Or how the State University of New York failed me
Recently, the ugly, biased, dogmatic head of the ivory tower of Academia reared its head and demolished me and my chances of speaking my truth in a valid, scholarly manner. I am not ready to write my account in full of this circumstance, I am still digesting the experience and I think indigestion would set in if I partook on a full accounting of the nasty situation where I was flunked in my final project – a position paper (thesis) which was the basis for receiving, or not, a Master of Arts diploma. But an outlining of the experience may prove to be healing and insightful. So here it is.
I was accepted into the State University of New York’s Empire State College graduate program of Liberal Studies to delve “into the depths of interdisciplinary work which would combine the 1. art of performing with natural gardening, with 2. quantum theory which proves the “entangled” interconnected reality of matter along with the non-materialistic view that underlies our living, along with 3. the psychological paradigm of Maslow’s self-actualization, and 4. the new science of epi-genetic biology which shows how we are co-creators of our existence and not victims” (taken from my entrance essay).
Interdisciplinary work is exactly what the liberal studies advocate for. Specialization has brought many benefits, and now the academy was opening up the boundaries to broaden the limitations of specialized study and research and discover the wealth of information when the areas of specialization, with all their information and knowledge, are studied and researched in a holistic curriculum that integrates the various fields. I chose SUNY to study because they allow their graduate students in this program to design their own course of study within a tightly organized curricular structure that facilitated the study of liberal arts combined with individual interests. This way of intersecting various fields of academics with other fields is exactly how I had been teaching for a couple decades already. So, it was a perfect fit. So I thought.
Upon beginning, my professors were very intrigued by my proposed line of study. They hadn’t seen anyone wish to combine the performing arts with hard sciences in this way before. They showed excitement and support for me as I embarked on this two-year journey of thirty-six credits culminating in a Master of Arts diploma. As I got into the work, the early required courses, and started writing, my professors praised my thought provoking and scholarly writing. I learned to write in the scholarly fashion they taught, and I did find it served to make my writing more concise and often more effective in elucidating my viewpoints. In my second semester, I was urged to apply for a graduate conference on the east coast and I did. My paper was accepted, much to my surprise and to the elation of my professors. Of course, professors like it when their students are selected to present papers, it shows well of their work.
I did present at The Annual East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium at Stockton University. The response I received was an omen of things to come; few could keep up with the science I was presenting. The Liberal Studies departments around the country are generally used to interdisciplinary works combining arts and theoretical study, say performing arts and feminism, or post-colonialism and playwriting, or other such combinations. But the hard sciences are not generally well known in these circles. When I wrote of epigenetic issues of transformation and evolution, I got blank stares. Few even knew of the term epigenetics or the kind of science that it refers to. My presentation fell flat. It was unrelatable. It did not warrant replies because there was no point of view from the panelists. Well, at least they didn’t berate me for trying something new. Not yet anyway . . .
I sailed through my course work, continuing to gain praise and esteem for my work and contribution, but along with that came a backlash whenever I tried to bring in the science of consciousness, which was a fundament of my thesis. This aspect of my experience came to a head in a residency in Saratoga Springs when my professors asked me to refrain from sharing my opinion because “not everyone knows what you know”. Only one professor was honest enough to say she didn’t know of the history that I was talking about. Yes, in this instance it wasn’t science I was bringing into the conversation but an imperialistic history. I will save the details for my larger writing later. For now, it is to show that the academics I was studying with were not open to new ideas or to learning anything new from their students.
Half way through this program graduate students are to create a degree rationale for their final project. Here I ran into lots of hurdles. Suddenly, the faculty were not in favor of my writing a position paper regarding exactly what I had outlined in my application essay, and what I had been integrating into all my papers up to this point from my matriculation onward. But this was the big kahuna, this is for the diploma, and the papers automatically get published in a professional, scholarly website, with the school’s name attached to it. The stakes were higher. The hurdles were frustrating, but it also clarified and specified my point of view. Eventually, after lots of effort and rewriting, the professors relented and allowed me to pursue this line of research.
I continued to be given “A”s in my work as I moved through the latter half of the program. Yet, as I finished my last course, a course titled Well-Being and Theatre (originally titled Epigentics and Theatre, of which I was forced to change because they now did not want me to use that term since I am not a scientist), I began to see my work unravel by the new-found criticism of my subject. All along there was a veneer of approval that was finally undercut when it came to the homestretch. Now, it was for real. Now, the university would have to put its name behind my paper and its controversial research.
