are perhaps a bit self-serving. I am fighting a constant and occasionally uphill battle to make our students (and at times faculty) recognize the value of the library’s subscription resources. Any direction of the students away from these resources invariably seems to result in their wandering off away from the library resources, often to the detriment of the quality of their research. Because I rarely have time to dig into the complexities of the information landscape and help them to understand how OA journals fit into that landscape, they instead seem to latch on to these titles (and by “they” I mean both students and faculty) as reason to blow off library resources…a move which is perhaps deserved at times…but a frustration none the less.

  6. My view is that teaching is indoctrination. “Doctrine” means teaching. You are always doing it. Even if you direct a person to multiple opinions on an issue, you are trying to indoctrinate them to be a good listener. In the Western tradition, we simply have put a high premium on logic, evidence, and argumentation. And then, there is also the element of trusting authorities and presuppositions. All of this comes into play.

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