The following is an edited version of actual correspondence.
SC: I ran into Dr. T. I described to him, as I could best describe how you told me the way you perform in your classroom, not having viewed your “performance” but just what I could remember from your telling me, and passed out but a few phrases to Dr. T. He picked up on a small reoccurring theme from my most inadequate description of you and told me that sociology instructors must convey the science of sociology and not push for any agenda. When he told me this I must admit I was taken back, shocked at being told this. I have reflected much about what he told me and I guess it is much safer to present the current teachings of sociology without pushing any viewpoints to avoid ire from administration and community.
In my opinion, if one values education and strives to determine the truth in all things, then does it not follow that attitudes and viewpoints arise out of this? Could it be that they just want safe, no radical, no fringe viewpoints? That possibility, if I am correct in this line of reasoning, might work for high schools but in a college setting one expects distillation out of truth by faculty to share with students and have those students agree or disagree with well reasoned arguments. If this is possible, that Sociology Department might be vanilla flavor and adamant against any deviance from that.
I am not sure I have this correct; just had to share with you what I learned from Dr. T and see if any of this fits.
Dr. B: Those who espouse that sociology should be neutral miss the point of what sociology is, according to the founding fathers of the discipline. Most of these people are conservative apologists. Sociology by definition is political. The founders, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, DuBois, etc. were very much into social justice and reform.
One can teach from a passionate point of view without converting others. This is my approach–to provide an alternative to those who have been given the “normative” view of society. If students are disengaged from the social world, how are they to “know” what it means to exist in that world? Sociologists are a unique and quirky bunch–they analyze and interpret society and attempt to be objective, but are embedded in the world they study. If they could remove themselves from that world, they become abstracted from it and are better able to understand. However, how do you understand if you do not experience the sensuous world of the concrete? Max Weber suggested that one should engage in verstehen, a subjective understanding of social reality at the same time he advocated for an objective analysis of that world. In other words, if we acknowledge our biases, we are more able to objectively approach our subject. People like T assume that they can be objective by not being involved, i.e., being a “scientist.” However, they are most certainly pushing their own agenda by accepting the normative, uncritically. The reproduce the social structure rather than produce new information and social change.
If one is to exist in and study the social world, one must be involved otherwise one becomes a “book” academic—the worst kind of teacher.
That’s my two cents!
SC: In your opinion, how do you rank the Sociology Department, in total? Is it a book academic department or does it offer more of what you listed as your ideals?
Dr. B: That department is a product of the environment where it is situated–conservative O. County. They tend to want to hire people like themselves although the department likes to project an image of inclusiveness. If one talks with the minority student population in Sociology, one gets a sense that they are not being appreciated by a large number of faculty members, even the younger ones. To put it bluntly, most of the minorities came to me rather than other professors. I could understand their plight of being disenfranchised and marginalized in the department.
I enjoyed being in the department because I could be one who could create waves as well as one who mitigated against the problems that students faced. It was okay to have the “white liberal” to voice what they perceived to be radical, but the same was not okay from a minority faculty member.
In “Science as a Vocation,” Weber (1918/1919) writes:
The primary task of a useful teacher is to teach his students to recognize ‘inconvenient’ facts–I mean facts that are inconvenient for their party [political] opinions. And for every party opinion there are facts that are extremely inconvenient, for my own opinion no less than for others. I believe the teacher accomplishes more than a mere intellectual task if he compels his audience to accustom itself to the existence of such facts. I would be so immodest as even to apply the expression ‘moral achievement,’ though perhaps this may sound too grandiose for something that should go without saying (p. 147).