About the book Disciplined Minds (Jeff Schmidt, 2000)
by St. Drogo
Disciplined Minds, "a critical look at salaried professionals and the soul-battering system that shapes their lives", focuses on graduate school and compares it to a cult or similar system of indoctrination, with the overall goal being not so much the education of the participant in technical skills, as the education of the participant in a flexible mindset that allows them to become the "endlessly pliable man", able to identify and conform immediately to the ideology of an employer. Though it's a bit bogged down towards the middle by Schmidt's personal axe-grinding in the realm of post-grad physics, the conclusion comparing schools to Robert J. Lifton's classic list of cult traits, and the suggestion to use a military survive-and-resist manual for POWs to make it through school, are worth the trip on their own.
P. 2 - "I argue that the hidden root of much career dissatisfaction is the professional's lack of control over the 'political' component of his or her creative work. Explaining this component is a major focus of this book. Today's disillusioned professionals entered their fields expecting to do work that would 'make a difference' in the world and add meaning to their lives. In this book I show that, in fact, professional education and employment push people to accept a role in which they do not make a significant difference, a politically subordinate role. I describe how the intellectual boot camp known as graduate or professional school, with its cold-blooded expulsions and creeping indoctrination, systematically grinds down the student's spirit and ultimately produces obedient thinkers - highly educated employees who do their assigned work without questioning its goals. I call upon students and professionals to engage in such questioning, not only for their own happiness, but for society's sake as well."
P. 4 - "A system that turns potentially independent thinkers into politically subordinate clones is as bad for society as it is for the stunted individuals. It bolsters the power of the corporations and other heirarchical organizations, undermining democracy ... it does this by producing people who are useful to hierarchies, and only to hierarchies: uncritical employees ready and able to extend the reach of their employers' will. At the same time, a system in which individuals do not make a significant difference at their point of deepest involvement in society - that is, at work - undermines efforts to build a culture of real democracy. And in a subordinating system, organizations are more likely to shortchange or even abuse clients, because employees who know their place are not effective at challenging their employers policies, even when those policies adversely affect the quality of their own work on behalf of the clients."
P. 13 - "First of all, although professionals may be liberal on this or that question of the day, they tend to be very conservative on a long-standing issue of much greater importance to society: democracy. Discuss politics with a liberal professional and you will not hear a word in favor of a more democratic distribution of power in society, perhaps because in the professional's view ignorant nonprofessionals make up the large majority of the population. Even the most liberal professionals tend towards authoritarianism in their social visions."
P. 14 - "Professionals are liberal on distant social issues, issues over which they have no authority at work and no influence outside of work."
P. 32 - "Consider the schoolteacher. Those who employ teachers see them as more than workers who present the official curriculum to the students ... An important role of the schools is socialization: the promulgation of an outlook, attitudes and values. For example, the schools prepare students for the labor force not just by teaching them arithmetic ... and so on, but also by teaching them to follow instructions, adhere to a rigid time-table, respect authority and tolerate boredom."
P. 33 - "It may not seem very radical to say that the spirit of the law is to defend the status quo ... Nothing reveals better the actual partisan role of the police and the priority they give to the law's spirit over it's letter than the thousands of 'attitude crimes' that draw punishment every day in this country ... in 1980, statistics came to light in San Diego County indicating as many as 700 'attitude arrests' there each month. This figure included only cases in which arrestees were released hours or days later with no charges filed. The figure would have been much higher had it included arrests for minor violations in which the police filed additional or more serious charges because of the violator's attitude, a practice known as 'overbooking'."
p. 34 - "As professionals, psychotherapists are 'nonpartisan' in their work: They just help ill people get better. But to declare extreme nonconformity an illness, as psychology professionals often do, is a partisan act because of the down-on-the-victim therapeutic framework it rationalizes: 'Treating sick individuals' is a much more politically conservative framework than is 'treating individuals troubled by a sick and oppressive society.' Evidently it is not the place of the clinicians to question the health of the society to which the patient must be adjusted. Their 'legitimate' professional concern is how best to bring about the adjustment. In this alone, they are expected to use their creativity. The few who do raise questions are seen as 'getting political', even though it is hard to imagine how they could get any more political than mainstream clinical psychology itself, which often practices conservative social action disguised as medical treatment."
