Saturday, June 25, 2005

We Swim in a Sea of Dogma

Charles F. Kettering invented the first self-starting mechanism for automobiles and the first electrical ignition system, among many other important advances for cars and diesel engines. He liked to tell about how he had to drive to Detroit to go to work. He didn’t live in Detroit, but in a city in Ohio.

One day he bet a man he could get to Detroit in a relatively short time. And he won the bet. After he explained how he did it the other man exclaimed, ”Well, no wonder!” You didn’t stay on Route 25!”

Route 25 was dogma to Kettering, and he didn’t care much for dogma in driving or engineering or many other areas of life.

Dogma is a belief or doctrine held by any organization to be authoritative. Proof may or may not be available. Ostensibly, the word “dogma” belongs to religion. However, one finds dogma in many disciplines, including science. One should hesitate to think about the future of the educational scientist who hopes for tenure and does not accept the conventional scientific and political wisdom (dogma) of the scientific community.

There is a story making the rounds in the news media (as this is being written) about a graduate student in education who dared to suggest that corporal punishment of children might be useful in some cases. For this transgression against dogma he was excluded from classes in his university.

We seem to live in a sea of dogma that most do not think of as dogma at all. Here are a few examples, some of which are very dear to us but until convincing proof becomes available, are still dogma.

All men are created equal

Rape is not about sex but about power

Love conquers all

All politics is local

Behavior is organic

Matter creates itself

Illegal immigrants more than pay their way in the U.S. economy

You can't legislate morality

So it isn't just a religion that uses dogma. Many disciplines seem to be involved with dogmas to some extent for a variety of reasons. Dogma is useful for transmitting comfortable ideas from one group or individual to another. At least, on Route 25 we won't get lost.

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