Horses, carts and reflection

Posted on October 2, 2010


I remain deeply concerned about university media courses which seem continually to put carts before horses. Or not even to comprehend that the carts and horses are related in terms of logical advance.

This relates to the fact that students are often told to “forget theory” and to “reflect on your lives etc”. But one cannot reflect in a vacuum. We are all products of our environments; our thinking — our ability to reflect — is based on our backgrounds, and the premises upon which we have built the often contradictory theories by which we live and think.

Our reflections are governed by the theoretical basis on which we function. So it is surely first necessary to ask not what do I think, but why do I think it? Where does this mode of thinking come from? On what premises is it based? And why?

Without such a basis one can indulge in bouts of psycho babble which are, at best, superficial; at worst, deeply confusing and even nonsensical.  This is encouraged by the apparent acceptance of such concepts as intelligence tests and even of emotional intelligence. Surely these are concepts that should be questioned? Especially when there exists no satisfactory definition of what constitutes intelligence. Yet we now have IQ testing broadly accepted (certainly within the media) and the concepts of both emotional and spiritual intelligence touted widely.

Yet the media — and media students — might do better to reflect on the fraudulent origins of the very concept of intelligence testing as it was developed by Cyril Burt. An even more interesting reflection might be on the effect IQ testing (as refined by Stanford & Binet) had on the migration of desperate refugee applicants to the United States in the early decades of the last century. How many people are aware that more than half the refugee applicants from Hungary, Italy and those classified Jewish were rejected because the (English-language based) Stanford-Binet test found them to be “feeble-minded”?

Being aware of such situations and the manner in which we might analyse them could say more about us as individuals than any amount of navel gazing and certainly more than could be gained from any number of pop quizzes.

And what about the value systems underlying the “fun” team building exercises that are encouraged in so many tertiary educational environments? There is also often a dichotomy presented between inductive and deductive analysis, a dichotomy which any analyst, let alone journalist, would regard as utterly false.

These increasingly standard approaches seem blindly to accept methodologies and underlying values that more properly belong in the manuals of “motivational” gurus.  Yet any decent tertiary institution should be encouraging greater critical thinking rather than tryng to help students adapt more effectively to a corporate environment which, as Joel Bakan (The Corporation, 2004) argues convincingly, is psychopathic.

*Originally published in 2007

Posted in: Archive - 2007