Tuesday, February 24, 2004

 

The Terrorist Teachers' Union

A poor choice of words, to be sure, but anyone who denies that the teachers' unions have held this nation's educational system hostage for the last few decades is either a fool or in the union's pocket.

And if we required every public official who spoke his or her mind to the offense of someone else to resign, we'd wind up with a John Kerry in every public office.

Of course, I find much of what Kerry says offensive, but no one's listening to me.

I found Lou Dobb's report on CNN today amusing--he followed up the Paige story with a report on the failings of the American education system. Connection, anyone?

Friday, February 20, 2004

 

One man's fiction is another man's reality.

I’ve been a bad blogger. I can only plead dissertation.

My bedtime reading--to clear all the scholarship out the brain so it will shut down for the night--for the last week or two has been a book called Death and Restoration, by Iain Pears, who many readers may be more familiar with from An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Dream of Scipio. He’s also written an interesting series of mysteries featuring an art dealer/professor named Jonathan Argyll and his girlfriend/fiancee, Flavia di Stefano, who works for the art theft division of the Rome police department. They’re well done, for what the are, which is enjoyable mysteries for those who know a bit about the arts and humanities and who are interested in learning more. Slightly less challenging than Arturo Perez-Reverte, but every bit as enjoyable.

I bring this up because one, they’re worth a read, particularly for bedtime and on the EFX machine. But I also came across a passage in Death and Restoration that perfectly captures the problems in higher education, both those brought on by the ridiculous business model we have had forced upon us by administration and those brought on by the empty, leftist pedagogical practices still in vogue in most of the institutions I’ve had the “pleasure” of teaching in. I’m going to quote the two pages in question in full.



And from there the book moves back into the main story. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find this a succinct summation of two of the biggest problems facing academic reform today.

Of course, this may speak more to me than to you, because I find myself this term in the position of delivering old-fashioned lectures at the front of a “smart” classroom, competing for attention with the movie screen and the equipment that command the center of the room.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

 

Liberal Bias in the Media

Oh, my God! ABC News admits it! Here's the link.


Monday, February 09, 2004

 

Noindoctrination.org gets some press at The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

At Photoncourier, David Foster comments on a December Chronicle article on the watchdog site Noindoctrination.org. This site provides a forum for students who experience bias in the classroom, as Mr. Foster describes below:



Though some commentors in the Chronicle article express concern that students might be exaggerating or taking advantage of the anonymity offered by the site to distribute unfair comments, it's important to note that the site takes pains to minimize this sort of thing. As they explain on their FAQ page,



More students need to know about this site. The only thing that will effect change is pressure from students and parents.

Foster brings up another, tangential issue in this post, one that concerns me particularly as a teacher of argumentative writing:



Foster's analysis strikes me as spot-on. This type of non-logical, feelings-based argument is practiced in the majority of the composition classes at my institution; I'm one of a mere handful (out of 75 or so) who teaches logic at all. I could say plenty more about this (and probably will, at a later date), but since I need to finish preparing for said class at 8:00AM tomorrow . . .

Sunday, February 08, 2004

 

The Philosophy of Religion

University Diaries surprised me this morning. I’ve been reading that blog for about a month now, often enjoying it, sometimes not really caring that much about the subject matter, but never disagreeing with it as strongly as I do with this morning’s blog.

This morning’s University Diaries talks about the recent FIRE case regarding Dr. James Tuttle, a professor of moral philosophy (notice the emboldened word moral—there, I’ve done it again) who is in the process of being shown the door by his dean and his department chair for mentioning his Catholic beliefs, both verbally (which garnered student criticism) and then on his syllabus, as a “warning” regarding the belief system he was bringing with him into the field of (again with the bold) moral philosophy.

After a brief introduction to the problem (with no link to the actual article on the FIRE website), Professor Soltan concludes:



Huh? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Last time I checked, there was a long and strong intellectual tradition within the Catholic Church, and a hell of a lot of moral philosophy being written. But let’s move on.



Why is “Catholic Christian” in scare quotes? And why is that confusing? Christianity is composed a number of different sects, each interpreting Christian doctrine in a different manner. Professor Tuttle is simply clarifying what kind of Christian he is. There is a great deal of difference between the Catholics and the Baptists, and don’t even get me started on the Mormons, who also consider themselves Christian. The scare quotes are simply disingenuous.

As for that list of people covered in an Introduction to Philosophy course, let me add a couple of names. How about Augustine and Aquinas? Boethius? William of Ockham? At least three of those philosophers were “Catholic Christians,” and the fourth may have been, though the Consolatio gives us no indication one way or the other.

Professor Tuttle, presumably, agrees with at least some of the moral positions taken by these philosophers, and as a student, I think that would be nice to know up front, because it’s going to color his reading of the other texts being studied and, given the fact that I see no indication that he is unfair in his teaching or grading practices, that coloring is itself a valid topic for discussion in a philosophy course. His reading of Plato, particularly if they look at the Timeaus, might be affected by the fact that he espouses these later philosophers and their desire to see in the Timeaus a prefiguring of the creation story from Genesis. Certainly his reading of Plotinus runs a good chance of being affected by Augustine, and his reading of Aristotle might be affected by Aquinas’s reading. (It was Aquinas, after all, who was primarily responsible for reintroducing Aristotle into Western thought.) One philosopher’s reading of another philosopher is, after all, part of the philosophical discourse.



