When you write a book about higher education called Brutal Minds, subtitled The Dark World of Left-Wing Brainwashing in Our Universities, the obvious question presents itself: Can you provide specific examples of this so-called brainwashing?
The answer is yes. Brutal Minds is full of them—so many that the length of the book was cut by half to make it manageable.
Brainwashing examples offer themselves in the articles written by academics, by would-be academics, and by non-academics. They are published in cargo-cult journals like The Counseling Psychologist and the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice and in books like Multicultural and Diversity Issues in Student Affairs Practice, Identity-Based Student Activism, Rethinking College Student Development Theory Using Critical Frameworks, and Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs.
The folks who do the brainwashing are proud of what they do and share tactics and techniques.The folks who do the brainwashing are proud of what they do, serving the cause of social justice, and they share tactics and techniques with each other.
I haven’t any idea why these characters are so free with their intent, but a vast trove of brainwashing examples awaits revelation.
Initially, let’s understand what constitutes the “brainwash” and then see how these folks do it.
First, there is nothing mysterious about “brainwashing.” Oftentimes it’s now called “thought reform” or “transformative education.” You can read about it in Kathleen Taylor’s book Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control, as well as many other places. Today, the brainwash is most closely associated with cults, with Maoist and Freirean reeducation theory, and with American higher education, which is largely informed by Paulo Freire’s crypto-Maoist approach to education.
Second, brainwashing is a program that constitutes the systematic, purposeful, psychological manipulation of target individuals, directed by persons or organizations with the goal of supplanting the belief system of their targets with a different belief system. Deception about the true goal of the activity is typical.
Third, the brainwash is employed exclusively by the progressive Left on college campuses. These persons reject traditional models of education, especially the Weberian notion of classroom neutrality. Instead, extremist progressives practice “critical pedagogy,” in which they embrace the notion that the professor should become a “scholar-practitioner” and participate in the social activism of particular movements.
These scholar-practitioners also reject the idea that there could be reasonable alternatives to the professor’s view. This is called, in Orwellian fashion, “educating for freedom” or “educating for critical consciousness.” It constitutes imposing a clearly defined ideology.
One of many brainwashing practitioners is Lisa Spanierman, a professor of counseling psychology at Arizona State University. She has written extensively on the idea that racist white students—that is, all white students—can be moved along a conveyor belt from their current racist belief system to one in line with her social-justice activism.
“Racist” white students can be moved from their current belief system to one in line with social-justice activism.For Spanierman, and many others who write and teach in the genre of “counseling psychology,” white students, irrespective of their personal histories, are “racists.” The research of these pedagogues, and their classes, begin with that assumption.
Here’s how it works. The professor begins with an appeal to gain the trust of class participants and to get students to lower their guard, suspend their critical faculties, and engage in “sharing,” “vulnerability,” and “self-disclosure.”
Sometimes “games” are incorporated in what amounts to deceptive interrogation. Here’s how counseling psychology describes it:
[T]rainers will engage in and model appropriate self-disclosure and introspection with their trainees. This can include discussions about personal life experiences, attitudes, beliefs, opinions, feelings, and personal histories […] [P]roviding experiences that call for trainees to self-disclose and personally introspect about personal life experiences is an essential component of the training program.
Developing trust is necessary for counseling psychologists like Spanierman, as well as co-curricular “facilitators,” to psychologically manipulate their targets as they guide white students—and only white students—onto a critical-racialist conveyor belt to “transform” them.
To operationalize this, students are subjected to a stage-by-stage psychological process whereby their belief systems are replaced with another belief system supplied by the “facilitator,” with the final goal the creation of ideological “allies.” The brainwash always incorporates some form of the conveyor belt metaphor, first developed and popularized by Janet Helms in the 1990s and extended by psychologists Beverly Daniel Tatum and Derald Wing Sue.
The student subjects of this experiment are never told, of course, that they will be the subjects of psychological interventions designed to generate “collective guilt” and move them along the racialist conveyor belt.