p. 40 - "To say that professionals are ideological workers is not to say that they formulate the ideology in the first place, for they do not. Professionals have no more control over the ideology they propagate than nonprofessionals have over the design of the products they produce. Professionals merely have an operational grasp of the ideology inherent in their occupation's actual role in society. Employers trust them to use that ideology to extrapolate policy and handle new problems as they arise, and to do so without constant supervision. Professionals are licensed to think on the job, but they are obedient thinkers."
p. 100 - "Various 'career training institutes' and 'academies' also take advantage of the dissatisfaction of nonprofessionals. Although these businesses don't train people for real professional jobs any more than the job agencies place people in such jobs, their advertisements on daytime TV, buses and matchbook covers also make heavy use of the word 'career' as a code for professional work. These rip-off schools often aim their advertisements explicitly at those 'stuck in dead-end jobs', knowing that this will not significantly limit their audience."
p. 101 - "The classic strategy, of course, is to 'start at the bottom and work your way up' on the job. However, work is increasingly organized in ways that obstruct or completely block this pathway. With the ever-finer division of job tasks, for example, employees learn fewer skills doing their jobs, so that their work does not naturally broaden their knowledge and prepare them for advancement. Their narrow assignments typecast them and keep them playing the same specialized job roles even when they change employers. Workers who manage to overcome this problem face increasingly strict barriers that prevent them from advancing beyond nonprofessional jobs unless they have the right paper credentials, which they cannot get at work."
p. 105 - "Such racism takes the anger that springs from the frustrations of a life of limited opportunity and aims it at other victims - the minorities - thus taking the heat off the hierarchical system that by its very nature restricts the number of openings. And so we have ludicrous situations like the one at UC Davis, where almost 2,000 rejected whites could think of 16 minorities as stealing their opportunity to become doctors."
p. 127 - "Professional schools are not in business simply to teach college graduates more facts and skills, but to teach values as well, to promote a particular kind of individual - the professional. To do this, the university must have its graduate students undivided attention. The student most easily trained is the one whose body and mind are on campus, who has no mental foothold, point of reference or source of critical distance outside his or her university department."
p. 195-196 - "The U.S. socioeconomic system, like the hustler, makes false promises, the principal one being that social mobility is available to all who work hard. By its very nature, a hierarchical system cannot possibly keep such a promise ... This structure sets many ambitious workers on a collision course with the reality of limited opportunity. When they are finally hit with the tragic disappointment, they may become angry or resentful, and so the hierarchical system must engage in widespread 'cooling out'. It does this not only to protect its agents ... but also to make sure that those who have been disappointed do not become opponents of the hierarchical system itself and enemies of its power elite. It is vital to the system that the losers serve the hierarchy respectfully, and not sabotage it, when they find themselves with jobs that have lower social status than the society of 'unlimited opportunity' had led them to expect."
p. 201 - "Students who are willing and able to conform to the faculty's attitudes and values, which usually favor the status quo over social change, are less likely than others to get cooled out of professional training. They are also less likely to go on to challenge the field's role in the status quo - or the status quo in the field. Among those who do get cooled out, individuals who would be uncompromising advocates for clients and the public - but a lot of trouble for employers - are overrepresented ... The biggest losers overall ... are working people, who are deprived of the allies they would have in the professional ranks if the politics of professional qualification were different."
p. 213 - "The system of professional training is set up to turn students into good self-adjusters or else get rid of them. Through the mechanisms of pressure and scrutiny that I have described in this book, it usually succeeds in doing one or the other. However, students can and sometimes do frustrate it by both confronting it and remaining, but this is accomplished only through politically conscious, organized action"