After rewriting that paper, aligning it with the professor’s demands, I was given a “B” in the course. Again, that was a precursor to what was coming. I was assigned to my mentor and another professor to be my readers for the final project. Neither of them had the remotest idea or knowledge of the sciences I was integrating with my theatre research. That in and of itself is fine, except that they were not qualified to evaluate my paper because they had no expertise in these areas. But the real problem was with what I said. Had I written a paper espousing the “liberal” thinking, which means the “official” thinking, the mainstream thinking, the dogmatic one-sided thinking of the academy, I would have survived just fine and been passed with no problems. In other words, their lack of expertise in the sciences wouldn’t have presented a problem. But I said the wrong things that the academy does not support. They only support the materialist worldview and I was suggesting a non-materialist, consciousness-based worldview that is steeped in the non-physical. .
In the end, I was flunked. I was given an “F”. I failed in my final term. I would not receive a graduate diploma after all. I spent $30,000 but would not have the piece of paper that is so coveted: the diploma.
I fought back. I hired an attorney. Eventually, I was granted a redo of the course at no charge. Before you think we won that tuition-free status by highlighting the gross contradictions of the department, let me tell you that the reason they granted me a redo with waived tuition was because in an earlier course in Advanced Playwriting, my professor gave me an “A” for the course without having read any of my work. She was foolish enough to admit that in an email to me. The college had to admit they failed in that instance to provide a higher education standard of any reasonableness. Yet, they stood by this professor and it made me wonder how many other students were given a grade when the professor hadn’t read any of their work.
In the end, after constantly reminding myself to submit and do what I am told, as I was rewriting my paper with suggestions from my two new readers (professors), I was given an “A” and was granted a diploma in February of 2018. My journey was complete, crazy as it was.
So, what was all the fuss about? Let me highlight a few contentious points only:
- I could not suggest that epigenetics shows that we can rewire our brains.
- I could not suggest that quantum physics shows that all things are interconnected.
- I could not question that vaccines are “safe” as claimed by the mainstream doctors, medical industries, and regulating bodies.
- I could not cite certain authors because they are “controversial”. These authors include the likes of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake from Cambridge University that has published over 80 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Or Dr. Bruce Lipton of Stanford University who was a pioneer in the field of epigenetics. Or physicist Tom Campbell who worked for NASA and has written a Theory of Everything using physics.
There is much more, I am simplifying here, but those four points ought to be enough to see how boxed in the thinking was that I was confronting. Like most of education, at least from my view as both a public school and parochial school student, as an undergraduate and graduate student, and as a teacher in schools for over thirty years, the college was more interested in propaganda promoting dogmatic boxed-in thinking that disallowed any real liberal, open-minded thinking.
What began as an enthusiastic endeavor to broaden my thinking, increase deeper understanding of my subject, and discover new ideas, sadly became an exercise in doing what I am told and following. I have seen this trend of education getting more and more entrenched in the dogmatic style of schooling for decades now. It is dumbing down our children, as many have written extensively about. It has damped down on innovative thinking. It has instilled a culture of fear, fear of failing, fear of being true to one’s self, fear of standing out. It has created an industry of good soldiers who are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in their chosen field, regardless of how unreasonable it is. Soldiers who always protect one another, even when the fellow soldiers are corrupt. It pushes people to accept being a victim rather than stand for themselves. And if you do not submit, from the earliest age, you are labeled, drugged/medicated, and treated as “problem” student, which nowadays almost carries a “privileged” status rather than the old-fashioned, judgmental, “problem” status.
If we want to face our futures with the necessary adeptness that will be required in these difficult times ahead, we must change our educational system and allow free-thinking to flourish. Education is more about questions than answers, more about investigating than rote learning, more about challenging current thinking than blindly submitting. We must bring imagination back into education, from the first day of school on. And please do not consider this a call for education reform! We’ve tried that for decades to no avail. We’ve got all the educational models that already have proven effective for a true liberal education, from Montessori, Waldorf, Sudbury, and many other models to the classical Trivium and Quadrivium, to home-schooling, or as we did with our boys, unschooling.