After 40 years of teaching, I still think of myself as an outsider, perhaps not an outsider, but certainly on the periphery. I am going to try to explain my perpetual outsider status within Jeff’s (Disciplined Minds) theory of brainwashing—which I think has traction. Jeff, a physicist, starts from the unorthodox premise that the more you go to school, the dumber you get. By the time you get your PhD, which both Jeff and I have, you’ve lost it. You have become a someone, a social-space, that your earlier self would not have recognized. The change is so gradual and disguised, you don’t know what is happening. Once, you were a student; now, you’re a professor, on the other side of the fence. You have lost that person you were.
Jeff analyzes this creepy transition in terms of educational indoctrination. I and many of my working-class academic friends add to this layer social-class betrayal, the imposture syndrome, and social-class resentment. Although I am generally a somewhat respected academic, albeit with dangerous tendencies, I still imagine myself on the edge. I have never fit in. I will say that the fact that other scholars in our field partially hear me speaks to the inclusive urge in our field.
Jeff charts the gradual transition of physics graduate students into clones, scampering after military-industrial, multi-million dollar research grants that their younger selves would have rejected on a dime. You find yourself becoming important. You have lots of money. You get publications. You get jobs in doctoral extensive universities. You have it made with million dollar grants and $100,000 plus salaries. In essence, you get bought. Jeff says you get brainwashed.
Behind the brainwashing lies social reproduction theory (SRP), theorized by Marx and argued extensively by Bernstein, Bourdieu, Bourdieu and Passeron, Bowles and Gintis, Gee—one could go on. SRP is not complicated. In essence, it assumes that a social structure, like a man/woman, tries to reproduce itself. If we have a social structure of inequitable privileges, the social structure and educational institutions (being primary agents of social reproduction) try to reproduce these inequitable educational/ social privileges so that those of us in the upper middle-classes and above (of whom I am now one) maintain our privilege for ourselves and our children.
Obviously, once we have run the gauntlet, we can’t really trust our perception—we would like to think we made it through undamaged, but we have no way of knowing the degree to which we became what we once swore we would never be.