[Stanley] Fish ... argues against the advisability of any general program of "making up your own mind independently of any external authority" (or of helping students to do such things). Such a program is simply impossible, Fish argues, and ought to be abandoned as any kind of goal guiding educational policy:
If exposure is indoctrination, in the sense that an idea introduced into the mind becomes part of its equipment, one of the lenses through which and with which the world is processed and configured, then the declared goal of liberal education, the goal of preparing students for 'autonomous decisions making,' is not achievable and in fact has been rendered unavailable in the first moment of consciousness.
[Cite omitted.] [The hypothetical "if" is not actually Fish hedging; the broader context makes clear that Fish thinks the antecedent condition obtains.]
With this, Fish seems to suppose that there is something—he says not what—about merely having pre-existing conceptual "equipment" which is antithetical to being autonomous, or to "autonomous decisions making," at least. (Or if Fish does not mean to identify autonomy essentially with being in a conceptual vacuum, then why in denying the possibility of "autonomous decisions making" is it relevant at all to suggest that ideas become part of our mental "equipment" as a consequence of our being exposed to them?) But taken as a theory of autonomy, at least, such a view hardly seems credible. Of course autonomy is not about lacking any received conceptual equipment; surely only a being with some initial concepts could be autonomous. And surely the backers of "autonomous decisions making" did not actually have the idea of decision-making by actors without concepts. In which case, Fish argues against a straw man.
If the problem for Fish and his convinced readers is his or their failure to have imagined any alternate view of autonomy, then a suggestion or two meant to help prime the pump of theoretical imagination might be in order. Perhaps autonomy is about (or partially about) being reflective. If so, then why should merely having a conceptual framework, however received, make reflection, even reflection on that very conceptual framework, impossible? (Certainly Fish finds himself able to reflect on theoretical frameworks despite the handicap of possessing received conceptual equipment.) Or perhaps autonomy is about (or partially about) being appropriately sensitive to reasons, as, for example, in guiding actions or theorizing about the world. If so, why should being thus appropriately sensitive to reasons be impossible for someone with "lenses through which and with which the world is processed and configured"? (Could someone without any such "lenses" be sensitive to anything at all?) Here, I mean merely to point out some other possible ways of proceeding before dumping the concept of autonomy on the trash heap of intellectual history—a radical step which, one might hope, would only be an ultimate last resort. Certainly, if autonomy is understood in either of these ways (or maybe others), then Fish's foundational attack on the "goal of liberal education" fails, insofar as children can be taught to be reflective and sensitive to reasons (and why should that not be possible?).
* http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/students/groups/oslj/files/2012/03/70.6.Young_.pdf, fn. 173. ;-)