Students are not told that their current relationships with friends and family will be undermined and “deconstructed.”They aren’t told that Spanierman and people like her believe that they are all “racists” ripe for reform. Nor are they told that their current relationships with friends and family will be undermined and “deconstructed,” as University of Iowa professor Sherry K. Watt baldly states, touting her own conveyor belt, which she calls the “Privilege Identification Exploration” model.
Spanierman provides our main brainwashing example, which is her marshaling of her discipline for the psychological manipulation of students, staff, and faculty in service of her social activism. See Spanierman’s contribution to the 2022 book Guilt: A Force of Cultural Transformation. It’s just one example of an entire complex of psychological conveyor belt manipulation:
I use psychological science to explore the conditions under which white guilt disrupts the racial status quo and seeks to repair relationships between white people and BIPOC in ways that could in fact lead to social change.
Building on a body of work in “counseling psychology,” Spanierman’s flagrant brainwashing technique is to create classroom scenarios designed to generate collective guilt in students by exposing them to carefully curated material such as films and selected readings. The technique is hardly new and has become standardized in “diversity” courses, here expressed by Kim Case, a social psychologist and committed ideologue at the University of Houston-Clear Lake:
I designed the course with critical race studies, critical White studies, and feminist theory contributing to the pedagogical framework. Readings and lectures covered the social construction of race, stereotype formation and maintenance, forms of racism, theories of racial prejudice, racial identity, institutional racism, and White privilege.
Here’s a syllabus for a typical course, this one called Psychology of Race & Racism. Additionally, this volume provides a smorgasbord of curated material for psychologists (and even non-psychologists running workshops) to conduct psychological interventions intended to alter the psychological dispositions of their students in so-called diversity classrooms.
Spanierman continues in her 2022 contribution, which she called “White Guilt in the Summer of Black Lives Matter”:
Findings suggest that multicultural instruction, such as diversity courses and workshops, increase white guilt. […] In short, experimental designs generally provide support for the notion that educational interventions increase students’ levels of white guilt. […] Taken together, these studies suggest that white guilt has the potential to be a socially productive force in challenging white privilege and disrupting the racial status quo in the United States. […] [B]urgeoning evidence in the field of psychology suggests that white guilt may be a socially productive force with reparative potential.
Put simply, if Spanierman and her fellow travelers can generate fake “collective guilt” feelings in their students, they can more easily persuade these students to do the “antiracist” work that she wants them to.
That is indoctrination, not education.
It is unlikely that anyone would willingly submit to such a program, so the psyche-manipulators never announce themselves as such.It is unlikely that anyone would willingly submit to such a program, so these psyche-manipulators never announce themselves as such. They maintain a moral deception with anodyne clichés, such as “learning about race” or “multicultural competence,” while undermining their students’ sense of self to alienate them from their parents and friends. This is the classic brainwash.
My research has shown that brainwashing is widespread on college campuses, wherever critical racialism has gained purchase. It’s conducted by a highly motivated group of persons, both in the actual curriculum and in fake classes of the “co-curriculum.”
These people all adhere to the same political ideology, and their manipulation takes advantage of what we know about the human psyche and emotions.
The red flags of brainwash activity often appear as part of a school’s “DEI” program or in “difficult dialogues” conducted by “student affairs professionals.”
One source that is essential to identifying the brainwash is the volume Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. He articulates succinctly the goal of most brainwash programs:
There is the demand that one confess to crimes one has not committed, to sinfulness that is artificially induced, in the name of a cure that is arbitrarily imposed.
The brainwashers have constructed a dark world in our universities, and it will be difficult to root them out. Learning who they are and how they do it is a necessary first step.
Stanley K. Ridgley, Ph.D., IMBA, is clinical full professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. He is a former military intelligence officer with a Ph.D. from Duke University and has taught in Russia, China, India, Spain, and Colombia.