Who Gets to Think?

Think New ThoughtsThink New Thoughts! A recent tagline promoting the Department of Religious Studies is not simply highlighting our desire to challenge student preconceptions but emphasizing our department’s effort to develop important intellectual skills. While public discourse often emphasizes education as the means to gain economically and overcome poverty, some evidence suggests that economic privilege breeds economic success and that education for the children of the 1% may differ from education for children of the lower rungs of society.

A recent post (from P. L. Thomas, a professor at Furman University) made that claim, citing among other elements a study (though dated) that suggests that elementary schools prepare students for the type of work of the dominant social class in that particular school.

In the two working-class schools, work is following the steps of a procedure. . . .

In the middle-class school, work is getting the right answer. . . .

In the affluent professional school, work is creative activity carried out independently. . . .

In the executive elite school, work is developing one’s analytical intellectual powers. . . .

The study’s observations and examples may reflect the researcher’s expectations and interests, ignoring, by chance or design, educators who challenge students to think in working-class and middle-class schools. Similarly, individual professors and departments at universities can differ, emphasizing “correct” answers or creative and analytical skills. Selecting individual courses, as well as a major, that foster analytical thought, as opposed to correct answers, may increase a student’s potential for success beyond the university, providing the type of education the elementary school study associated with the “executive elite school.” If you want a suggestion for a place to look for such a department that encourages students to Think New Thoughts, I have a (totally self-interested) suggestion.

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About Steven Ramey

Steven Ramey is Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Director of Asian Studies at the University of Alabama. His research focuses on groups who contest dominant understandings of the religions of India, both in India and beyond. His newest project addresses the assumptions in the language of religious labels and the ways those assumptions determine research and valorize particular constructions of religions. Through this project, he wants to consider alternative paradigms for describing these collections of practices and ways those alternative paradigms can influence research and pedagogy.

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