Thursday, May 27, 2004

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free..."

Reproduced with permission of Richard Sanford Dewey, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus:

I liked the contents of your letter of May 21 [an eMail, but posted here on May 17], and believe that you would agree with Thomas Jefferson’s observation that “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” The current muddle- headedness of both advocates and opponents of same-sex unions is illustrative of the price paid for the pervasive ignorance of the difference between social psychological and sociological phenomena. We sociologists have been so busy collecting, statisticizing, and publishing carloads of facts in pursuit of promotions in academic rank and salary that we have had neither the time, the energy, nor the will to teach what sociology is all about. Given the dominance of the American universities’ policy of “Publish — or attract off-campus money — or perish”, I see little chance that colleges and universities are soon to offer the kinds of knowledge needed if the nation is to be free. Until they do, I see a great need for professional schools — law, journalism, etc.— to equip their graduates with the requisite knowledge. The basics of the social sciences are, of course, not unrelated to the problems you list in your letter.

The essence of my idea is encapsulated in the demonstrable fact that the phrase “a liberally educated boor, bore, bigot, or terrorist” is an oxymoron. A few well planned seminars can assure your graduates that they will recognize as errors pronouncements such as Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall’s demonstrable misperception of the institution of marriage as a social psychological phenomenon as “the exclusive and permanent [sic] commitment of marriage partners to one another”. This is comparable to a physiologist attempting to redefine the function of the kidneys as respiratory.

I will be interested in your evaluation of the suggestion that there is room in our school’s curriculum for seminars in the basics of social science, particularly social psychology and sociology.

Richard Sanford Dewey
Professor of Sociology, Emeritus
191 Packers Falls Road
Durham, NH 03824

Department of Sociology

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