The first sentence, were Tuttle to have actually included it on his syllabus, I have no problem with. None of us is capable of real objectivity, though we should of course strive to be as objective as possible when presenting material in classroom. Since we have no evidence regarding how the materials in Professor Tuttle’s class are presented—save for a whiny complaint by a student, which, given my experiences with the trendy atheism currently in vogue on college campuses, I am given to dismiss—coming to such a conclusion is premature. The idea of judging a professor on the basis of a single student’s word is indicative of the ridiculous amount of power the modern university has invested in the student. My advice to this student would be to sit down, shut up and try to learn something, even if it’s coming from someone who religious beliefs differ from your own. Christianity is as legitimate a part of the philosophical tradition as Wittgenstein (who, along with Derrida, owes a hell of a lot to the early Augustine’s writings on the nature of language).

The second sentence serves only to reveal Professor Soltan's biases. I have no problem with Tuttle believing himself to be morally superior than the philosophers he is reading. I consider myself morally superior to most of my colleagues, because I don’t use my classroom as an ideological indoctrination camp. But that’s another rant altogether. Tuttle is teaching a philosophy course, and it seems to me that what his disclaimer is actually saying is “My belief that the moral systems developed by Christianity are superior to those developed by secular philosophy needs to be established at the outset,” I’m not sure why it would be an issue. He prefers one system over the others; show me a philosophy professor who doesn’t. But it’s nice to know this up front. You know that he’s going to go easy on his analysis of the Christian philosophers, and you know he’s going to stick it to the rest. If anything, this is an opportunity for the student in question—and all of Tuttle’s students—to challenge him on any number of things, making both student and teacher engage with the material in a much deeper way than the lecture & take notes format.

It would be nice if the pomos were to make this sort of admission. Every single pomo professor I’ve had felt himself/herself to be morally superior to the writers we were reading—or at least the white, male writers—and their courses were an exercise in moral critique. Of course, it was never put this way, but in essence, this is what was done in the classroom. If any of these professors had provided an honest disclaimer, perhaps the tenor of the classroom would have been different, and I would have learned something more than the “fact” that all were racist, sexist, classist pigs who cared nothing for the environment.



This last paragraph is just a bit silly. Why should a student need to know anything about a professor? I think what Professor Soltan has to say in the rest of her blog about Professor Tuttle has made that perfectly clear. Because our opinions on the subject matter entrusted to us matter. This is particularly true in philosophy, given that we continue to work within the philosophical paradigm provided by Plato, in which the philosopher lives his or her philosophy.

As for Heidegger, it’s pretty important to know about his Nazism. If you’re planning to turn to Heidegger as a source of moral philosophy, you might want to think twice once you’re aware of what he condoned.

Finally, there is no indication that Tuttle’s Catholicism has seriously affected his presentation of the course materials (the complaints of a single student for whom the very mention of Catholicism is threatening notwithstanding), and there is no indication that his personal beliefs are affecting his ability to fairly assess his students’ work and progress.

Quite frankly, the idea that we should treat this any differently than a philosophy professor who professes a preference for Aristotle over Plato is beyond me.

 

A New Title That's Come to Our Attention

Just ran across Graham Good's Humanism Betrayed. See an exerpt via Vestige.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

 

Still looking for sensible criticism . . .

I've been receiving a couple of emails on this topic a week, usually with one or two titles apiece. Often times, one respondant winds up repeating the same titles recommended by another respondant. I think I have something like ten titles now, in addition to the ones I posted last month.

I know there's more stuff out there.

What I'm going to do is open the call for suggestions to criticism that is author or era specific. I'll start a new section of the bibliography that lists criticism by author or by era--meaning the traditional eras a student would have encountered in survey courses a few decades ago.

If you can provide it, complete bibliographic information (as well as telling me where to categorize it, if the title doesn't make it clear) would speed up the process.

For my own current work, I'm looking in particular for sensible criticism on narrative and narratology.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

 

Inane Literary Politics and Intellectual Intolerance Driving Away Good Scholars . . .

. . . like my friend, whose story may be found below. Halfway through her first year in the graduate program of a major public university on the Left Coast, she has decided to leave. While a number of factors contributed to her decision--the prospect of a hard five-to-seven year slog trying to live off a teaching fellow's pittance, only to face the incredibly shrinking job market--she says that "the biggest factor is by far the political nonsense":



Notice that no one ever responded to my friend's questioning the inherent "American phallogocentrism" of wanting to know the story of one's own history.

It's truly a shame that this should happen. I'd like to try and convince her to stick it out, because our field desperately needs people with common sense and the guts to use it, but I know what she faces. She tells me that the faculty in her area of specialization--contemporary literature--are particularly guilty of theoretical nonsense as described above, and trying to find a dissertation advisor amenable to the kinds of projects she's interested in (cognitive approaches to literature, for example, which resist social-constructionist arguments) would be difficult.

I'm curious to know how common experiences such as hers are. If you have a story you'd like to share, please email me (Julia).

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